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NYC’s Jewish Museum Invites, then Uninvites, Major BDS Advocate

Not only did the Jewish Museum invite someone whose malice towards the Jewish State is well-known, it then tried to cast those who complained as the bad actors.

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Most of the New York City pro-Israel community was upset, but not shocked, when Brooklyn College invited two of the best known advocates for legal and economic warfare (the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) to be featured speakers at an event last year.

But this past week most of those same people were both upset and shocked when they learned that New York City’s Jewish Museum had invited and was going to feature one of those same speakers: Judith Butler, the Berkeley professor known primarily as a leader in the fields of “gender, power, sexuality and identity theory.”

Butler is not only a huge supporter of the BDS movement, she has also spoken sympathetically about the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.

On March 6, Judith Butler was slated to give a “performance” of Franz Kafka, as one in a series of three programs entitled “Wish You Were Here.”  The series features “interviews” of Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, conducted by the museum’s deputy director Jens Hoffmann.

Although Butler has written about Kafka, it is not what she is known for. Queer theory? Yes. Gender identity? Yes. Power theory and subjugation? Sure. Franz Kafka? Not so much.

The focus of Butler’s recent work on Kafka is a labored effort to distance the man from the category labeled Zionist. That article, “Who Owns Kafka?” addresses the trial over who owned the rights to Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts,  after his death. The State of Israel was one of the parties seeking ownership, partially based on the claim that Kafka was an “asset” of the Jewish people.

Butler’s abiding distaste for Israel drove her to prove that Kafka was not a Zionist (based primarily on his not emigrating, although discriminatory quotas and Kafka’s own tuberculosis probably played a larger role) in order to prevent the Jewish people from claiming him as an asset, and his manuscripts from ending up in Israel.

Most non-literary theorist New Yorkers, however, were not aware of the Butler anti-Zionist Kafka connection. But her reputation as a leader of the BDS movement, and as sympathetic to terrorist groups committed to wiping out the Jewish state, were sufficient motivations for action.

The calls and outcries reached a crescendo on Thursday, Feb. 20.

The Jewish Museum could not hide behind the false, but frequently invoked, veil of “academic freedom” to hide behind, as had the Brooklyn College administration. And the Jewish Museum could not point fingers at students who insisted that a hater of Israel be invited in, and doted upon, by the people who run the Jewish Museum.

There was no getting around it, the Jewish Museum of New York City, an institution that was founded in, and remains under the auspices of  the Conservative movement of American Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary, deliberately chose to showcase a person whose animosity towards Israel was well known.

Judith Butler is most often described as an “American philosopher” and a “gender, power, sexuality and identity theorist.” She is a professor at the University of California at Berkely, in the department of comparative literature.

Although, according to her Berkeley webpage, Butler has recently taught a course on Kafka, her overwhelming focus and interest is sexuality, queer theory and feminist theory. Of the more than a dozen books Butler authored, none are about Kafka or his writing.

“How ironic that a Museum which is a scion of one of the three American Jewish movements, in this case, the JTS; and how ironic that a Museum whose heritage begins with Jews of German origin, where boycotts preceded our extermination in Europe – how ironic that such a museum would feature a leading advocate of boycotts of the Jewish people,” Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a New York City businessman and leader of New York’s pro-Israel Jewish community told The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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17 Responses to “NYC’s Jewish Museum Invites, then Uninvites, Major BDS Advocate”

  1. Judith Apter Klinghoffer says:

    Wonderful expose of the growing reluctance of many Jewish intellectuals to shun those who seek to undermine the Jewish state. In reality, their is no need to cancel the program. Iris Bruce, the author of "Kafka and Cultural Zionism," would make a most enlightening substitute. Indeed, she should have been the first choice had the Jewish museum remained true to its mission.

  2. It all fits with my thesis. Those who call for a boycott of Israel and Jews will themselves suffer much more greatly from what they call for. This event was one of a string last week where boycotters found themselves uncomfortable on the receiving end.

  3. Alex Bensky says:

    Actually, Judith, I would have been interested in going, if only to see if she could speak in comprehensible English. You may recall some years ago she won a bad writing contest with this sentence:

    The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

    It's possible that someone acquainted with the jargon may understand what she's saying or trying to say; I have no idea.

  4. Pat Kaufman says:

    "Fair" –leaning too far opposite rational self interest– is often suicide.

  5. Herb Glatter says:

    why was she invited?

  6. It has to be stated very emphatically that Kafka was a Zionist. He studied Hebrew and one of his best friends [or his very best friend] was Max Brod who was a Zionist and did in fact make aliyah to Israel. Brod became Kafka's literary promoter after his death, making his writings known to the world. So without Brod's actions to promote his works, Kafka might be unknown to the world.

  7. by the way, the photo of Butler above makes her look her true evil self.

  8. Of course someone whose career focus is as a "gender, power, sexuality and identity theorist" and her interests are queer and feminist theories should want to support the BDS movement. The BDS movement's goal is to annihilate Israel, a country in which women are equal as are all minorities. Apparently Muslim Arab subjugation of women and their murder of gays and queers seem to be what she supports. Someone should tell her she is a bit confused.

  9. It appears that Jews in positions of authority and stewardship are attempting to show how fair and democratic they are in an attempt to refute the claim by organizations such as BDS and people accusing them of racism and apartheid. They need to stop this nonsense. It won't change the way anyone thinks and will only demean their programs and institutions. When you have done nothing wrong, stand tall.

  10. good action..unvite the enemy and correct the mistake!!

  11. We are not Christians. Enough with this forgiving and speaking with our enemies. Boycott our enemies, divest ourselves of our need to be fair to our enemies and sanction those of our organizations s stupid enough to give our enemies a platform.

  12. Yaniv Baron says:

    This museum should be shut down immediately. These people are traitors of the Jewish people or fire the entire bored and whoever booked this person and expose them as traitors and see to it that they end up never working for another Jewish organization or even better lets see to it that they end up on the streets for being traitors of the Jewish people.

  13. If you want to hear what the Anti-Semites (and Anti-Israel crowd) have to say, go to where they (and probably not you) are welcome. Bringing them into your house (for whatever reason you want to call it) and having them trash you is insane.

  14. Brian Shapiro says:

    what is BDS?

  15. Daniel Sigmund Reichwald says:

    Excellent point Judith. I think you're asking exactly the right question. Why was Butler, rather than numerous other, far more highly regarded scholars, asked to speak at the JM on this subject? The museum's silence on this matter is deafening.

  16. Myriam Nafte says:

    Alex Bensky- Classic critical theory crap that has nothing to say about everything. It is designed to obscure, reduce and destructure language into nonsensical and disparate thoughts. It is the academic form of bullying.

  17. We know nothing about the new Israeli ambassador to the USA. Has he got what needs to be able to tell the American public and their leaders about Israel's right to exist as a true Jewish state and not as a state of all its citizens. Is he able to tell president Obama that the idea of creating a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will only create future unsolvable conflicts and wars which will last until the end of this Century? Does he know enough about Jewish History? Is he courageous enough to declare that the 'peace process' is a fraud and that its relentless promotion by the fanatical elite in Israel is a tragic mistake which will end up in creating an enemy state, whose leaders openly proclaim that Israel as a Jewish state has no right to exist. All we need is to recognize that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not soluble in our generation, and revive the notorious Armistice Agreements to 1949 and adapt them to the present circumstances.

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