Yitzhak Laor has come to the spirited defense of Judith Butler in – surprise! – the pages of Ha-aretz. If one thinks of this whole affair as an Emperor’s New Clothes, then think of Laor as a courtier who intervenes after the crowd starts grumbling about Butler’s naked performativity, who rushes in to hold the invisible mantle high.
Before tackling his argument, allow me to give some background on Laor’s attitude towards Israel and Zionism. It will help explain his position in the Butler case.
In 2011, Laor wrote the following:
Get rid of Zionism:
“The “Land of Israel” is a phantasm. Withdrawing from “parts of it” is presented as a “concession” even by supporters of the move. But the only concession we needed to make, even back in 1967, was giving up the messianic claim that this is our land, from the Bible, and therefore we have a right to it. In comparison with this claim, the Serbs, with their preoccupation over the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, are rational, secular people.
Now that he’s made the invidious comparison at his own expense (no “my side even when it’s right” for this fellow), where can he put Hamas and Hizbullah on this scale of secular-rational and religious zealot? But of course, for the self-destructivist left, the madness of the Islamists cannot even be spoken.
Life is in no need of “ancestral rights.” Most of us were born here. That has no connection with the Bible, which for the most part is a very nice book. It has no connection with the prayers of the religious. We don’t need religion, either as a menu in a restaurant or as a strategic analysis.
The only way that Yitzhak was born here (the year of the war of Independence), was because of the biblical attachment of his ancestors to the land. The lack of acknowledgment of the role biblical beliefs play in history is not only massively uninformed, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of religion in history (including why this area has so many Arab Muslims). Like so many “secular, rational” folks, Laor doesn’t have a clue. And he’s a poet, to boot.
Had masses of Israelis had the sense to say that on the morning after the occupation, instead of choosing that of all moments – with the help of professors, poets and writers – to “discover our undivided country,” we would be in a different situation today.
This is an especially nice example of how the other side has no moral responsibility. In fact the Israelis after the Six-day war had precisely the attitude he calls for, and got the “Three no’s.” What can one make of someone who can only find fault among his own people, and doesn’t (dare?) express disapproval of his own people’s sworn enemies?
Liberation from Zionism is not a dirty word. In any case, what lies behind Zionism nowadays are interests related to water, real estate, strategic relations with the U.S. and a huge army hungering to justify its existence.
If our fathers erred in their use of myth, we should part from it, for the sake of our sons and daughters. We don’t have to leave this place or give up our lives. But for their sake, we have to get rid of Zionism.
In other words, we enlightened Israelis, should cast aside the faulty “myths” of our ancestors and live peaceably in the land, where (I, Yitzhak Laor know) the other inhabitants will leave with us. Again, note the lack of any mention of the myths circulating among the other inhabitants of the land. Laor, like “Noa”, is a classic lost, solipsistic soul, wandering the landscape, performing nobly, leading himself and his children into catastrophe.
Here’s his take on Judith Butler.
In the spirit of Hannah Arendt
The witch hunt against U.S. Jewish academic Judith Butler, who is being awarded the prestigious Adorno prize, originates in a dangerous strand of American Jewry that has been assaulting freedom of expression even in U.S. universities.
These are classic tropes of the destructivist left: “We are the innocent victims, hounded by mean people who – gasp! – criticize us.” It’s fascinating to see how they can turn a disagreement into an assault on freedom of expression. Enderlin and his buddies at the Nouvel Obs did the same thing: what? we can be criticized for not doing our job by outsiders? What happened to freedom of the press?
By Yitzhak Laor | 03:22 11.09.12 | 0
Today, the birthday of the sociologist Theodor Adorno, philosopher Judith Butler will be in Frankfurt to receive a prize named after him. The prize has been given every three years since 1977 to an outstanding intellectual or artist. Its winners include sociologists Norbert Elias and Zygmunt Bauman, philosophers Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, composers Gyorgy Ligeti and Pierre Boulez, and film directors Alexander Kluge and Jean-Luc Godard.
The prize committee noted, inter alia, that Butler’s writings on questions of identity and the body are read worldwide, and that her thinking is leading us toward a new understanding of the categories of gender and subject, as well as of critical thinking.
Is it important to note that Butler is the first woman to receive the prize? Possibly. But it’s more important to recall that the feminist Butler has always been careful not to cooperate with the hegemony by conceptualizing identity in terms of “men” and “women.”
“The very subject of women is no longer understood in stable or abiding terms,” she wrote.
In the West maybe. How utterly Eurocentric. Can we say “gyno-alogo-centric”?
The social institution is not just the state, and not just the family; the very distinction between “men” and “women” is an establishment built on a preconception, and it, too, is liable to conceal various forms of oppression, such as class, ethnic or gender discrimination.
