In previous columns I have detailed concerns about pockets within the Duke University faculty and staff that espouse anti-Israel views, and support organizations and individuals that are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. Continuing this anti-Israel agenda, some faculty and departments at Duke have extended an invitation to Angela Davis to speak at the University’s Chapel on Feb. 27.
Duke explains that Davis “has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice.” While she does seemingly have an endless quest for criticism of capitalism and U.S. policies (except when it comes to garnering a hefty five-figure speaker fee herself), legitimate concerns exist about troubling and hateful aspects of Davis’ agenda.
The announcements for Davis’ appearance do not mention a title, the fact that her public talks in recent years often move from “social justice” to attacks on Israel, and that she is a prominent promoter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Davis is a signatory to a letter calling for Marwan Barghouti to be released from jail. The letter euphemistically refers to Barghouti as a “political prisoner.” In fact, Barghouti is a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which has carried out suicide killings in Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union, the U.S., Canada, and others. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences in Israel for his participation in five murders.
Davis is an outspoken supporter of Rasmea Odeh, a onetime member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization. Odeh was convicted of participating in a 1969 bombing that killed two students at a Jerusalem grocery store. In 2014, Davis asserted that “Odeh never committed a crime, and her arrest and conviction by an Israeli military court was unlawful.” Yet an International Red Cross observer attended the six-month trial and considered the trial fair and just; and later Odeh pleaded guilty to immigration fraud in the United States and was deported to Jordan.
At Odeh’s 2017 farewell event in Chicago, Davis spoke of supporting Palestinians by being in “solidarity with the indigenous people of this region.” Suggesting or implying that Jews who have lived for 3,000 years in the land of Israel are not indigenous to the land is as absurd as suggesting that American Indians are not indigenous to America.
In a 2009 speech titled “From Palestine to the Prison Regime” at the University of California – Riverside, Davis said, “[In] 1961 and 1962, that to challenge the colonial, colonialist, expansionist policies of the state of Israel was in the interest of global freedom." A dispute between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the West Bank and Gaza did not even occur until years later in 1967. In other words, Davis appears to be challenging Israel’s very right to exist at all.
It is not surprising that Davis has endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), an organization that advocates against the existence of Israel with such statements as, “All Israel is occupied Palestine.” It compares Israel to Hitler’s Third Reich and describes Hamas-ruled Gaza as an “Israeli extermination camp.” In 2009, Davis similarly stated, “We should … be cognizant of the extent to which the appalling Nazi genocide continues to be evoked by some people as an excuse for genocidal policies on the part of the state of Israel.” While Davis bristles at the charge, it is simply anti-Semitic to accuse Israel of committing Nazi-like genocide.
Clearly under the promotion of academic freedom, Duke has every right to invite Davis or anyone else to speak there. However, when such a speaker has a long history of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, those who love and respect Israel for its thriving democracy – or simply recognize its right to exist – should call into question the purpose of her talk.
Peter Reitzes lives in Chapel Hill.