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Feminist philosopher Judith Butler vengefully pursued by Israel’s fans

The article from JPost is followed by Judith Butler’s response. The publisher’s summary of her new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism is at the end


Judith Butler

German Jewish leader: Rescind Israel hater’s prize
General Secretary of Germany’s Jewish community demands that Frankfurt rescind Adorno prize from BDS-supporter Judith Butler.

By Benjamin Weinthal, JPost,
August 27, 2012

The city of Frankfurt’s decision to award the Adorno prize to an American professor who supports a comprehensive cultural and academic boycott of the Jewish state prompted Stephen J. Kramer, the general secretary of Germany’s Jewish community, on Sunday to demand that Frankfurt not honor Dr. Judith Butler. Kramer told The Jerusalem Post , “It is a systemic failure.
Only a curatorium that lacks the moral firmness necessary for its task could separate Butler’s contribution to philosophy from her moral depravity. A person who allies herself with deadly enemies of the Jewish state, considers Hezbollah and Hamas legitimate social movements and part of the global left, and would strangle Israel with a boycott does not deserve this honor.”

Dr. Judith Butler, a professor in the rhetoric and comparative literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who has embraced boycott, sanctions and divestment groups targeting Israel, is slated to receive the Adorno prize on September 11.

Butler flatly rejected, via email to the Post, that she endorsed Hamas and Hezbollah. When asked specifically by the Post about her position toward the two anti-Israel terror groups, she declined to comment.

Kramer, from the 105,000- member German Jewish council, said it was not only “shocking” but “sad” that Frankfurt is to honor Butler.

“She is a well-known hater of Israel,” and to award her a prize named after a philosopher who was forced to emigrate because of his Jewish background cannot be viewed as a mistake, said Kramer.

Frankfurt has a history of honoring anti-Israel academics. In 2010, the city honored Alfred Grosser, a French academic who equated Israel with Nazi Germany. Israel’s Embassy in Berlin slammed Grosser and the city of Frankfurt for the ceremony at the time.

Kramer said the fact that Butler “is Jewish makes her worthy of a study of the psychology of self-hatred but in no way as a laureate of the Adorno prize whose name is now stained.”

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) was a German Jewish social philosopher who taught in post-Holocaust Frankfurt. He wrote about contemporary anti-Semitism, and resisted in his writings German leftist students who attacked and sought to delegitimize Israel after the Six Day War.

In her email statement to the Post, Butler wrote that “I am a scholar who gained an introduction to philosophy through Jewish thought, and I understand myself as defending and continuing a Jewish ethical tradition that includes figures such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt. It is simply untrue that I am anti-Semitic or self-hating.

Indeed, I have been alarmed by the number of Jews who, dismayed by Israeli politics, seek to disavow their Jewishness. I am not one of those.”

In response to Post emails and telephone queries on Monday, the new mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann, declined to comment. Felix Semmelroth, a representative from Frankfurt’s culture and science agency wrote the Post on Monday that Judith Butler will be honored “as an outstanding philosopher and literature professor, especially her contributions to the relationship between identity and body and gender research, as well as moral philosophy.” He also noted that she has made contributions to the study of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

The Adorno prize, which comes with a 50,000 Euro award, recognizes excellence in the disciplines of philosophy, music, theater and film, and is presented every three years.

A prominent US gay activist and writer, Jayson Littman, who has written articles about gay rights for the Post and Haaretz, told the Post, “I am saddened that a respected-academic like Judith Butler is working to turn the hatred of Israel into a queer value, and certainly hope that in honor of Theodor Adorno, she turns down the award.”

Butler earned global attention as a groundbreaking scholar in the field of gender studies in the 1990’s. Though not trained as a Mideast academic, she has increasingly turned her attention to Israel.


Judith Butler responds to attack: ‘I affirm a Judaism that is not associated with state violence’
By Judith Butler, Mondoweiss
August 27, 2012

Yesterday the Jerusalem Post published an attack on the awarding of a major international prize to Judith Butler, the philosopher and Berkeley professor of comparative literature, because Butler favors boycotting Israel. Butler wrote this response and, unhopeful that the Post would publish it, sent it to us. –Editors.

