So Angela Davis is not anti-Semitic but Alice Walker is? I am Confused!

Rima Najjar
5 min readJan 31, 2019
Left: Angela Davis
Right: Alice Walker on the 2016 Freedom Flotilla to Gaza

The statement of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute reinstating the award to Angela Davis was welcomed by many as a vindication of Angela Davis’s integrity as a human rights activist.

In my eyes, though, it indicted the Institute even more, as the language of the statement implicitly subscribed to a Zionist lie — namely, that support for Palestine = support for violence (aka terrorism). To all those aware that the retraction of the award was due to pressure from the Jewish community in Birmingham because of Davis’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the following language is appalling in its veiling of that fact.

Board members reported on discussions they had with various members of the community that expressed opposition towards giving Dr. Davis the award due to her lack of vocal opposition to violence. (Emphasis added)

The language completely erases the Palestinian struggle from the equation.

Language having to do with supporting Palestinian human rights ought not to be controversial and avoided like the plague by Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute!

Anti-Zionist language remains problematic because it is wrapped up, by necessity, in the cloak of Judaism, as the case of Alice Walker shows. (See In Defence of Alice Walker).

Joseph Massad defines Zionism as “a colonial movement … constituted in ideology and practice by a religio-racial epistemology.”

Many of us activists in the struggle for justice in Palestine are now proficient at criticizing Zionism as a settler-colonial movement, but many are not comfortable or proficient at untangling the basic relevant roots of Zionism that lie in Judaism.

“Since the turn of the century,” write Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley in the ESCWA report on Israel’s Apartheid against the Palestinian people,

the history of the Zionist movement has been centred on creating and preserving a Jewish State in Palestine… The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel specifically referred to the new State as a ‘Jewish State in EretzIsrael’. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation specify concerns with ‘the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State’…

The mission of preserving Israel as a Jewish State has inspired or even compelled Israel to pursue several general racial policies… Demographic engineering …

Bans on challenges to racial domination [Jewish supremacy] — Israel reinforces its race-based immigration policy with measures designed to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from challenging the doctrine and laws that purport to establish Israel as a Jewish State. Article 7 (a) of the Basic Law: Knesset (1958), for instance, prohibits any political party in Israel from adopting a platform that challenges the State’s expressly Jewish character …

The quest of an ethnic or racial group for its own State amounts to a national project, and so Israeli institutions designed to preserve Israel as a
Jewish State are referred to in this report as “Jewish-national” institutions. In Israel, an interplay of laws consolidates Jewish-national supremacy …

To remain a ‘Jewish State,’ uncontested Jewish nationalist domination over the indigenous Palestinian people is essential — an advantage secured in the democracy of Israel by population size — and State laws, national institutions, development practices and security policies all focus on that mission. Different methods are applied to Palestinian populations depending on where they live, requiring variations in their administration … Knesset disallows political parties from adopting a platform containing any challenge to the identity of Israel as a Jewish State …

‘According to Palestinian sources, there are about 3.5 million Palestinian refugees nowadays registered with UNRWA. If Israel were to allow all of them to return to her territory, this would be an act of suicide on her part, and no State can be expected to destroy itself’”.

The disingenuous insistence one sometimes hears that the bolded word “Jewish” in the excerpts above does not, in any way, refer to faith and that it only refers to the non-religious, assimilated, atheist, socialist Jews who founded the Zionist movement is a huge obstacle in the path of anyone interested in dismantling Israel as a Jewish state — i.e., in achieving a truly democratic and secular state in historic Palestine. Today all around the world, synagogues and rabbis are the ones indoctrinating their communities into worshipping Israel and a tribal, some would say Medieval, identity. At their head is Israel’s Chief Rabbi. Those that don’t are out of the mainstream.

Some, Jews and non-Jews, especially Christians who are brought up, like Alice Walker, on the Christian tradition which “reveres a Bible containing Psalms and prophetic passages about ‘Zion’” and who believe that people are conditioned as much by their religion, a part of their cultural make-up, as anything else, are moved to “go back” in order to understand the evil we human beings commit — indeed, as a duty, a personal introspection:

We must go back
As grown ups, now,
Not as the gullible children we once were,
And study our programming,
From the beginning.
All of it: The Christian, the Jewish,
The Muslim; even the Buddhist. All of it, without exception,
At the root.
[from Alice Walker’s 2017 poem It Is Our (Frightful) Duty]

Is it anti-Christianity to go back to the Bible and interpret the verses that inspire Christian Evangelists to commit evil and cause untold suffering to the Palestinian people in the “Holy Land”? Is it anti-Judaism (I won’t say anti-Semitic, because I am not sure I understand what that means any more) to look into what in the Talmud might be inspiring the Chief Rabbi of Israel in his racism and cruelty, in condoning ethnic cleansing and genocide?

As Virginia Tilley commented on a public forum on Facebook:

… Unfortunately, the idea that Jews uniquely have a literally God-given right to protect themselves and “their” land at any cost to non-Jews is a strong current within Israeli nationalist ideology (I believe some army rabbis have recently reinforced this point). Afrikaners in South Africa, who also had a “chosen people” ideology, felt the same way about “others.” An interesting book comparing various chosen people doctrines is Anthony Smith’s “Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity.”

Nearly half of Israeli Jews believe in ethnic cleansing, a 2016 survey finds: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the findings a ‘wake-up call for Israeli society’ — meaning Jewish Israeli society.

The world needs to recognize and deal with the fact that Palestinians are oppressed by oppressors who are Jewish and have colonized us as Jews. We need to challenge Jewish exceptionalism and Jewish privilege in the movement.

Criticizing the Jewish state, a state based on a religio-racial epistemology, and calling for its demise as such is not tantamount to the destruction of Judaism; it is tantamount to the destruction of Apartheid and Jewish supremacy as it manifests itself in the Jewish state of Israel.

Since a “chosen people” ideology is firmly embedded in Jewish nationalist thought today, and since such indoctrination negatively impacts how Israel’s Jews and other Zionists look upon “others”, specifically Palestinians whom they believe took “their land” rather than the other way around, we need education campaigns similar to that performed by Zochrot / זוכרות / ذاكرات, focused on empathy in Israel with “the other” to help in dismantling the Jewish state of Israel and move all of us toward one secular and democratic state in all of Palestine from the river to the sea.


Rima Najjar comes from Lifta, Jerusalem and Ijzim, Haifa.