Todd Gitlin Defends Judith Butler

Judith Butler, Parting WaysTodd Gitlin is perhaps not Judith Butler’s most ardent supporter. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Trouble with Judith Butler—and Her Critics, Gitlin, author of The Intellectuals and the Flag and other titles, faults her for her somewhat obfuscatory writing and her devotion to what he terms, “theory.”

However, he does take issue with the Jerusalem Post’s recent articles attacking Butler in the wake of her winning the Theodor Adorno Prize, awarded by the city of Frankfurt. Gitlin points out that the Jerusalem Post‘s claims that Butler has defended Hezbollah and Hamas lacks any real evidence beyond a misreading of her remarks given in front of an academic audience. (Butler herself refuted the Jerusalem Post in an article in Mondoweiss. For more on her views about Israel, please see her recently published Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.)

Gitlin argues the tactics of the Jerusalem Post reflect the current and lamentable state of debate in our society:

These days, even the most lucid writers fall victims to scurrilous, slovenly, sound-bite spitballing that pretends to be grown-up debate. The gotcha habit of seeking the author’s clumsiest, least defensible moments and waving them in the air like chunks of raw meat, is a disgrace and a curse. I imagine there is Talmudic support for this view.

Gitlin also defends Butler’s use of Jewish ethics in her understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli situation:

[Butler’s] view is that Jews are called upon to pay particular attention to how they live with those who are not Jews on shared or neighboring land. On this subject, Butler stands foursquare in an honorable Jewish tradition, as she writes in a recent book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism:

“If I show … that there are Jewish values of cohabitation with the non-Jew that are part of the very ethical substance of diasporic Jewishness, then it will be possible to conclude that commitments to social equality and social justice have been an integral part of Jewish secular, socialist, and religious traditions.”

And, more recently:

“there are strong Jewish traditions, even early Zionist traditions, that value cohabitation [with non-Jews] and that offer ways to oppose violence of all kinds, including state violence.”

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