Paula Orloff: Jewish Shabbat for a Palestinian rights supporter |

Paula Orloff: Jewish Shabbat for a Palestinian rights supporter

A number of traditional Friday evening Jewish Shabbats across the country honored Angela Davis in February.

She is a scholar and civil rights advocate. She also supports the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement directed at Israel until they end the crushing occupation, displacement of Palestinians, and legalized apartheid.

That support of BDS got her into trouble with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. They were about to give her the Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, but rescinded it when the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center sent a letter urging the board to reconsider the award because of her support of BDS.

The dangerous logic is that the Israeli government represents the Jewish culture, religion and people, and critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. Who anointed the rulers of Israel purveyors of the Jewish people? Israel is not a pure Jewish state, anyway. At least 20 percent of the population within Israel are Palestinian, though they are subject to prohibitions in housing, jobs and civil rights similar to U.S. Jim Crow laws of the past.

It is a double standard to label critics of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Equating critics of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism is in large part due to media whitewashing Israel.

The recently released Al Jazeera series, “The Lobby — USA” is about the Israeli lobby in the U.S. It shows how numerous pro Israel media and lobbying organizations receive large contributions from a foreign government — Israel. They falsely portray Palestinian human rights groups and individuals as anti-Semitic and terrorists. This documentary was suppressed due to pressure by the Israeli government. However, the leaked documentary with footage by an undercover agent can be viewed on YouYube by searching for “The Lobby — USA,” episodes 1-4.

It is a double standard to label critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Feb. 11, “Pro-Israel Lobby Caught on Tape Boasting That Its Money Influences Washington.” Greenwald observed, “… We’re allowed to talk about the power of the NRA … Saudis … pharmaceutical companies … Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry … but we’re not allowed to talk about an equally potent, well-organized and well-financed lobby that ensures … U.S. defense of Israel … you get attacked as being anti-Semitic …”

In spite of the Israel lobby’s influence in government and the media, there are increasing Jewish religious groups, organizations and individuals who are disturbed by the Israeli government’s brutal occupation and systemic apartheid practices.

The retraction of the civil rights award for Angela Davis brought a wave of objections from Birmingham citizens, government officials, and organizations including a Jewish congregation in Birmingham that posted a sign welcoming her to their Friday evening Shabbat. Dozens of Shabbats across the country also posted welcome messages to her. Because it was difficult to ignore the many Jewish and non-Jewish voices joining in support of Angela Davis, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute offered to reinstate the award.

Angela Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in an area called Dynamite Hill because it was bombed so many times by the Klu Klux Klan. She understood firsthand the dangerous, ugly face of racism. Recently she has spoken and written about the dehumanizing, often deadly, policing, imprisonment and release system in many parts of the country that results in de-facto discrimination. Davis echoes the works of civil rights lawyer, Michelle Alexander, who in 2010 wrote the book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” On Jan. 19 of this year, Alexander wrote the New York Times article, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine.”

Angela Davis and other civil rights workers understand the connection of the Palestinian struggle with the systematic racism and bigotry that still exists in many ways in the U.S. Palestinians are subject to ongoing extralegal killings, and massive indefinite imprisonment without charge. The oppression is pervasive with a wall, blockade of trade and travel, razing of homes, uprooting millions of olive trees, destruction of infrastructure, and blocking water access,

The take-over of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank makes room for ever-expanding, well-appointed Jewish only settlements. The Israeli military enforces these policies with the help of close to $4 billion of our taxes yearly.

Information on two of several organizations drawing from diverse writers and sources about the occupation and apartheid can be found at and

A Birmingham Shabbat participant, Phyllis Mark, observed about the initial decision to rescind the reward for Angela Davis, “I did not hear any distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policy. As a Jew, it’s a deep, deep embarrassment and shame that I feel, that we would become an oppressor …”

Another Shabbat participant said, “Angela Davis … has always understood that our historic struggles are linked … and that we’re stronger together.”

Paula Orloff lives in Nevada City.

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