Philosopher Judith Butler Redefines ‘Zionist’
Yesterday morning, student senate at the University of California, Berkeley, voted to uphold a veto on a bill that would have urged the school’s student association to divest from two companies—General Electric and United Technologies—that, according to critics, profit from Israeli occupation. Berkeley been the site of an intense wave of activism, both pro- and anti-divestment, since the original bill passed, by a margin of 16-4, in March (the senate president vetoed it a week later). Student senators have received thousands of emails from around the world, hundreds showed up on campus Wednesday evening for a nine-hour deliberation that led up to the vote that upheld the veto, and public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz have thrown their weight on one side or the other (you can guess which was which).
One of the more interesting statements to come out of the morass was a speech by Berkeley professor and social theorist Judith Butler, delivered Wednesday night in support of divestment. “If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it exceptional standing in the world,” she writes, “then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies.” By rehabilitating, in leftist university discourse, the word “Zionist,” Butler has once again changed—or tried to change—a conversation.
You Will Not Be Alone [The Nation]