A response to Judith Butler: I hear you

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Dear Judith Butler,

Thank you for your impassioned and brilliant message, which was recently published in Mondoweiss, in response to the hostile article in the Jerusalem Post denouncing your receipt of the Adorno prize.

You noted the following in your response:

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.

And, I hear you.

Darnell Moore
Darnell Moore. (Photo: Uptown Magazine)

I visited the Palestinian territories as a member of a delegation organized by Sarah Schulman, a Jewish writer/scholar/activist, which was comprised of 15 LGBTQ US-based academics, cultural workers, and activists this past January. Since, my return, I have been overly cautious and even fearful, at times, about speaking publicly about the State of Israel’s occupation (and the role of the US as a conspirator in the occupation) of Palestinian land and Israel’s other human rights infringements.

I have been exceedingly thoughtful about the ways in which my own position on Israel’s occupation can frustrate my relationship to my present and future employers, damage my relationship with some of my Jewish friends, and negatively impact my relationship with some Christian friends who maintain a theological view of State of Israel as YHWH’s “chosen vessel” (a pastor friend used those words), for example. I have been afraid that my various forms of protest would result in costly consequences. Your words have reminded me that my fears are substantiated.

On many occasions, any utterance of “Palestine” that I have made has been read at once as a sign of antagonism towards the State of Israel and, by default, all Jewish people. I have been cautioned about what I say in public, in this regard, and have been warned by brilliant and loving friends to be sure that I don’t fall unawares into the trap of anti-Semitic discourse—as if testimonies about the occupation are coded indications of one’s disdain for Jewish people as opposed to one’s heartfelt conviction that settler colonialism and illegally withholding a people’s land, arresting and detaining citizens unjustly, demolishing homes, disappearing villages/languages, re-ordering geographies (wherever these acts might occur in the world), and/or bombing Gaza is to be read as signs for the hatred of a people, but I digress.

Yet, I have been selectively silent about the occupation because I fear that I, too, will be targeted and named anti-Semitic or attacked for affirming Palestinians’ right to self-determination. The stakes are high for those of us who choose to stand in solidarity with Palestinians (and Israelis) who seek the end of the occupation because there is at work both an illegal and material occupation of Palestinian land that must be named and reversed as well as the disturbing and ideological occupation of thought, political commitment, and concern of anti-occupation activists exercised by the State of Israel and other pro-occupation agents (like the US government) that we must contend with.

The problem of signification and ideological control is insidious, indeed. Palestine is habitually read as a stand in for anti-Jewishness, violence, and terror and Israel as a sign for Jewishness, democracy, and liberation from terror, as you iterate. While I stand in solidarity with Palestinians who desire freedom to build a nation-state, I do not hate Jewish people. Yet, there are organizations and people that have successfully garnered the empathy and support of individuals around the globe by constructing the image of a respectable Israel and ruthless Palestine. There are some who even police thought so as to be sure that the State of Israel is always imagined as victim deserving of a particular victory, namely, increased borders and global support while Palestine is fashioned as the antagonist to Israel’s progress.

Palestine always already signifies “threat” and Israel signifies all that is favorable. This imaginary is the result of the insidiousness of the politics of representation that are employed with respect to the present debate on the Palestinian quest for self-determination. Such politics of representation, indeed, seek to frame and control the “conditions of audibility” so much so that some of us who are guided by visions of justice and an ethic of love for all people (not a people) choose to be silent in moments when we must speak up out of fear of retribution. Occupations are captivities, indeed. They are meant to isolate, control, restrict, and, ultimately, render inaudible and imperceptible the occupied.

Professor Butler, your speech/acts in the face of opposition are forms of resistance against such occupations that remind me that one must speak, that I must speak, to push against the many “separation walls” that are constructed to withhold our voices and bodies. I hear you.

So, thank you!

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Supporting free speech generally and within the Jewish community, I am also glad that Prof. Butler could publish her clarification and that it could come out here on Mondoweiss. With respect to your activism and cautiousness which I have no doubt are rooted in humanistic values I am not sure where in academics it is novel, brave or dangerous to be pro-Palestinian? In fact I think that lead is an assumption of the variety that… Read more »

Thank you Darnell, you certainly spoke out loud and clear with this post. I wish I had as much courage as you.

As’ad AbuKhalil’s response, while more critical, is also worth reading.

Darnell, thanks for that heartfelt essay. I empathize with your hesitation to speak out and suffer the consequences. If strangers accuse you of being things you are not, you can get over it quickly, but when your opinions cause friction with close friends (or in my case relatives), it can be quite unpleasant. I can’t give you any better advice than Desmond Tutu, in his letter to the Berkeley student government considering a BDS proposal:… Read more »


Thank you for your article and your courage, which may be more than mine!