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article reporting that some organizations are opposed to my receiving the Adorno Prize, an award given every three years to someone who works in the tradition of critical theory broadly construed. The accusations against me are that I support Hamas and Hezbollah (which is not true) that I support BDS (partially true), and that I am anti-Semitic (patently false). Perhaps I should not be as surprised as I am that those who oppose my receiving the Adorno Prize would seek recourse to such scurrilous and unfounded charges to make their point. I am a scholar who gained an introduction to philosophy through Jewish thought, and I understand myself as defending and continuing a Jewish ethical tradition that includes figures such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt. I received a Jewish education in Cleveland, Ohio at The Temple under the tutelage of Rabbi Daniel Silver where I developed strong ethical views on the basis of Jewish philosophical thought. I learned, and came to accept, that we are called upon by others, and by ourselves, to respond to suffering and to call for its alleviation. But to do this, we have to hear the call, find the resources by which to respond, and sometimes suffer the consequences for speaking out as we do. I was taught at every step in my Jewish education that it is not acceptable to stay silent in the face of injustice. Such an injunction is a difficult one, since it does not tell us exactly when and how to speak, or how to speak in a way that does not produce a new injustice, or how to speak in a way that will be heard and registered in the right way. My actual position is not heard by these detractors, and perhaps that should not surprise me, since their tactic is to destroy the conditions of audibility.

I studied philosophy at Yale University and continued to consider the questions of Jewish ethics throughout my education. I remain grateful for those ethical resources, for the formation that I had, and that animates me still. It is untrue, absurd, and painful for anyone to argue that those who formulate a criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating. Such charges seek to demonize the person who is articulating a critical point of view and so disqualify the viewpoint in advance. It is a silencing tactic: this person is unspeakable, and whatever they speak is to be dismissed in advance or twisted in such a way that it negates the validity of the act of speech. The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say. When one set of Jews labels another set of Jews “anti-Semitic”, they are trying to monopolize the right to speak in the name of the Jews. So the allegation of anti-Semitism is actually a cover for an intra-Jewish quarrel.

In the United States, I have been alarmed by the number of Jews who, dismayed by Israeli politics, including the occupation, the practices of indefinite detention, the bombing of civilian populations in Gaza, seek to disavow their Jewishness. They make the mistake of thinking that the State of Israel represents Jewishness for our times, and that if one identifies as a Jew, one supports Israel and its actions. And yet, there have always been Jewish traditions that oppose state violence, that affirm multi-cultural co-habitation, and defend principles of equality, and this vital ethical tradition is forgotten or sidelined when any of us accept Israel as the basis of Jewish identification or values. So, on the one hand, Jews who are critical of Israel think perhaps they cannot be Jewish anymore of Israel represents Jewishness; and on the other hand, those who seek to vanquish anyone who criticizes Israel equate Jewishness with Israel as well, leading to the conclusion that the critic must be anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating. My scholarly and public efforts have been directed toward getting out of this bind. In my view, there are strong Jewish traditions, even early Zionist traditions, that value co-habitation and that offer ways to oppose violence of all kinds, including state violence. It is most important that these traditions be valued and animated for our time – they represent diasporic values, struggles for social justice, and the exceedingly important Jewish value of “repairing the world” (Tikkun).

It is clear to me that the passions that run so high on these issues are those that make speaking and hearing very difficult. A few words are taken out of context, their meaning distorted, and they then come to label or, indeed, brand an individual. This happens to many people when they offer a critical view of Israel – they are branded as anti-Semites or even as Nazi collaborators; these forms of accusation are meant to establish the most enduring and toxic forms of stigmatization and demonization. They target the person by taking the words out of context, inverting their meanings and having them stand for the person; indeed, they nullify the views of that person without regard to the content of those views. For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating. And it is all the more difficult to endure the pain of such an allegation when one seeks to affirm what is most valuable in Judaism for thinking about contemporary ethics, including the ethical relation to those who are dispossessed of land and rights of self-determination, to those who seek to keep the memory of their oppression alive, to those who seek to live a life that will be, and must be, worthy of being grieved. I contend that these values all derive from important Jewish sources, which is not to say that they are only derived from those sources. But for me, given the history from which I emerge, it is most important as a Jew to speak out against injustice and to struggle against all forms of racism. This does not make me into a self-hating Jew. It makes me into someone who wishes to affirm a Judaism that is not identified with state violence, and that is identified with a broad-based struggle for social justice.

