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Judith Butler: Identity ‘allegiance’ stands in the way of peace

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Here is Judith Butler, interviewed by Udi Aloni in Haaretz, and speaking about the strict construction of Jewish identity and how that process must be taken apart so that people in Israel/Palestine can live together. Note that in the second half of the interview, Butler makes a very strong BDS call.

I grew very skeptical of certain kind of Jewish separatism in my youth. I mean, I saw the Jewish community was always with each other; they didn’t trust anybody outside. You’d bring someone home and the first question was "Are they Jewish, are they not Jewish?" Then I entered into a lesbian community in college, late college, graduate school, and the first thing they asked was, "Are you a feminist, are you not a feminist?" "Are you a lesbian, are you not a lesbian?" and I thought "Enough with the separatism!"

It felt like the same kind of policing of the community. You only trust those who are absolutely like yourself, those who have signed a pledge of allegiance to this particular identity. Is that person really Jewish, maybe they’re not so Jewish. I don’t know if they’re really Jewish. Maybe they’re self-hating. Is that person lesbian? I think maybe they had a relationship with a man. What does that say about how true their identity was? I thought I can’t live in a world in which identity is being policed in this way….

I have to say, first of all, that I do not think that there can be emancipation with and through the establishment of a state that restricts citizenship in the way that it does, on the basis of religion. So in my view, any effort to retain the idea of emancipation when you don’t have a state that extends equal rights of citizenship to Jews and non-Jews alike is, for me, bankrupt. It’s bankrupt.

That’s why I would say that there should be bi-nationalism from the beginning.

Or even multi-nationalism. Maybe even a kind of citizenship without regard to religion, race, ethnicity, etc. In any case, the more important point here is that there are those who clearly believe that Jews who are not in Israel, who are in the Galut, are actually either in need of return–they have not yet returned, or they are not and cannot be representative of the Jewish people. So the question is: what does it mean to transform the idea of Galut into Diaspora? In other words, Diaspora is another tradition, one that involves the scattering without return. I am very critical of this idea of return, and I think "Galut" very often demeans the Diasporic traditions within Judaism….

there has to be a cultural movement that overcomes hatred and paranoia and that actually draws on questions of cohabitation. Living in mixity and in diversity, accepting your neighbor, finding modes of living together. And no political solution, at a purely procedural level, is going to be successful if there is no bilingual education, if there are no ways of reorganizing neighborhoods, if there are no ways of reorganizing territory, bringing down the wall, accepting the neighbors you have, and accepting that there are profound obligations that emerge from being adjacent to another people in this way.

So I agree with you. But I think we have to get over the idea that a state has to express a nation. And if we have a bi-national state, it’s expressing two nations. Only when bi-nationalism deconstructs the idea of a nation can we hope to think about what a state, what a polity might look like that would actually extend equality. It is no longer the question of "two peoples," as Martin Buber put it. There is extraordinary complexity and intermixing among both the Jewish and the Palestinian populations. There will be those who say, "Ok, a state that expresses two cultural identities." No. State should not be in the business of expressing cultural identity….

Well, the Jews would be afraid of losing demographic majority if voting rights were extended to Palestinians. I do think that there is the fundamental question of "Who is this ‘we’?" Who are we? The question of bi-nationalism raises the question of who is the "we" who decides what kind of polity is best for this land. The "we" has to be heterogeneous; it has to be mixed. Everyone who is there and has a claim – and the claims are various. They come from traditional and legal grounds of belonging that are quite complicated. So one has to be open to that complication.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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