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Berkeley Brouhaha

Philosopher Judith Butler Redefines ‘Zionist’

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Yesterday morning, student senate at the University of California, Berkeley, voted to uphold a veto on a bill that would have urged the school’s student association to divest from two companies—General Electric and United Technologies—that, according to critics, profit from Israeli occupation. Berkeley been the site of an intense wave of activism, both pro- and anti-divestment, since the original bill passed, by a margin of 16-4, in March (the senate president vetoed it a week later). Student senators have received thousands of emails from around the world, hundreds showed up on campus Wednesday evening for a nine-hour deliberation that led up to the vote that upheld the veto, and public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz have thrown their weight on one side or the other (you can guess which was which).

One of the more interesting statements to come out of the morass was a speech by Berkeley professor and social theorist Judith Butler, delivered Wednesday night in support of divestment. “If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it exceptional standing in the world,” she writes, “then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies.” By rehabilitating, in leftist university discourse, the word “Zionist,” Butler has once again changed—or tried to change—a conversation.

You Will Not Be Alone [The Nation]

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Mike Malk says:

She tried and failed spectacularly. I was there. Her prime thesis was effectively rebutted by speakers in support of sustaining the veto.

Her sweeping rhetoric impressed the uniformed and the naieve singing along with their racing heart liberal songsheets. When unpicked, the detail of argumentation looked pathetically slim as it became increasingly clear that her diatribe against the ‘Zionist entity’ was highly political – rather than moral or intellectual.

How sad that she was unable to apply her philosophy of ‘accepting the other’ – to the Palestinians, who were portrayed solely in the frame of ‘violent’ victimhood.

I agree with Mike.

Furthermore, Butler assumes that her left wing perspective and the Palestinian perspective is the accurate one – rather than seeing that the fundamental issue is a case of two different perspectives on this, two different claims on the same land. This is the crux of the matter which needs to be resolved between the parties involved.

The terms she uses are in some ways typical of the left which talks of “Jewish social ethics” but seems to forget the Jewish part except as she can use that to reinforce her ideas of what should be. It is almost as if she says that Israel must live by a “higher” or “better” standard than others, and therefore should be judged by those standards, but do not judge others by the same standard. This is exactly the double-standard and resulting demonization which makes anti-Israeli positions bleed into anti-Semitism, even on the part of “Jews.”

It always kills me to hear these voices from Berkeley. All of California was stolen from Mexico in a war that was intentionally started by the US in 1848 to seize Mexican land. Why doesn’t that bother her?

Mary says:

That anyone takes her seriously is disturbing enough. She needs to go back and read some history. Her attempts at interjecting herself into this are pathetic. She knows little of history and foreign policy and much about self aggrandizement.

Thank you, Max, for pointing out the elephant in the room for all at Berkeley.

Howard says:

Butler is a world famous philospopher, one of Berkeley’s stars. Her critics all miss the point in their smug replies. The occupation, as Ben Gurion warned, has hurt Israel from its inception and continues to do so to this day. All Jews should focus on the quickest way to end it. There may be better options. But a way has to be found or the state will suffer endlessly and never become the fulfillment of Jewish and Zionist ideals.

To Howard–She may be a world famous philosopher but if you read her statements during her visits to the Palestinian territories you can see that the last thing that interests her is Israel’s welfare.

Shalom Freedman says:

I am surprised ‘Tablet’ which claims to be a Jewish magazine gives so much prima facie credibility to Butler. Butler hates Israel and is an enemy of the Jewish people. She is engaged in promoting a policy which if implemented would endanger every citizen of Israel.
Another pretentious fool talking about what she has no real experience of , life in Israel

Judith Butler is monumentally full of it. If she’s so in favor of divestment and boycotts to further humans rights, what is her response to the religiously sanctioned degradation of women in so many Middle Eastern nations?

Wouldn’t the appropriate response, taking her on her own terms, be to forswear the use of petroleum products—any and all of them?

Where are her protests outside gas stations? Why isn’t she standing in the middle of traffic and exhorting drivers to switch to bicycles?

Oil is the drug to which we are helplessly addicted, purveyed by totalitarian governments that routinely infringe on the most fundamental human rights, of their own citizens no less, and yet people like Butler pretend that a tiny country that has made two offers of comprehensive peace to its perpetually warring neighbor and that has been rejected both times is the most troubling issue with which we must reckon morally.

In fairness, she may actually believe this nonsense, without being at all cognizant of the fact that she is reflexively adopting the opinions of her peers, in a manner that ensures her continued status within that social group.

Schindler Ruben says:

I would like Ms Butler to spend a semester at my college in Ashkelon.
For seven solid years we were living with missiles, spending time in ss
shelters, and often traumatized. Judith Butler is life sacred? Come and visit. Best wishes. Professor Ruben Schindler Ashkelon College. Ashkelon.

Annette Smith says:

I find it disturbing that once again, anti-Israel sentiment is linked with liberals. The American right does not have a monopoly on support for Israel. I assure you that one can hold a liberal political philosophy and be strongly pro-Israel. Indeed, in many ways Israeli society is far more reflective of left of center politics than our own.

Bryna Weiss says:

I totally agree with Annette Smith. I am an American Liberal. I love my President Obama and campaigned for him.

I am opposed to the Settlers, I support Israel inabashedly. I am horrified at the anti_ Israel and anti semitic lies and smears being hurled at this brave little country. I am appalled at the lack of attention paid to the violence and hatred perpetrated by the Palestinians, at their acceptance of their children being murderers, at their acceptance of leaders so corrupt that everything has been stolen from them by so many of those leaders. Rationality and reality have been stricken from those who proclaim themselves victims and people like Judith Butler are responsible. But don’t call her a Liberal. She is an extremist!

Bernie says:

I’m in agreement with Annette and Bryna. Those of us who are politically moderate/left and are Zionist are waiting for a Palestinian Ben Gurion. Until this person emerges, we are stunned as we watch as more settlements are built by the Israeli right and the growing antiZionism of the left here in the US.


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Berkeley Brouhaha

Philosopher Judith Butler Redefines ‘Zionist’

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