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Ettinger: Judith Butler represents a humanistic Judaism that must be highly valued for our times

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Yesterday we published several letters from academics in support of Judith Butler. Here is another that was sent to the Jerusalem Post and not published.

24 August 2012

Dear Benny Weinthal

BrachaEttinger
Bracha Ettinger (Photo: Universiteit Utrecht)

Judith Buttler brought to my attention that there are some attempts to stop the Adorno Prize from being given to her, blaming her for anti-semitism and for supporting BDS, Hamas and Hezbolla.

Blaming Judith Butler for anti-semitism is utterly outrageous and completely wrong, an attempt for defamation of a highly appreciated woman philosopher – appreciated for her philosophical thinking and her contribution for humanity and for contemporary Thought itself.

Judith Butler doesn’t support Hamas and Hezbolla. Judith Butler doesn’t wish to delegitimize the state of Israel. Her thinking is deeply marked by the Shoah and expresses concern for the destiny of the Jewish people and involvement in the question of what kind of State Israel could or should be. Like the majority of Israelis and of the Jewish people around the world, she doesn’t see the Israeli government as representative of what might be considered Jewish values or of the whole legacy of Judaism and of the Shoah. In accordance with the international laws concerning war occupations, Judith Butler like many of us is against the continuous Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and population, and against the Israeli politics of settlement in the West Bank in the Occupied Territories, that brings misery to the Palestinians and corrupts our spirit. As an Israeli Jew, I recognize the deep respect for a certain line of Jewish Thought in Butler’s philosophical thinking, from Buber to Leibowitz, from Adorno to Levinas.

To be against the actual Israeli policies is a legitimate, not anti-semitic, critique. It represents another understanding of Judaism, of a humanistic, anti-racist kind, an attitude that considers the suffering others with compassion and respect, and expresses an understanding of a Israel that will go hand in hand with the Megilat Ha’atzmaout and with the early aspirations of the Aliots before, during and after the WWII: To live in peace and share the land in respect and dignity for everyone who is here.

One might be against or for the BDS for many reasons, but there are also different kinds of BDS. Judith Butler has the right to have her own views on this issue. However, I know and can personally testify that Butler doesn’t adhere to a blind and global BDS, but rather to such BDS which is selective and precise, which is directed to Israeli academic institutions that support the occupation, and not in any global way to academic and artistic individuals or intellectual and artistic events. Butler is in no way for boycotting Jewish and Israeli-Jewish academics and intellectuals or Israeli creative artists; quite the contrary is true: she gives time and makes efforts to come to Israel from time to time to personally support intellectuals, artists, and organizations who work for peace and against racism, and she pays close attention to Israeli artists and intellectuals, whom she has not boycotted. To support individual artists and individual intellectuals who don’t represent the Government – in this she is loyal to her understanding of the difference between human-beings and institutions; Artists and intellectuals are not to be favored or rejected on grounds of race or on the ground of the policy of governments. This for me is a mark of her profound anti-racism.

As an Israeli whose family went through the Shoah (and of whom only few have survived), I believe in either possibilities: 1 – one country with no apartheid racist different laws for different people, or: 2 – two countries that live side by side with respect for the composition of each country: Palestine and Israel. Many people, Jews and non-Jews, share these views. Like many Israelis, Jewish or not Jewish, and like many Jews in the diaspora, Judith Butler believes, so it seems, that only these solutions are human. The actual situation is not human. Racism and military occupation don’t represent Jewish values. To be against the continuity of Israel’s politics is not to be anti-Semitic. To be against the Israeli politics the way Judith Butler is, is to pronounce a legitimate critique.

I want to express my shock that Butler’s words have been cut off from their context and isolated in a way that her sentence stands for something she couldn’t have meant. Butler doesn’t support Hamas and Hezbolla. She replies to a question in which she is called to find their description – without expressing her own views on this description and on the categories in use. The practice of such isolated out-of-context “quoting” borders on intellectual dishonesty.

If the values of humanistic Judaism are to be kept in Israel, we must have the right to criticize Israel on the grounds of the prevention of Palestinian human rights. To summerize Judith Buttler’s criticism and activism as “anti-semitism” is empty rhetorics. The principles of critique for which she stands must be kept. Judith Butler represents a humanistic Judaism that must be highly valued for our times, and I hope that you will find a way to express this. Her reception of the Adorno Prize is to honor her philosophical achievements and will also honor Judaism in the long run.

Best wishes,
Bracha Ettinger

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This is just for my own understanding. Humanistic Judaism. Would such a person believe in God? I know humanism can refer to a number of different types of things. Just not sure.

One might be against or for the BDS for many reasons, but there are also different kinds of BDS… To support individual artists and individual intellectuals who don’t represent the Government – in this she is loyal to her understanding of the difference between human-beings and institutions; Artists and intellectuals are not to be favored or rejected on grounds of race or on the ground of the policy of governments. This for me is a… Read more »

Beautiful.

Definition and demarcation are always a problem with boycott programmes, so to some extent I sympathise with Butler and Ettinger, though I think that they still give an impression of tying themselves in knots, partly because they use so many words. Ettinger makes a point of endorsing an earlier, to her more innocent, form of Zionism, which intended to live in peace with everyone in the Holy Land. I don’t believe that Zionism, since it… Read more »

I would also comment that quite possibly Prof. Buttler falls under the definition of “heretic” from the point of view of various types of Judaism and both Buttler and Ettinger may fall under the definition of “new anti-Semitism”. In particular, “Israel as we know it” cannot exists while applying ethical principles postulated by Buttler. The users of the concept of “new anti-Semitism” view it as the proof that Buttler is an anti-Semite. But quite similarly,… Read more »