The Nation has printed the text of a speech given by Judith Butler to Berkeley students, who have voted to divest from General Electric and United Technologies because of their complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Senate president vetoed the bill a week later, and opponents have been waging a campaign of misinformation, with Alan Dershowitz rumoured to be visiting the campus.
The first thing I want to say is that there is hardly a Jewish dinner table left in this country–or indeed in Europe and much of Israel–in which there is not enormous disagreement about the status of the occupation, Israeli military aggression and the future of Zionism, binationalism and citizenship in the lands called Israel and Palestine. There is no one Jewish voice, and in recent years, there are increasing differences among us, as is evident by the multiplication of Jewish groups that oppose the occupation and which actively criticize and oppose Israeli military policy and aggression.
What I learned as a Jewish kid in my synagogue–which was no bastion of radicalism–was that it was imperative to speak out against social injustice. I was told to have the courage to speak out, and to speak strongly, even when people accuse you of breaking with the common understanding, even when they threaten to censor you or punish you. The worst injustice, I learned, was to remain silent in the face of criminal injustice. And this tradition of Jewish social ethics was crucial to the fights against Nazism, fascism and every form of discrimination, and it became especially important in the fight to establish the rights of refugees after the Second World War. Of course, there are no strict analogies between the Second World War and the contemporary situation, and there are no strict analogies between South Africa and Israel, but there are general frameworks for thinking about co-habitation, the right to live free of external military aggression, the rights of refugees, and these form the basis of many international laws that Jews and non-Jews have sought to embrace in order to live in a more just world, one that is more just not just for one nation or for another, but for all populations, regardless of nationality and citizenship. If some of us hope that Israel will comply with international law, it is precisely so that one people can live among other peoples in peace and in freedom. It does not de-legitimate Israel to ask for its compliance with international law. Indeed, compliance with international law is the best way to gain legitimacy, respect and an enduring place among the peoples of the world.
Full text of Judith Butler’s speech can be found on The Nation’s website here.
See also Judith Butler’s excellent article in the London Review of Books on why criticism of Israel is not anti-semitic.
Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of many books, including Bodies That Matter, Precarious Life, Gender Trouble and Frames of War.