Gender Theorist, Judith Butler, Dissed By NYC Jews for Dissing Israel /// A Jewish-American Gal’s Perspective on What’s Happening

Caravaggio, "Judith Beheading Holofernes"

Caravaggio, “Judith Beheading Holofernes”

By The Nice Jewish Girl

A Jewish-American peace activist once told me that her experience coming out as a Lesbian was far easier than coming out as a supporter of Palestinian rights.

Last week’s events in two of New York’s Jewish Museums provide a sad example of what it’s like for a Jewish-American who’s labeled as “Anti-Israel” or even “Anti-Semitic” by members of your own community.

One event involves the acclaimed gender theorist, Professor Judith Butler, and the literary works on Franz Kafka.

Butler, a Jewish-American and a strong critic of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinian people, was scheduled to lead a discussion on Kafka at the Jewish Museum in New York on March 6.

Butler has lectured and written extensively on Kafka. However, the museum faced intense criticism from facets of the Jewish community for its selection of Butler.

The furor over Butler stems from her support of BDS—the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. One prominent Israeli artist and playwright, Professor Dahn Hiuni, has gone as far as to petition the university where he received his doctorate to remove all references to Butler from his 2005 dissertation. “I cannot help but come back to the irony of her name,” he said. “Judith, Jewess, from Judea. It’s so ridiculous.”  For those of you who, like me, are not up on their Biblical knowledge, the irony Hiuni is referring to is that, in the Book of Judith, the one who defends her Jewish compatriots from foreign enemies is named “Judith”.

However, as a Jew, I firmly believe that speaking out against this occupation is actually the very best way to support one’s Israeli “homeland.” Spending time in a West Bank refugee camp and in the home of a Palestinian family living amidst the Israeli Settlements in Area C of Hebron (frequently cited as one of the clearest examples of the occupation’s consequences), I have seen the brutality of this occupation and, in my view, there’s nothing patriotic or “Jewish” about supporting it.

Palestinian man being removed from home. Hebron, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Palestinian man being removed from home. Hebron, Occupied Palestinian Territories, © The Nice Jewish Girl

And, despite the backlash from Hiuni and others within the Jewish Community, the museum initially seemed to share my view. In what I saw as a highly brave effort, the museum defended their decision by saying: “Dialogue and the sharing of multiple perspectives related to art and Jewish culture are central to The Jewish Museum’s public programs.” But, shortly after, Butler canceled amidst pressure and the museum removed the talk saying “debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended”.

Then, in this same week, another New York Jewish museum canceled a talk by New Republic senior editor John Judis—ironically, another Jewish-American with (a variant of) the name Judith.

Judis was scheduled to give a talk at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage on his new book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli conflict. The book has garnered harsh criticism for making the claim that Palestinian concerns should be treated with the same importance as Jewish ones. Inspired by the Reform Jewish tradition, Judis writes that he has taken the stance that “an American Jew should be as concerned about the rights of a Palestinian Arab as he is about the rights of an Israeli Jew”. Yet, apparently, this basic value is too radical for some members of the Jewish community, resulting in yet another cancelled talk.

Frankly, as a Jewish-American academic that often speaks out, however insignificantly, against Israel’s policies, this terrifies me. And so, here I am, writing this under a pseudonym and wondering if there’s still a place for this “nice” Jewish girl in the larger Jewish community.

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7 replies

  1. Its easy to have an opinion this way or the other, but this conflict is a complicated issue with legitimate clams on both sides. Yes, the occupation is terrible, but there is much more to it (like critical security issues). I think that it is not outrageous to expect a Jew not to speak out against Israel in such a blunt matter in the same way that it would be understandable that Palestinians would be frustrated over one of them speaking out against the Palestinian cause. By this I am referring the “we are the good guys they are the bad guys” kind of talk. Obviously there is no issues with criticizing specific aspects of the conflict like condemning terror attacks or the ongoing construction in the West Bank no matter which group you belong to.

    • Well, well, well. Look who decided to grace us with his/her presence? Maha Garuda. Well, it’s about time. (slow clap).

      • Sorry. I spent a week in Oahu at the JW Marriott resort…BTW why didnt my link appear under my text? Has the Maha Garuda been shunned ? Also, I live in San Diego County, decidedly not New York
        We are looking for a tenant in our 1 bedroom studio at $800./mo…its 75 and sunny today so ya know…I am on the computr box

        • Hey. I saw that link for a hot second and then it disappeared on my end, too. Not sure. Maybe relink?

          Also, it’s thirty degrees out and cloudy. Keep us NYCers warm with comments!

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