The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

By Jonathan Hoffman
September 10, 2012

On September 11th, a German organization will reward the American scholar and anti-Israel activist who is "the useful idiot of antisemites, allowing them to "Jew-wash" their genocidal hatreds with her good name."


In 1938, shortly after philosopher Martin Buber, formerly of the University of Frankfurt, came to Israel to teach at Hebrew University, a reporter asked how his Hebrew was. He replied: "Good, but not good enough to be obscure in."

The joke, apparently, is on the city of Frankfurt, which tomorrow—Sept. 11, incidentally—will hand its prestigious Adorno Prize for excellence in philosophy, music, theater and film to Judith Butler. Ms. Butler, an American philosopher and anti-Israel activist, is a great admirer of Buber and the 1998 recipient of one journal's "Bad Writing Prize" for her impenetrable prose.

The choice of Ms. Butler has been controversial, to say the least. Critics argue that a German city should not honor a woman who virulently condemns the state of Israel, where Buber and so many others fled for shelter from the Nazis. The controversy is the latest in a series of recent strains in the "special relationship" between Germany and Israel: Germany's circumcision bans, Berlin sending submarines to a newly belligerent Egypt, and ugly revelations of German behavior in the Munich Olympics terror attack.

Felix Semmelroth, a deputy mayor of Frankfurt, insists that the award committee recognized Ms. Butler's academic work alone, and that the political issues did not even arise. He says the "incriminating evidence" about her politics will not change the decision.

But the controversy has proved vexing. Germany's central council of Jews and Frankfurt's Jewish community have openly objected, saying they will not participate in the ceremony. Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann, the first Jew to hold that office since the Holocaust, announced that he has travel plans that will prevent him from appearing. Jacques Schuster, a journalist with Die Welt, pulled out of moderating a discussion with Ms. Butler later this month at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

Some have tried to separate politics from academic content, criticizing both Ms. Butler and her political denigrators. Alas, anti-Zionist politics and unintelligible academic theory are inextricably linked in both Ms. Butler's writings and her political activism. Her theory views Western civilization as a peculiarly sinister form of imperial domination, and believes that "subverting" that "hegemony" constitutes an act of liberation. Postcolonial theory tells her that Israelis are imperialists, using apartheid laws to oppress Palestinian "subalterns." Her interpretation of diasporic Judaism tells her that Jews should "oppose violence of all kinds, including state violence."

Therefore she favors dismantling the Jewish state as we know it, in favor of "multi-cultural co-habitation," reminiscent of Buber's "bi-national democratic state." In her latest book, "Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism," she nods to the prodigious forces of hatred and intolerance militating against her solution: "It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it."

Would that Ms. Butler contented herself with abstruse publications. She is also a highly vociferous public critic of Israel. Participating in an "Anti-War Teach-In" at Berkeley in 2006, Ms. Butler answered a question about Hamas's and Hezbollah's place "in the global left." These are two of the most belligerent movements within the warmongering, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic world of Islamist jihad. Yet while criticizing violence and "certain dimensions of both movements," Ms. Butler told the students that "understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important."

For Ms. Butler, anything that opposes Western power can be defended. It does not seem to concern her that in so doing, she betrays every constituency she claims to celebrate—lesbians, gays, women, Jews and other diasporic minorities. Their problems, it seems, are always the fault of oppressive "colonial" powers.

Ms. Butler fights the regressive "my side, right or wrong" with the liberating "your side, right or wrong." It's the post-structuralist version of the Sermon on the Mount: "Love thy enemy more than thyself." But what if that enemy embraces a savage form of loving themselves and hating us? What if it takes an extreme interpretation of Muslims' edict to "love and hate for Allah's sake"? This enemy makes all our utopian and multiculturalist projects impossible.

Ms. Butler has defended herself against charges of anti-Semitism by pointing to her own love of Judaism—or at least, her version of it. She wrote last month on the notoriously anti-Israel Middle East-affairs blog Mondoweiss that she is "perhaps more naïve than dangerous." But this avoids the real charge: not that she is an anti-Semite, but that she is the useful idiot of anti-Semites, and that she allows them to "Jew-wash" their genocidal hatreds with her good name.

Blogging about Ms. Butler last week for the Jewish newspaper the Algemeiner, A. Jay Adler invoked Graham Greene: "Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." Ms. Butler is of course fully vocal, but the quote is all too apt considering the harm she and her colleagues have done—and continue to do—the world over.

