Butler, Judith. “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism” (New Directions in Critical Theory), Columbia University Press, 2012.
Judith Butler Has Her Say and Falls from the Ivory Tower
Judith Butler was one of my heroes when I was both a graduate and undergraduate student. But then Butler took a turn and lost many who loved and respected her. I am so reminded of what happened to Hannah Arendt and how she was left alone after having done so much academically. Butler, however, is a much more serious case. She is a critic of political Zionism and she maintains that it uses illegitimate state violence, promotes nationalism (dud!) and state-sponsored racism. She looks at various thinkers— Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Mahmoud Darwish and then gives her new political ethic which while indeed political is not in any way ethical. She has decided to dispute Israel’s claim to represent the Jewish people. She tries to show that a narrowly Jewish framework cannot suffice as a basis for an ultimate critique of Zionism. She then “ promotes an ethical position in which the obligations of cohabitation do not derive from cultural sameness but from the unchosen character of social plurality”.
She looks back at the arguments of Zionist thinkers and disputes the specific charge of anti-Semitic self-hatred often leveled against Jewish critiques of Israel. Her new political ethic rests 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 ideas are drawn from Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish and form an important point of departure and conclusion for her engagement with some key forms of thought while derived in part from Jewish resources are always in relation to the non-Jew.
Butler looks 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. Further she revisits and affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism. Butler presents a 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”. It seems that her purpose is to intervene in the current political discourse and give her own Jewish concern about the state of Israel and how it relates to the “other”. She says that it is possible to develop a perspective on Israel/Palestine that is not Zionist and therefore it is easier to assert resistance to the Zionist movement as a Jewish value. In doing so, Butler question what it means to be Jewish and we see that she has no idea of an answer to that question—although she thinks she does.
In effect what Butler does here is attack Israel and its policies as it has been since the country’s birth. It is very clear that she has adopted to Arab narrative and she accuses Israel of state – violence, willful dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs. What she does not do is put the conflict in proper historical context. She does not even try to look at Israel’s efforts of peace with her neighbors. She also does not consider the constant and repeated that Israel has suffered from those who wish to destroy the country (and at all costs). I am quite sure that Butler derived some happiness with the latest attacks by Hamas against Israel. Hamas clearly states that it wants to see all Jews wiped off the face of the earth and that would also include Butler herself. She says that the constant threat is minimal yet she does not argue for the expulsion of the Jews of Israel as other anti-Zionists do. Her preference is for one-state solution and she believes that if that were to happen, then social equality would prevail and become the rule. As I look at America today from my home in Massachusetts, one of the states that does maintain some semblance of social equality, I think about those Americans living in Arkansas and Mississippi who have never experienced any kind of equality much less social.
Butler here relies on Jewish thinkers of the past Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, and Walter Benjamin to explain this concept. Two of the other thinkers she relies upon, Edward Said and Mohammed Darwish want to see the State of Israel gone. as sources for her thought. Her thought, along with theirs, delegitimizes the Jewish state.
She also goes back to Hannah Arendt but she needs a refresher course on her. Arendt worked to send refugees in France to Israel , and told her great friend Mary McCarthy before the Six- Day War that the one public tragedy which would cause her greatest pain was destruction of Israel. Interesting that she would not include this but then it goes against her thinking. Has she also forgotten that Arendt was vilified by Jews after her thoughts on Eichmann were made public? Of course Butler has Sarah Schulman on her side but Schulman is little more than a nasty voice from an anti-Semitic Jew. Schulman always needs a cause and this year’s is Palestine—next year she may rail against breakfast cereal—the cause makes no difference but Schulman must rabble rouse about something otherwise she loses reason to exist.
Butler has distorted the thought of some Jewish intellectuals but she has done something even worse— she sides with and defends the enemies of Israel at the time that Israel’s existence is in great danger with the existence of the universal against the country. What is interesting is that she, like Schulman, holds on the being Jewish while other Jews of the radical left have abandoned their religion. This, for me, is the most offensive thing of all.
Butler (and her advocate Schulman) are totally ignorant of the history of the Jewish people and their relation to the land. She does not let any facts hinder what she has to say or her agenda which is fiction. There was never a Palestinian Arab nation in the Middle East. She ignores that.
Butler is an obvious Jewish anti-Semite. Here this is not a name but a disease. She cannot see reality and. comes across as being somewhat mentally off. Israel cannot be separated from the Jewish people.
Trying the “separate” Israel from the Jewish people has been tried before and it has failed miserably before. What I do not understand is why Butler and her kind feel they have to espouse what they think here in the United States. Would they not be more comfortable in Gaza where there are many like them? For Schulman that would be an impossibility as she is an out lesbian and we are all aware at how Islam deals with sexual “deviants”. Butler is protected here in America and she can say whatever she wants.
I do not understand how American universities hire these people and allow them to spew their hatred. These are the minds that will teach future generations of Americans—we can only hope, that for once, they do not listen. Is it wrong to hope that she would part ways with us like her title suggests?
Below is some biographical information about Judith Butler—such a wonderful mind that is used for no gain.
“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 received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University and was recently awarded the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities. Her many books include The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (with Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West); Who Sings the Nation-State?: Language, Politics, Belonging (with Gayatri Spivak); and Is Critique Secular? (with Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and Wendy Brown)”.