Students say that the event, which was scheduled for 1 April, was canceled without warning or discussion on 29 March.
It followed heavy opposition from Zionists who attacked Davis over her support for Palestinian rights.
Students and their supporters say that the university administration, offering “flimsy excuses,” is attempting to deflect responsibility and blame the organizers of the event.“Time and again Palestine activists have faced false claims that they broke the rules followed by attempts to either blame them for their own censorship or drown their victories in red tape,” stated civil rights group Palestine Legal on Wednesday.
The university asserts that the event has simply been “postponed” and claims that “allegations that the event was canceled due to pressure from students who had concerns about the speaker and the content of the program are completely false.”
However, administrators have changed their story several times since they canceled Davis’ appearance.
Butler senior Roua Daas, a member of the student government and a main organizer of the event, told The Electronic Intifada that she had been informed Monday that the event had been canceled.
That evening, the administration had insisted that it was merely “postponed.”
“I was told a scattered and inconsistent range of reasons,” she said.
First, the administration claimed that the timing of the event was inappropriate, but would not clarify the reason. Then, she said, the university alleged that the event procedure had not been followed, citing policies and procedures that Daas said “never existed” nor had been applied to any previous event she has helped plan over the years.
“The Angela Davis event had been in preparation since early February – they’ve had more than two months to come to talk to me about procedures and contracts,” she explained.
Now, they are claiming that Davis’ “significant” honorarium was not authorized by the student government.
“But the contract was signed weeks ago,” Daas said. “The fact that they have supposedly caught these things three days before the event doesn’t seem like it’s an accident.”
Butler students and allied local organizations have stated that the arbitrary enforcement of these procedures now “is an attempt to specifically censor Angela Davis.”
It is “grounded in the school’s history of racism and highlights the lack of genuine support for students of color, academic freedom and political engagement at Butler University, a predominantly white institution,” they add.Students are demanding that Butler University formally apologize to Davis and reinstate the event.
Jewish Voice for Peace has initiated a petition in support.
Highlighting students’ strength
This is not the first time that Butler University has capitulated to Israel lobby demands to silence Palestinian rights activists and scholars.
“I have seen this university bow to Zionist pressure before,” Daas said.
Last year, students faced attack campaigns by anti-Palestinian groups and right-wing political commentators over an event about boycotting, while a high-level Butler administrator bolstered Zionist claims.
Notably, Israel lobby groups had tried to use the student government as a censor of speech in support of Palestine, said Palestine Legal at the time.
Daas said that by asserting that the student government was responsible for shutting the event down, the administration seems to be scapegoating the student government again.
“The administration has said that they have had conversations with student government officials,” she explained. “But I have not been included in a single discussion – even as the organizer of the event.”
While Daas and other organizers work to reinstate the event, she said that this incident highlights the strength that student activists have.
“Butler would not be changing their messaging if what organizers were doing wasn’t working,” she said.
“If they had just canceled the event and we had said nothing, we wouldn’t have raised awareness like we did. Through these lies and misrepresentations of what has happened, we have learned really how much power students have,” she added.
This is not the first time that Angela Davis has been at the center of attacks by right-wing groups over her support for Palestinian liberation and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
In 2019, Israel advocates pressured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to initially rescind a human rights award given to Davis.
After public outcry, the institute reversed its decision and awarded Davis the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights award in 2020.“As Angela Davis herself knows, when we persevere we win,” Palestine Legal stated.