A civil rights group in Alabama has reversed its decision to honour Angela Davis after Jewish groups objected to the black human rights activist’s support of a boycott of Israel.
Ms Davis, 74, an iconic figure on the American left, is the latest individual to become embroiled in the growing controversy over the country’s response to the Palestinian issue.
Underpinning the dispute is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which has been growing in influence in North America.
The movement calls for a boycott of Israel until the country agrees to withdraw from occupied Palestinian land, grant Palestinian refugees the right of return and confer full equality to Arabs living within its borders.
Ms Davis, an academic and writer, was due to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at a gala in her home town of Birmingham, Alabama, next month.
However, the award was abruptly rescinded and the gala cancelled by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute last week following protests from Jewish groups in the city and beyond.
“In late December, supporters and other concerned individuals and organisations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision,” the Institute said in a statement.
“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 statement continued.
“While we recognise Ms Davis’ stature as a scholar and prominent figure in civil rights history, we believe this decision is consistent with the ideals of the award’s namesake, Rev. Shuttlesworth.”
Writing on Facebook, Ms Davis said she was “stunned” by the decision.
“I support Palestinian political prisoners just as I support current political prisoners in the Basque Country, in Catalunya, in India, and in other parts of the world,” she said.
“I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory US policies.”
Randall Woodfin, Birmingham’s mayor, voiced his regret at the decision to rescind the award.
“I am dismayed because this controversy is playing out in a way that harks backward, rather than forward — that portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be.
“I am dismayed because I believe that we should be able to expect better, from ourselves and from one another.”
He voiced the hope that Israel’s supporters and opponents would engage in dialogue rather than “retreating to their respective corners”.
But this seems unlikely given the polarisation over the issue.
In October, Lucy Petersen, a teaching assistant at the University of Michigan, refused to provide a letter of recommendation for a student planning to study at Tel Aviv University.
She wrote: “Along with numerous other academics in the US and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”
The US Women’s March has also been engulfed in the controversy, losing a human rights award from the German Social Democratic Party which accused some march organisers who supported the boycott movement of “hardcore antisemitism.”
Allegations of anti-semitism have been denied by Bud Hengsen, a member of the Committee for Peace and Justice for Israel and Palestine.
He told the Washington Post: “The bottom line that people everywhere are beginning to recognise is that there can be no lasting peace for Israel without social justice for Palestinians.”