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 addresses the trial over who owned the rights to Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts, after his death.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.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus