Judith Butler, a comparative literature professor at UC Berkeley, is embroiled in controversy again now that the city of Frankfurt intends to give her a prize worth 50,000 Euros on September 11.
German Middle East expert Thomas von der Osten-Sacken told Benjamin Weinthal at the Jerusalem Post that Frankfurt is legitimizing a “de facto boycott of its partner city Tel Aviv’s academic and cultural institutions” because Butler is a booster for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. More important, however, as Osten-Sacken pointed out recently in a German magazine, Judith Butler is a “Hamas fan.”
She isn’t happy to be branded this way. “My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context and misrepresent my established and continuing views,” she said to the Jerusalem Post in an email. So, okay, let’s look at what she said in full and in context.
At a “teach-in against war” on campus last year, she said, “Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.”
Now let’s look at the context. You can see for yourself on YouTube, but the video is eighteen minutes long, so I’ll quote the relevant portion right here. I trust that Professor Butler would agree that I’m including all the context she’d think anyone needs to make a fair judgment call.
A student asked her the following question: “I’d like you to comment on the importance of Hamas and Hezbollah. And I think since the beginning of this year—and especially when Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people and Hezbollah by the Lebanese—people are now supporting these violent resistance movements. But even within leftist and anti-war activists and intellectuals there is always this kind of condemnation and hesitation in supporting these two groups just because of the violent components of their resistance movements. Doesn’t our inability or hesitation in supporting these groups do more harm than good?”
The student got a round of applause from the room at the end of that question.
Here is Judith Butler’s response, with the missing context included.
“Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence.”
It’s only fair to point out that she says she’s not a supporter of violent resistance. And that’s all fine and good. But Hamas and Hezbollah both explicitly say, in Arabic and in English, that they seek the destruction of Israel. There is no non-violent way to destroy a country.
I’d like to ask her, though, what makes Hezbollah a “progressive social movement”? Because it builds hospitals and schools? That hardly makes a movement “progressive.” Has any modern political entity not built hospitals and schools when it had power? Adolf Hitler built hospitals and schools, as did everyone from Augusto Pinochet to Georgios Papadopoulos. So what?
Hezbollah is notoriously hostile to every social value liberals and progressives hold dear, from women’s rights to gay rights, with one exception. Hezbollah says the United States and Israel are the Great Satan and the Little Satan. That’s it. That, all by itself, is enough to get a socially retrograde totalitarian terrorist organization labeled “progressive” even by a professor who adheres to non-violent politics.
But the city of Frankfurt can give her a prize if it wants, and it can do so on September 11. Supporting European fascism is a crime now in Germany, but supporting the Middle Eastern variety is apparently fine.