Mr. Landes is a professor of history at Boston University and author of "Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience" (Oxford, 2011); he blogs at Mr. Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a European affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.

Postscript 1: Here's the protest against the awarding of the prize to someone who facilitates Jew-washing:

Postscript 2: Petra Marquardt-Bigman says:

......the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.



Mon, 09/10/2012 - 13:14

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Gosh, more hysteria from the Judeo fascists.

If one of the writers is a 'fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' then he should know that democracy tolerates difference of opinion.

But that is the problem with the Judeo fascists. They purport to support peace and democracy but in truth if anyone offers an opinion that they disagree with they scream abuse.


Mon, 09/10/2012 - 16:10

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'On September 11th, a German organization will reward the American scholar and anti-Israel activist who is "the useful idiot of anti-Semites, allowing them to "Jew-wash" their genocide hatreds with her good name."

It could also be, of course, that Judith Butler genuinely believes that the Palestinians should get justice and that the intimidation and occupation should end. It could really be that simple and that honest and have nothing to do with 'anti-Semitism', 'self hatred', 'useful idiots'.

Just think, lots of people actually do contest that the Palestinians are human and deserve equality, justice and rights alongside Jews and Israelis. That doesn't make them 'idiots' or 'anti-Semites'. It really doesn't.


Tue, 09/11/2012 - 17:07

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"We're not against Jews. We're against non-Arab Israeli citizens"
972mag's Noam Sheizaf brings us a fantastic example of how Arabs will never accept the existence of Jews as equals in the Middle East.

A Jordanian "anti-normalization" group put out a notice to ban all "Zionists" from traveling to Jordan to attend an after-party with a popular Lebanese band called Mashrou Leila (that recently canceled a gig opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Beirut because the RHCP are playing in Israel.) Apparently, many anti-Zionist Israelis are big fans of the band.

Well, that's not quite true. The "anti-normalization" letter says it intends to ban all Zionists, but its definition of Zionist is interesting:

Finally, we would like to inform you clearly that despite your confirmation and that of your associates here in Amman, that the event you're organizing will not host any Zionists (to be clear we take this stand against all Israeli nationality holders that are non Arab) we are still taking certain measures to ensure that you will abide by your word on this matter, fully realizing and taking into consideration the continuous arguments and justifications in favor of accompanying Zionists to the event here in Amman. We simply reject all Zionists' irrelevant of their race, political or religious orientations or beliefs.

We are very vigilant to all cultural events in Amman and we will have narrow to the ground during Mashrou Leila, so we urge you to keep your word and promise to keep our events and country zionist-free.
Now, a number of vehemently anti-Israel Jewish citizens of Israel - people who completely share the Arab desire to destroy Israel and create a single "Palestine" from the river to the sea - were offended by this letter. Here is a dialogue between "Noa" and Jordanians who make it quite clear that if she is a true anti-Zionist, she should leave the country she was born in because she is Jewish:

Noa: (Israeli) Cau I ask a question?

how come Zionists are “all Israeli nationality holders that are non-Arabs”, but then you say you reject all Zionists, irrelevant of their race and religious orientation”?

I was born Jewish in Israel. I have fought all my life along with my rifaq, the Palestinians of 48′, and other anti Zionist Jews as myself, against Zionism inside Israel.

I refused to serve in the Israeli occupation army and my friends sat in jail 2 years for that refusal. I’m involved with bi-National anti Zionist activism for years, and I can tell you more if you’re interesting. you can also ask Palestinian activists from here, they can tell you, I’m sure.

I’m also sure you can guess how the Israeli mainstream treats Jewish anti-Zionists as myself.

But then you call me a Zionist, just for being a non-Arab Israeli – well, these identities are ones I was born with. I chose to be an anti Zionist, and your decision to ignore this choice and see me as a Zionist just for my Jewish family goes against all the other things you say.

Your attempts to set the Palestinians of 48′ apart from their Jewish anti-Zionist allies hurts the possibility of struggle for both sides, and pushes us anti Zionist Jews back to our original community, and away from the connections with the activists who can teach us about the Palestinian reality and fight with us against the Israeli apartheid.

So actually you want me to be Zionist?

Of you just don’t care, I was born a Jew and that’s all I can ever be?


Noa: How do I serve the Zionist project? I was among the organizers of the refusal movement, of Jewish Israelis who refuse to serve the Israeli army, my male friends sat years in jail because they refused to serve. I was born in Israel and so were my parents. My grand parents were refugees from three different countries – where is that you want to send me? Poland, Romania or Hungary? I have no other citizenship, and I have fought against the Zionist regime more than most of your friends.

