Tomorrow, September 11, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, is going to give American academic Judith Butler its Adorno Award of 50,000 euros, or roughly 63,000 U.S. dollars. The award is given in honor of the late Theodor Adorno, a founder of the Frankfurt School in Weimar Germany.
Adorno, who was Jewish and a defender of Israel, went into exile in the United States, where, along with his friend Herbert Marcuse, he created the neo-Marxist school of cultural critique. Adorno, unlike Marcuse, was a critic of the New Left. The award has been presented by the city every three years since 1977, on the date of Adorno’s birthday.
Butler may not be a well-known name to most readers of this column, but her position in academia reflects not only on the corruption of the academy and the decline of real liberal arts in the university (so well-critiqued in the current Weekly Standard by Joseph Epstein), but also the shocking growth of opposition to Israel as the main cause of today’s global Left.
At a 2006 teach-in at UC Berkeley (an event which in itself is a throwback to the Vietnam era and the birth of the New Left), she stated in response to a question (video here) that “understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive and that are on the left, that are part of the global left is extremely important.”
As the video went viral, Butler later tried to explain her statement. The explanation she offered only succeeded in further revealing her animus and hatred for Israel. As Butler explained, writing in the vitriolic anti-Israeli website Mondoweiss:
I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more naïve than dangerous, but it is my view. So it has always seemed absurd to me that my comments were taken to mean that I support or endorse Hamas and Hezbollah! I have never taken a stand on either organization, just as I have never supported every organization that is arguably part of the global left — I am not unconditionally supportive of all groups that currently constitute the global left. To say that those organizations belong to the left is not to say that they should belong, or that I endorse or support them in any way.
I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in a very specific way. I reject some versions and accept others. For me, BDS means that I oppose investments in companies that make military equipment whose sole purpose is to demolish homes. It means as well that I do not speak at Israeli institutions unless they take a strong stand against the occupation. I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship, and I maintain strong collaborative relationships with many Israeli scholars. One reason I can endorse BDS and not endorse Hamas and Hezbollah is that BDS is the largest non-violent civic political movement seeking to establish equality and the rights of self-determination for Palestinians. My own view is that the peoples of those lands, Jewish and Palestinian, must find a way to live together on the condition of equality.