The Jewish-Americans who want to silence critical speech
For the background to ths story, see Feminist philosopher Judith Butler vengefully pursued by Israel’s fans
In the spirit of Hannah Arendt
The witch hunt against U.S. Jewish academic Judith Butler, who is being awarded the prestigious Adorno prize, originates in a dangerous strand of American Jewry that has been assaulting freedom of expression even in U.S. universities.
By Yitzhak Laor, Ha’aretz
September 11, 2012
Today, the birthday of the sociologist Theodor Adorno, philosopher Judith Butler will be in Frankfurt to receive a prize named after him. The prize has been given every three years since 1977 to an outstanding intellectual or artist. Its winners include sociologists Norbert Elias and Zygmunt Bauman, philosophers Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, composers Gyorgy Ligeti and Pierre Boulez, and film directors Alexander Kluge and Jean-Luc Godard.
The prize committee noted, inter alia, that Butler’s writings on questions of identity and the body are read worldwide, and that her thinking is leading us toward a new understanding of the categories of gender and subject, as well as of critical thinking.
Is it important to note that Butler is the first woman to receive the prize? Possibly. But it’s more important to recall that the feminist Butler has always been careful not to cooperate with the hegemony by conceptualizing identity in terms of “men” and “women.”
“The very subject of women is no longer understood in stable or abiding terms,” she wrote. The social institution is not just the state, and not just the family; the very distinction between “men” and “women” is an establishment built on a preconception, and it, too, is liable to conceal various forms of oppression, such as class, ethnic or gender discrimination.
The prize has already caused a scandal. Butler is accused of “anti-Semitism” because she supports a (selective ) boycott of Israel. And because at one conference, after the Second Lebanon War, she responded affirmatively to a question asked by someone in the audience as to whether it’s possible to include Hamas and Hezbollah in the “global left,” this answer has also been added to the charges against her (of course, the people bandying it about aren’t part of any “global left,” but why not be insulted in its name in order to wring a little more guilt out of the German prize committee? ).
This witch hunt originates in a dangerous strand of American Jewry that has been assaulting freedom of expression even in American universities. An article in The Jerusalem Post by one such person opened with the idiotic sentence, “Judith Butler … came to prominence as an anti-Israel agitator almost a decade ago.”
One could retort to the writer that “People mention you from time to time by virtue of your assaults on great men and women such as Noam Chomsky or Butler.” One could also reply by citing figures: In 1990, Butler’s book “Gender Trouble” sold some 100,000 copies, becoming a worldwide best-seller despite not containing a single word about Palestine.
Nevertheless, the question of Palestine is indeed central to the intellectual criticism of the professor from Berkeley, as it is to others interested in the exclusion of certain populations. The way the Western discourse of rights is conducted is based on erasing those whose rights don’t count. Take the debate over whether to upgrade the college in Ariel to a university. Have any of the participants in this debate even mentioned the tribulations of Palestinian students and lecturers at universities in the occupied territories?
Citing the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, Butler noted that “we increasingly live in a time in which populations without full citizenship exist within states; their ontological status as legal subjects is suspended.”
It’s no accident that this criticism has its origins in Hannah Arendt. Butler is coming to Frankfurt in Arendt’s footsteps. As she wrote in another work, “Hannah Arendt was hardly brandishing weapons when she argued in the late 1940s and early 1950s against Israel as a state based on notions of Jewish sovereignty. She becomes now a resource for post-Zionism … Arendt was perhaps in the 20th century the most avid secular Jewish critic of Zionism, and she was able to articulate reasons why she found the establishment of the state of Israel to be illegitimate without thereby calling for a war against that polity.”
Is it important to note that Butler is Jewish? Yes, precisely because her criticism of the oppression of the other is drawn not just from her Jewish and Zionist home, but also from Jewish philosophy.
*Edward Alexander, author of The State of Jews, June 2012. Publisher’s description: “He attacks Israel’s external enemies—busy planners of boycotts, brazen advocates of politicide, professorial apologists for suicide bombing—and also its internal enemies. These are ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews….”
Professor Judith Butler awarded prestigious Theodor W. Adorno Prize
By Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, Germany, posted in Independent Jewish Voices
September 13, 2012
The distinguished academic Judith Butler, professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, was awarded the prestigious Theodor W. Adorno Prize that recognizes outstanding achievement in philosophy, theater, music or film. The honour was conferred on her on 11 September in Frankfurt. When the award was announced Professor Butler was immediately attacked by some Jewish leaders, Israeli politicians and Israel defence and advocacy organizations, who argued that it was wrong to give such a prize in Germany to an outspoken critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Professor Butler responded to these unjustified attacks on her integrity with great dignity. There was never any question of the award being rescinded and the ceremony went ahead. There was a noisy picket outside while she was delivering her acceptance speech, but inside she was given a standing ovation.
Below we reproduce the statement about the award released by the German Jewish alternative group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace (translation by IJV):
Congratulations to Judith Butler for being given the Theodor W. Adorno Prize. What an honor! – for the Theodor W. Adorno Award of the City of Frankfurt, for the tradition of critical theory, for the resistant traditions of thought in Germany, and, yes, for us few, who oppose the Jewish voice that works against the cosmopolitan Jewish traditions, against all that Judith Butler, the philosopher, the oppositional Jewish thinker, the Theodor W. Adorno Prize 2012 of the city of Frankfurt, stands for. She says it loud, her voice is strong and she adds: “It is of utmost importance that the ethical traditions of Judaism for our time again is again honoured and revived – they stand for the values of the Diaspora, the struggles for social justice and the ever more important Jewish value to repair the world (tikkun olam). Uncritical loyalty to the state and blind obedience to the Jewish traditions were never the most celebrated virtues”.
Public hostility towards the Jewish thinker Judith Butler, who dares, especially in her capacity as winner of the Theodor W. Adorno Award, to express the radicalism of the Jewish ethical traditions of thought in relating to the context of the Middle East, showing us, not least as much that we need to remember and continue with the cosmopolitan traditions of critical thinking yet again from the beginning, revealing how much the associated attitudes have disappeared, even if they seem available.