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The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute reversed its decision to honor Angela Davis with their Civil Rights Award, setting off a contentious debate that has ensnared the Jewish community. As a civil rights worker and Jewish former refugee from the USSR, I have thoughts. A THREAD:
First, context. The Institute explained: “upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.”

The full statement: bcri.org/annual-shuttle…
Instead of honestly considering Davis’ record, some have reflexively jumped to her defense, insisting that this was an attempt by the Jewish community to tear down Black activists.” That is cheap and intellectually bankrupt.
Others have pointed out that the small Jewish community in Birmingham could not have been the deciding factor in this decision and that it was more likely the work of the far larger Christian pro-Israel community.
Some were quick to insist Davis’ support for Palestinians & BDS did not make her antisemitic or undeserving of the award. This too misses the mark & is frankly insulting. My grievances re Davis have exactly zero to do with her support for Palestinian Rights, which I also support.
Now, to be sure, Davis has for decades been an important voice for many important causes of justice and equality, particularly here in the US. But there is another side that progressives leaping to her defense ought to consider.
Is Dr. Davis an exemplar of deep care for the human condition, as some have suggested? Does she exemplify a revolutionary clarity of vision in opposition to carcerality and coloniality? Hardly.
While speaking out against imperialism and colonialism, Angela Davis allowed herself to become a tool for a regime which violently maintained an empire that spanned literally 1/6 of the world’s land surface and brutally suppressed numerous national movements for independence.
While Davis is known as a leading voice of carceral reform (actually, prison abolition) and in defense of political prisoners, when dissidents languishing in Soviet prisons appealed to her for help, she told them they got what they deserved.
Here, a letter from Czech dissident Jiri Pelikan: “YOU, Angela can no longer be silent about the violation of human rights in the countries that call themselves ‘socialist’ and by their behavior discredit socialism more than any reactionary propaganda. libcom.org/library/open-l…
Her response was essentially that Soviet political prisoners were undeserving of her support. So much for being a principled voice for political prisoners and against carcerality.
Davis recently tweeted that Israel is responsible for the worst carceral society. That would be the US where the incarceration rate is > 700 per 100k, the highest in the world. In Israel/Palestine it is a fraction of this. But in the USSR, it was even higher approaching 1 in 100.
Davis has been an outspoken critic of militarism. But when Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia to stop democratic reforms taking place there (where the term “tankie” comes from), Dr. Davis cheered. She cheered again when, a decade later, the USSR invaded Afghanistan.
So Davis opposed Western imperialism, but was a cheerleader for Soviet imperialism, accepting the Lenin Peace Prize (formerly the Stalin Peace Prize) for her efforts.
Davis has been lauded for her advocacy in support of refugees seeking entry into US & other western nations. But what of those who sought to leave the USSR & client states? Here she is smiling with E German tyrant Erich Hoeneker who ordered those trying to leave shot on sight.
Davis has also received praise for her support of indigenous rights. But the USSR sought to erase indigenous cultures in its territory, criminalizing indigenous languages, suppressing indigenous cultures in a process of “Russification” to create model Soviet citizens.
And Davis has maintained this selective outrage right up unto the present. Davis is today one of the leading voices for the academic boycott of Israel. Yet in 1972 she gleefully accepted an honorary doctorate from Moscow State University.
Israel certainly does not have a perfect human rights record. But if its record justifies boycotts, this would be infinitely more justified of the USSR, which was, by any measure, one of the worst state abusers of human rights of the 20th century?
Yet instead of calls for boycotts of Soviet universities she lent them her imprimatur as social justice activist by accepting their honorary degrees. What could possibly justify such moral incongruence?
It’s worth noting here that other civil rights activists did not remain silent and not only condemned Soviet abuses but actively advocated for the rights of oppressed Soviet Jews & other victims of brutal Soviet chauvinism, including MLK, Bayard Rustin, & others.
