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Dahn Huini

 
From Dan Hiuni in New York City: An Addendum To My 2005 Doctoral Dissertation--Re Judith Butler

Dahn Hiuni, MFA, PhD, February, 2014 New York City

As an Israeli artist and scholar, and as a secular liberal humanist, it is a source of great anguish for me to know that one of the writers to which I refer in my doctoral dissertation turns out to be a rabid anti-Israelist, anti-Zionist and, for all intents and purposes, an anti-Semite.

 

According to her vocal activism, Judith Butler, Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that Israel is a colonialist occupier and an inhumane oppressor.[i], [ii] She and others like her often equate Israel with South Africa, mischaracterizing it as a violent Apartheid state.[iii] Butler's views are manifestly acted upon through her support of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose aim is to continually vilify and isolate various aspects of Israeli society-especially academia.

 

Such characterizations of Israel, propagated by Butler and her cohorts, amount to biased, false propaganda. When Butler expresses such views, she betrays a lack of knowledge of the ancient and modern Israel, one that represents dangerous ignorance at best, and at worst-willful, ideological erasure.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex one. Butler seems to lack both an informed historical context and basic, on-the-ground factual information needed to make fair observations. (She is of course a professor of rhetoric and comparative literature, and not a scholar of Middle East history.) This leads her and her cohorts to reduce challenging geopolitical conflicts to surprisingly simple binaries of oppressor and victim, good and evil[iv]-the kind of binaries poststructuralists like her generally disavow. One wonders: what makes Butler deviate from her own espoused philosophies on this particular issue? For someone so familiar with critical theory, she is a strangely uncritical critic of my country.

 

And yet there is much irony here. The country Butler vilifies is the only thriving democracy in the Middle East where someone like her-a woman, a lesbian, and a political agitator-would be protected. The people in whose name she purports to speak, however, would oppress, punish and possibly put her to death merely for who she is. In light of this selective blindness, it can only be surmised that Butler et al are operating with a special kind of bias, a scapegoating that is all too familiar to students of history. To those who would distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, I retort there is no difference: to be anti-Israel is to be anti-Jewish. Israel is the Jewish state.

 

Of course, the other great irony is the fact that Butler herself is Jewish. Despite this fact, she seems to have little to no appreciation for her people's history and the kind of deep memory and moral responsibility it entails. Instead, she opts to identify with neo-Leftist academics whose zealous and sanctimonious policing of global injustices have cultivated this special and disproportionate animosity toward Israel. Instead of allowing her own persecuted status as a Jewish lesbian to inform a subtle, empathic interpretation, Butler seems to preemptively apologize for her own academic success and social acceptance by self-effacingly criticizing her own people-a classic and all too common unconscious self-hatred (See Marx, Arendt, Chomsky, etc.) To appease her colleagues and ostensibly to ensure her status, she performs this brand of self-righteous academic extra-curricular activism. Unfortunately, Butler's behavior is symptomatic of the false sense of security that many American Jewish intellectuals suffer, now 70-plus years removed from the gas chambers of Europe. As though it could never happen again.

 

Apparently, it bears repeating: The Jewish people have a painful history. Centuries of exile, persecution and violence culminated in the well-organized European Holocaust. This finally lead the community of nations in 1948 to help re-establish the State of Israel where it had always been, two millennia before the advent of Islam or the Roman word Palestine. And while Jews agreed to share the land with the peoples who had since taken up residence there in their absence, their unfriendly neighbors rejected the offer. Israelis have been fighting ever since to safeguard their extremely small country, the only viable safe haven away from historic European anti-Semitism and now its Western and Islamic manifestations.

 

Therefore, Butler's characterization and neat distinction between Israel as colonialist and exploitive, and Hamas and Hezbollah as 'leftist' and 'progressive' (her words)[v], [vi], [vii] is bizarre as it is fundamentalist. Her strange sympathies with and tacit activism on behalf of such known terrorist organizations calls her understanding, judgment and therefore her scholarship into question. If she is interested in colonial land-grabbing and oppression of a native people, she could start much closer to home.

 

Butler is of course not alone. She is a product of American and European academia, where, to prove their grasp of and allegiance to 'progressive politics,' many a provincial professor cynically and expediently jumps on the politically correct bandwagon of the decade. In this particular case, ground zero for this misguided and dangerous anti-Zionism has indeed been California institutions of higher education,[viii], [ix] where Butler has used her tenure to help breed a resurgent and virulent anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism from the Left. The rhetoric is couched in the guise of an erudite, theoretical, post-colonial, multiculturalist critique and, needless to say, is delivered in a lather of postmodern gibberish so self-referentially incoherent it could be termed anti-social. The half-baked, ahistorical ideations that brew there tend to metastasize through self-congratulatory academic publishing and conferences, and had indeed reached Penn State by the time I was there.

 

So uncomfortable has the situation gotten in academia, with both veiled and overt anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hostilities, that I can no longer remain silent. That is why I have decided to start my own movement called Retractions and Disavowals in Scholarship, or RDS. This movement calls on all academics to examine and re-examine ongoing and completed research, for questionable sources, and where necessary, to retract and disavow portion that originate with biased writers-however v

 
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