The Jerusalem Post Attacks Butler, She Responds

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The Jerusalem Post Attacks Butler, She Responds

Over the weekend the Jersalem Post lambasted Frankfurt's decision to award Judith Butler with the Adorno Prize. In a response originally posted at Mondoweiss, Butler responds to this attack. Here is her response in full:

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TheJerusalem Postrecently 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.