So we locate oppression in the very identities we have, and in transgressing those identities (which are completely “constructed” and therefore can be (successfully) denied and transgressed without “natural” blowback, we can fight oppression and emancipate humanity. QED.
The prize has already caused a scandal. Butler is accused of “anti-Semitism” because she supports a (selective ) boycott of Israel.
No. She’s accused of being a useful idiot to anti-Semites. Of course, admitting that would make it harder to dismiss the criticism, so let’s go for the straw man.
And because at one conference, after the Second Lebanon War, she responded affirmatively to a question asked by someone in the audience as to whether it’s possible to include Hamas and Hezbollah in the “global left,” this answer has also been added to the charges against her (of course, the people bandying it about aren’t part of any “global left,” but why not be insulted in its name in order to wring a little more guilt out of the German prize committee? ).
This is cute. Including something as odiously regressive as Hamas and Hizbullah on the progressive global Left is a betrayal of the very principles of any serious left (something like shilling for Stalin or Mao). But how dare outsiders criticize the ideological hypocrisy of ideologues!
This witch hunt originates in a dangerous strand of American Jewry that has been assaulting freedom of expression even in American universities. An article in The Jerusalem Post by one such person opened with the idiotic sentence, “Judith Butler … came to prominence as an anti-Israel agitator almost a decade ago.”
One could retort to the writer that “People mention you from time to time by virtue of your assaults on great men and women such as Noam Chomsky or Butler.”
Ouch. Great men and women like Chomsky and Butler? How is it in the echo-chamber?
One could also reply by citing figures: In 1990, Butler’s book “Gender Trouble” sold some 100,000 copies, becoming a worldwide best-seller despite not containing a single word about Palestine.
A close reader might have noticed that the idiotic sentence was not about Butler’s academic prominence, but about her anti-Israel agitation.
Nevertheless, the question of Palestine is indeed central to the intellectual criticism of the professor from Berkeley, as it is to others interested in the exclusion of certain populations. The way the Western discourse of rights is conducted is based on erasing those whose rights don’t count.
Again with the absence of the “other” (here defined as the “others” whose rights don’t count). Never mind that these poor subalterns come from a culture where the only “discourse of rights” is a demopathic attack on the West (here repeated by a dupe), and where neither Palestinians nor Jews stand a chance of getting any rights.
Take the debate over whether to upgrade the college in Ariel to a university. Have any of the participants in this debate even mentioned the tribulations of Palestinian students and lecturers at universities in the occupied territories?
Or the extremely large proportion of Arab students from those very territories who gladly attend Ariel to get a decent education? How many inhabitants of these “occupied territories” were getting a college education under Jordanian rule?
Citing the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, Butler noted that “we increasingly live in a time in which populations without full citizenship exist within states; their ontological status as legal subjects is suspended.”
More Eurocentricism. The overwhelming majority of the world’s population, both today, and even more in the 100,000 year-long history of our existence on this planet, have lived “without full citizenship, without ontological status as legal subjects.” Calling those rights “suspended” assumes they had them before. What’s the ontological status as legal subjects… the full citizenship” of Berbers in the Magreb? Or women or Christians in Islamic-majority countries?
It’s no accident that this criticism has its origins in Hannah Arendt. Butler is coming to Frankfurt in Arendt’s footsteps. As she wrote in another work, “Hannah Arendt was hardly brandishing weapons when she argued in the late 1940s and early 1950s against Israel as a state based on notions of Jewish sovereignty. She becomes now a resource for post-Zionism … Arendt was perhaps in the 20th century the most avid secular Jewish critic of Zionism, and she was able to articulate reasons why she found the establishment of the state of Israel to be illegitimate without thereby calling for a war against that polity.”
Arendt was a “reckless mind,” whose involvement with Heidigger, the great “fellow traveler” of Hitler, went beyond between the sheets. Invoking Arendt as somehow a validation of Butler is just more brain-farts in the echo-chamber. It’s one of the basic elements of the us-them experience: your odors I loathe, mine, I love. Laor, Arendt, Chomsky, Butler, all figure in Elchanan Yakira’s analysis of “perverted politics,” all need to be read with great care if one wishes to learn something without being led down self-destructive paths. Instead these are Laor’s heroes, his genealogy, his canon.
Is it important to note that Butler is Jewish? Yes, precisely because her criticism of the oppression of the other is drawn not just from her Jewish and Zionist home, but also from Jewish philosophy.
As-a-Jew, I must speak out against my own people. Doesn’t that make me wonderful? Don’t you love us alter-juifs for it? I know John Mearsheimer does.
This is the best defense her courtiers can can muster for Judith Butler, the high priestess of Queer Studies? OMG. She’s naked and they “hold her imaginary mantle.”