So if you still judge me just on the background of my birth, what does it make you?


Noa wanna split me into 3 different pieces?

I belong here, and not going anywhere else.

I believe you need to start to differentiate between Jewish and Zionist. The struggle against Zionism is the struggle to live together in an open and equal democratic state of Palestinians and Jews together, and not the struggle to return back to the past and send all the Jews away in a second Nakba. Otherwise you’re no better than the Zionists.

Zeina (Palestinian): Noa, you keep throwing religion into this, while the letter is clearly not making any distinctions on the basis of religion. Rather, it is the Zionist movement that is claiming Palestine as a land for Jews. There were Palestinian Jews coexisting in Palestine with Christians and Muslims long before 1948, for us, it is not about religion. The issue is very simple, any person who came from anywhere else in the world to live in Palestine under the so called name of “Israel” is serving the Zionist project. I don’t think I need to remind you that every one of you is living in the place of a Palestinian that was either martyred or expelled. For us, it is Palestine, always has been and always will be. A true anti-Zionist would pick and up and leave the land to its native inhabitants: Muslims, Christians, Jews, or atheists; doesn’t really matter as long as they are Palestinian.

Noa: Jaffa is my only homeland, dear Zeina.

Colonialism is different in different contexts, and unlike the French in Algeria, in this context there’s no metropolin to return to. The Jews were thrown here because of hirtorical events unconnected to Palestine, but after 3 generations, we’ve mixed so much, cut all our roots in our previous countries and grown roots in here. That’s the reality of our generation, and if you stll think 6 million people need to be uprooted again, and no joined future is possible, well – you sound just like the Zionists to me.

972, which is a magazine by and for Jewish anti-Zionists, is clearly uncomfortable with this exchange showing that no matter how much Jews try to twist themselves into pleasing Arabs, they will still be considered "Zionist."

Sheizaf, in order to be able to square his readings of virulent anti-semitism among his friends and heroes, manages to come up with a further fantasy to deepen his cognitive dissonance:
At the end, I feel that what the recent Facebook conversation showed is the futility of any form of “dialogue” at this point in time. As long as the political issue remains unsolved, such contacts make both sides more angry and “extreme.” The heart of the matter are the issues on the ground – the occupation, the refugee problem – and when these are solved, or even when there are some real steps taken in the right direction, I believe that rhetoric and ideologies will change too, at least in the mainstream.
Noam, why resort to putting your head in the sand? The answer may be even simpler. Just read these words out loud: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet."

Now there is a slight chance that you can be the equal you dream of living in a liberal Arab society, as you watch your Jewish - I mean "Zionist" -  former friends being shipped out of the Middle East in cattle cars.

And when that happens, you can scream Allah Akbar with your fellow "Palestinians" and hope that your embrace of Islam will help you avoid being discriminated against  - for another year or two.

It's all about "justice," right?

(h/t Sasha)
Elder of Ziyon at 5:56 AM
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This commentary succinctly highlights the idiocy of the anti Zionist Jews who believe that a Palestinian state could ever encompass any form of Jewish identity .
The true nature of apartheid , race hatred and outright antisemitism is encapsulated in this one article and a true indication of the Middle East outside of Israel

Real Real Zionist

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 17:44

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Wow there are some anti Zionist Arabs. Thanks for that Harv. Who wudda thinked it.


Wed, 09/12/2012 - 14:53

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What? What is that waffle?

We know you drive for a living (and therefore lack the ability to be erudite and concise) but please don't bore us with your waffle.


Wed, 09/12/2012 - 16:26

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suzanna: What? What is that waffle?
We know you drive for a living (and therefore lack the ability to be erudite and concise) but please don't bore us with your waffle.


Real Real Zionist

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 17:24

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And we don't do repetition do we goldfish ?


Fri, 09/14/2012 - 13:26

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You have a bizarre obsession with taxis .
Figure you must have had your heart broken on the back seat of a cab - and more than once .


Tue, 09/18/2012 - 15:37

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Oh Harv, I bet you wish it was you . . .

I don't have an obsession with Taxis. I don't drive for a living. You do.


Tue, 09/18/2012 - 17:21

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I thought Suzanna was going to say "Harvey, it wasn't exactly my heart."

Mary in Brighton

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 17:27

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Zaheer !!!!!!


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