Butler University blocks Angela Davis event

A woman holds a microphone

Eminent scholar and activist Angela Davis was scheduled to speak at Butler University on 1 April, but the administration shut it down. (Romerito Pontes)

Under pressure from Israel advocates, Butler University in Indiana has decided to shut down a lecture with eminent scholar and activist Angela Davis.

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.”

On Facebook, Angela Davis posted a link to Daas’ letter in the campus newspaper, calling on the university to reinstate the event.

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.

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Comments

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And now the world knows about the cancelled speech. They aren't even intelligent. The actions of the Israeli lobby are shameful but those of the university, cowardly. Over and again the Israeli Statists try to silence anyone who speaks a critical word; they would silence your parrot if you taught it to say "Long live Palestine." But time and again cowardly institutions roll over. They have the means to resist but they are in a funk. Why? Everyone fears being called an anti-Semite. When you find your parrot dead at the bottom of the cage, its head chopped off, there'll be a note from some pro-Israeli body saying: "This parrot was anti-Semitic". So long as this irrational fear pervades, the followers of Herzl will get away with it. What will stop them is a little bit of courage. It takes no great heroism for university authorities or others to stand by their commitment to free speech and to face down the false claims of anti-Semitism. The cowards take the short view and in the long run they will regret it. History will record their cowardice, as it will the intimidation carried out by the anti-Palestinian racists. Let's hope Angela D publishes the text of her speech and we can all buy a copy. She can donate the proceeds to a Palestinian charity.

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How dare do they 'postpone' the visit of this Great Socialist Resistsnce Activist ?
Davis is an important radical feminist icon who can bring a Neo- Marxist interpretation to the Middle East question. Israel understands that Ms Davis is dangerous for them !

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George Orwell: If liberty means anything at all it means it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear."

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Maybe by now the Butler admin has sorted out things out and reinstated the appearance of Angela Davis. Or maybe they have chosen instead to bend to the pressure of Zionists and deny the expression of viewpoints they disagree with. Anti-intellectualism, anti-freedom of speech, and pro-apartheid are not easily papered over; they will be part of Butler's record for many years. Is this the way Butler seeks to appeal to prospective students in today's highly competitive higher education marketplace?

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Big fan of Angela but was she really to be paid a 5 figure sum for this talk? Why? It's not good that an activist needs to be paid or is offered payment to talk to students.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).