I want to be clear that my criticism of Davis is not that she failed to take a moral position on every single human rights issue across the globe. There are far too many issues in the world for any one person to speak out on every single one. Thats an impossibly high standard.
Rather, Davis provided her imprimatur as an anti-racist political prisoner & champion of feminism, social justice, & human rights to provide cover to a brutally oppressive authoritarian, imperialistic regime, promoting the USSR as a bastion of equality & defender of human rights.
While civil rights activists like Dr King criticized the USSR for its militarism, oppression of minorities, and imprisonment of dissidents, the USSR enlisted Davis to provide a counter-narrative as a world-famous political prisoner & activist.
My parents recall how comrade Angela Davis was promoted throughout the USSR as a champion of human rights who embraced the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Jews were being incarcerated for the crime of...studying Hebrew, considered “subversive Zionist activity.”
Imagine someone being honored for environmental activism who, while championing environmental causes in the US, became a spokesperson for corporations poisoning communities overseas, promoting them as leaders of environmental responsibility. This is Angela Davis.
And this is why the USSR embraced Davis: she was an effective propaganda tool, helping to provide them with cover against criticism over human rights violations, deflect criticism, and advance their campaigns of ideological warfare.
US intelligence services estimated that around 5% of the total budget of the KGB - which was one of the most vast espionage institutions in history - was dedicated to promoting Angela Davis.
One of the campaigns of ideological warfare in which Davis was employed, was the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign which has outlived the USSR itself, continuing to influence discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in the Leftist spaces where Davis is a hero.
Part of a broader campaign of ideological subversion and proxy warfare against the US & its allies & to advance Soviet interests in the Middle East, the USSR intelligence services conceived of and disseminated many of the ideas about Zionism one still hears commonly on the left.
This campaign drew upon the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion (also created in Russia, but by reactionary Czarist factions) focused on linking Zionism to the gravest ills for progressives: racism, imperialism, apartheid, fascism, Nazism, genocide, etc.
It was the Soviets who used their immense power and influence over allies at the UN to push through the now-infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution.
Here are some Soviet political cartoons promoting all the ideas we find today on the anti-Zionist Left: “Zionism is racism”, Israel perpetrating genocide, Zionism is Nazism, Zionism is a tool of imperialism.
To promote these ideas about Zionism, the USSR used Leftist academics, journalists, and Soviet-aligned Leftist groups. One such group was the Communist Party USA. Angela Davis was a member of this Soviet subsidiary front group until 1991 when the USSR began to dissolve.
Many socialists had become disillusioned with the USSR and left the Communist Party, realizing that, contrary to its self-promotion, the USSR was a farce, nothing like the socialist dream they envisioned and fought for.
Not so with Davis. She said in ‘91 that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a sad era for all those who fought for socialism. BS. As Czech socialist dissident Jiri Pelikan said, the USSR did more to discredit socialism than any reactionary propaganda ever could.
The USSR was socialist the way the Democratic Republic of North Korea is a democratic republic - in name only. In reality, the USSR was an imperialistic, authoritarian state capitalist dictatorship where workers had neither control over the means of production nor their own lives
I write all of this as a former refugee from the USSR *and* as a socialist.
Though Davis left the Communist Party USA in 1991 as the USSR imploded, largely from its own internal contradictions and under the weight of its own BS, Davis retained many of the ideas of Soviet propaganda into which she was indoctrinated.
And she has helped, in turn, to indoctrinate a new generation of Leftists into the same. This is particularly glaring on the issue of Zionism/Israel. Davis continues to promote the ideas of Soviet anti-Zionism which were built upon an older foundation of pure antisemitism.
Probably the most ironic possible commentary on the Angela Davis debacle. @bhamcivilrights is impugned for allegedly “ignoring” human rights issues in Palestine, but Davis’ transgression is far more grievous: actively covering for one of the worst state abusers of human rights.
Here, fixed it for you @LatuffCartoons.
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