My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context and badly distort my established and continuing views. I have always been in favor of non-violent political action, and this principle has consistently characterized my views. I was asked by a member of an academic audience a few years ago whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to “the global left” and I replied with two points. My first point was merely descriptive: those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left. My second point was then critical: as with any group on the left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against that group, and one needs to critically evaluate their stand. I do not accept or endorse all groups on the global left. Indeed, these very remarks followed a talk that I gave that evening which emphasized the importance of public mourning and the political practices of non-violence, a principle that I elaborate and defend in three of my recent books: Precarious Life, Frames of War, and Parting Ways. I have been interviewed on my non-violent views by Guernica and other on-line journals, and those views are easy to find, if one wanted to know where I stand on such issues. I am in fact sometimes mocked by members of the left who support forms of violent resistance who think I fail to understand those practices. It is true: I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more naïve than dangerous, but it is my view. So it has always seemed absurd to me that my comments were taken to mean that I support or endorse Hamas and Hezbollah! I have never taken a stand on either organization, just as I have never supported every organization that is arguably part of the global left – I am not unconditionally supportive of all groups that currently constitute the global left. To say that those organizations belong to the left is not to say that they should belong, or that I endorse or support them in any way.

Two further points. I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in a very specific way. I reject some versions and accept others. For me, BDS means that I oppose investments in companies that make military equipment whose sole purpose is to demolish homes. It means as well that I do not speak at Israeli institutions unless they take a strong stand against the occupation. I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship, and I maintain strong collaborative relationships with many Israeli scholars. One reason I can endorse BDS and not endorse Hamas and Hezbollah is that BDS is the largest non-violent civic political movement seeking to establish equality and the rights of self-determination for Palestinians. My own view is that the peoples of those lands, Jewish and Palestinian, must find a way to live together on the condition of equality. Like so many others, I long for a truly democratic polity on those lands and I affirm the principles of self-determination and co-habitation for both peoples, indeed, for all peoples. And my wish, as is the wish of an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews, is that the occupation come to an end, that violence of all kinds cease, and that the substantial political rights of all people in that land be secured through a new political structure.

Two last notes: The group that is sponsoring this call is the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, [SPME] a misnomer at best, that claims on its website that “Islam” is an “inherently anti-semetic (sic) religion.” It is not, as The Jerusalem Post has reported, a large group of Jewish scholars in Germany, but an international organization with a base in Australia and California. They are a right-wing organization and so part of an intra-Jewish war. Ex-board member Gerald Steinberg is known for attacking human rights organizations in Israel as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their willingness to include Israeli infractions of human rights apparently makes them also eligible for the label, “anti-Semitic.”

Finally, I am not an instrument of any “NGO”: I am on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, a member of Kehillah Synagogue in Oakland, California, and an executive member of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in the US and The Jenin Theatre in Palestine. My political views have ranged over a large number of topics, and have not been restricted to the Middle East or the State of Israel. Indeed, I have written about violence and injustice in other parts of the world, focusing mainly in wars waged by the United States. I have also written on violence against transgendered people in Turkey, psychiatric violence, torture in Guantanamo, and about police violence against peaceful protestors in the U.S, to name a few. I have also written against anti-Semitism in Germany and against racial discrimination in the United States.

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and the Co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She also is Hannah Arendt Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. She has written many books, including most recently The Power of Religion in Public Life.


Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism
July, 2012
Judith Butler
Cambridge University Press

Judith Butler follows Edward Said’s late suggestion that through a consideration of Palestinian dispossession in relation to Jewish diasporic traditions a new ethos can be forged for a one-state solution. Butler engages Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism and its practices of illegitimate state violence, nationalism, and state-sponsored racism. At the same time, she moves beyond communitarian frameworks, including Jewish ones, that fail to arrive at a radical democratic notion of political cohabitation. Butler engages thinkers such as Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Mahmoud Darwish as she articulates a new political ethic. In her view, it is as important to dispute Israel’s claim to represent the Jewish people as it is to show that a narrowly Jewish framework cannot suffice as a basis for an ultimate critique of Zionism. She promotes an ethical position in which the obligations of cohabitation do not derive from cultural sameness but from the unchosen character of social plurality. Recovering the arguments of Jewish thinkers who offered criticisms of Zionism or whose work could be used for such a purpose, Butler disputes the specific charge of anti-Semitic self-hatred often leveled against Jewish critiques of Israel. Her political ethic relies on a vision of cohabitation that thinks anew about binationalism and exposes the limits of a communitarian framework to overcome the colonial legacy of Zionism. Her own engagements with Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish form an important point of departure and conclusion for her engagement with some key forms of thought derived in part from Jewish resources, but always in relation to the non-Jew.

Butler considers the rights of the dispossessed, the necessity of plural cohabitation, and the dangers of arbitrary state violence, showing how they can be extended to a critique of Zionism, even when that is not their explicit aim. She revisits and affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism. Butler’s startling suggestion: Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.

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