Column: Northeastern Hillel’s absurd statement on Angela Davis

Abolitionist Angela Davis spoke to the NU community Feb. 15.

"Angela Davis, painted portrait IMG_6929004" by Abode of Chaos is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Abolitionist Angela Davis spoke to the NU community Feb. 15.

Noah Colbert, columnist

In the year 2021, America sees a concerning rise of anti-Semitism. Neo-Nazis feel emboldened to flaunt their bigotry in the streets and in the U.S. Capitol, while hate crimes have increased across the country. A significant number of U.S. congresspeople (all Republicans) have supported numerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, such as QAnon, which is lifted directly from the age old “blood libel” canard, which holds that Jews drink the blood of Christian children. 

With this in mind, there is much reason for hope, especially for solidarity between marginalized groups. It is disheartening to see so much of our national discourse on anti-Semitism occupied by a fool’s errand: the equation of anti-Zionism or Palestinian solidarity with anti-Semitism. Yet, perhaps predictably, this has been the response of Northeastern Hillel to the Northeastern Honors event with Angela Davis. After the Feb. 15 event, the following statement was released: 

The lack of real thought put into the smear highlights how baseless it is. The only actual objectionable statement Hillel can reference is the alleged “Zionist fascists and opponents of socialism.” If it is true that Davis said these words, this would undoubtedly be a callous thing to say about political prisoners. The only problem is that Davis never said this. The quote originates from Alan Dershowitz’s book “Chutzpah.” Dershowitz, a friend of Jeffrey Epstein, was criticized by Jewish groups for allegedly making things up in the book. Dershowitz claims that when he called Davis’ secretary, he was told that the Soviet Jews in question were not political prisoners, that they were “Zionist fascists and opponents of socialism.” Even if Dershowitz’s words are taken at face value, something that can’t be assumed due to his penchant for misrepresenting facts and blatantly lying, the phrase in question was not even said by Davis. Alan Dershowitz slings the charge of anti-Semitic at anyone he dislikes. In his worldview, Davis can be easily labelled anti-Semitic, but to use the term to describe Steve Bannon, a white supremacist and key figure in the global alt right movement, is unfair. One would think that Hillel would have researched the actual incident in question before falsely accusing Davis. 

Hillel’s objection “to the politicization of the conversation of the State of Israel” is completely irrelevant, considering Davis’ speaking event was not about the Palestine-Israel issue. Furthermore, the assertion is meaningless given the fact that, of course, the issue is political. How could it not be? The references to the Abraham Accords are especially perplexing in the context of a “peaceful and harmonious coexistence,” because the normalization of relations between numerous Arab nations and Israel was not done in the name of peace. For example, the Israeli government has worked with Morocco for decades to exchange arms and intelligence. This is no surprise, as such collaboration is often to the benefit of regimes that seek to stifle opposition. After the deal Hillel claims will usher in peace, the United States approved a $1 billion Morrocan arms deal. The collaboration of oppressive governments for their own interests, and not those of their people, should not be encouraged. 

To speak of peace in any manner regarding the state of Israel while its occupation of Palestine continues, is absurd. Netanyahu’s government can sign all the arms deals he likes, but they are merely emblems of a negative peace predicated on ignoring the perpetual state sanctioned violence against the Palestinian people. The oppression of any marginalized people is seen as unacceptable to Angela Davis, and it is this that she has dedicated her life to fighting. 

Referring to Davis as an elder stuck in past stupor is a childish, frankly racist barb that deserves little response. Professor Davis has walked this earth longer than Israel has been a country, and we appreciate her insight about the movements she has dedicated her life to fighting for.

The views that Hillel is allowed to get away with endorsing about Palestinian people are absolutely horrific, especially considering how a tenuous six degrees of separation connection between the Students for Justice in Palestine and a group the U.S. deems a terrorist organization was enough to warrant endless debate in the Student Government Association last November. There is no backlash when Hillel likes tweets opining that “If only Palestinian children were given toys to play with & not taught to kill & glorify terror.” Dehumanization of any people, especially children, is wrong, and to present these traditionally fascist rhetoric as empowering to the Jewish community is despicable.

Hillel’s stance on what counts as anti-Semitism, if taken as true, would negate the commendable human rights work of countless Jewish activists, and would cast them as either anti-Semites or “bad Jews.” Davis’ critique of the Israeli government (not the Jewish people), is the same held by B’Tselem, a leading human rights organization in Israel that has been harassed by the government for challenging its apartheid state. The Israeli state operates by the maxim that it cannot end its occupation, but that it has no obligation to the people it holds violently under that occupation. To call this apartheid is not to slander the Jewish people, it is to state a basic reality that would not be controversial under any other circumstances. 

The framing of Boycott Divest & Sanction, or BDS, as discriminatory is especially insulting when referring to Davis, considering the role boycotts and sanctions played in both the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa (leaders of both these movements, such as James Baldwin and Nelson Mandela, also supported Palestine). A boycott cannot be discriminatory because it targets a specific entity; indeed, that is the very purpose of it, to exact a specific policy preference. Hillel’s logic would cast literally every targeted economic action as discriminatory. It also blatantly lies about the scope of BDS: it calls for divestment from businesses that support the Israeli apartheid state, not to boycott Jews in particular. 

Angela Davis came to Northeastern to reaffirm her commitment to the destruction of all oppressive systems. Hillel’s statement fails to comprehend the notion that to acknowledge the struggle of one group in no way minimizes that of another. Indeed, if we are lucky, that recognition will be the beginning of solidarity between the oppressed people of the world.

Noah Colbert is a first-year mathematics and political science combined major. He can be reached at [email protected].