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Lecture by iconic activist cancelled after pressure from pro-Israel students

April 1, 2021 at 12:08 pm

US political activist Angela Davis delivers a speech during a meeting held in Saint-Denis, near Paris, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of anti-racism movement “Les Indigenes de la République”, on 8 May 2015 [Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images]

Butler University in Indianapolis has cancelled a scheduled event featuring iconic political activist Angela Davis this week in what seems to be another example of the ongoing campaign by pro-Israel lobbyists against the American civil rights movement. Davis was scheduled to speak at an event headed “Joint Struggle and Collective Liberation” today, but the university authorities decided on 29 March to cancel it, without letting the organisers know.

According to the university, the cancellation was due to procedural errors. However, campus and community organisations issued a joint statement saying that Davis was targeted over her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“Days before Butler University’s shameless censorship of Dr Angela Davis, the Student Government Association was bombarded by pressure from Zionist students who claimed to oppose the event because of her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a grassroots demand for nonviolent economic pressure against Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine,” explained the organisations. Their statement added that this was not the first time that pro-Israel students have tried to “silence free speech and prevent political events on campus.”

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Dismissing the university’s explanation for the cancellation, the organisations continued: “Students working on the event have planned countless past events for which these procedures have not been enforced. The decision to arbitrarily enforce these procedures now is an attempt to specifically censor Angela Davis. It is grounded in the school’s history of racism and highlights the lack of genuine support for students of colour, academic freedom and political engagement at Butler University, a predominantly white institution.”

This isn’t the first time that Davis, who has spent decades fighting for civil rights in the US, has been targeted by pro-Israel groups. Two years ago she was denied a prestigious award due to her support for BDS. Although the US Civil Rights Institute apologised later for revoking the award, campaigners slammed the decision, saying that the apology was “too little and too late”.

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The cancellation of Davis’s lecture is part of a growing trend for speakers to be targeted because of their support for the Palestinian cause. Just over a month ago, American activist and philosopher Cornel West said that he was confident that it was his criticism of Israel that cost him a tenure at the prestigious Harvard University.

“The problem is that [talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestine] is a taboo issue among certain circles in high places,” West explained. “It is hard to have a robust, respectful conversation about the Israeli occupation because you are immediately viewed as an anti-Jewish hater or [having] anti-Jewish prejudices.”

Read: Pro-BDS event held in University of Massachusetts despite backlash

David Klein of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and a professor of mathematics at California State University, said that there is a long history of attempts to suppress outspoken critics of Israel or have them fired from academic posts. West’s account, he suggested, is probably “the tip of the iceberg”.