Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism
Judith Butler follows Edward Said's late suggestion that through a consideration of Palestinian dispossession in relation to Jewish diasporic traditions a new ethos can be forged for a one-state solution. Butler engages Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism and its practices of illegitimate state violence, nationalism, and state-sponsored racism. At the same time, she moves beyond communitarian frameworks, including Jewish ones, that fail to arrive at a radical democratic notion of political cohabitation. Butler engages thinkers such as Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Mahmoud Darwish as she articulates a new political ethic. In her view, it is as important to dispute Israel's claim to represent the Jewish people as it is to show that a narrowly Jewish framework cannot suffice as a basis for an ultimate critique of Zionism. She promotes an ethical position in which the obligations of cohabitation do not derive from cultural sameness but from the unchosen character of social plurality. Recovering the arguments of Jewish thinkers who offered criticisms of Zionism or whose work could be used for such a purpose, Butler disputes the specific charge of anti-Semitic self-hatred often leveled against Jewish critiques of Israel. Her political ethic relies on a vision of cohabitation that thinks anew about binationalism and exposes the limits of a communitarian framework to overcome the colonial legacy of Zionism. Her own engagements with Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish form an important point of departure and conclusion for her engagement with some key forms of thought derived in part from Jewish resources, but always in relation to the non-Jew.
Butler considers the rights of the dispossessed, the necessity of plural cohabitation, and the dangers of arbitrary state violence, showing how they can be extended to a critique of Zionism, even when that is not their explicit aim. She revisits and affirms Edward Said's late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism. Butler's startling suggestion: Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.
"Parting Ways succeeds in its main task: to intervene in the political discourse and voice a Jewish concern about the State of Israel and its relation to the other." — Studies in Religion
"This is an incredibly important and timely book. As always, Judith Butler generates a brilliant and rich argument through a series of readings, in this case complex and nuanced engagements with the work of Edward Said, Emmanuel Levinas, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, and Mahmoud Darwish. Her book is intent on showing that one can develop from Jewish sources a perspective on Israel-Palestine that is non-Zionist, and that it might even be possible to assert resistance to Zionism as itself a 'Jewish' value. These scare quotes are Butler's, who constantly questions what it means to be Jewish." — Amy Hollywood, Harvard University
"This book is the product of a deep ethical urge, a complex political sensibility, and a rigorous philosophical mind. It is also a work of extraordinary courage and personal urgency. A fascinating pair of virtually counter engagements underlies its argument. Through a dialectic that engages with Levinas, Benjamin, Levi, and Arendt, among others, Judith Butler demonstrates that there are quite sufficient resources in Jewish traditions to oppose the policies of the Israeli state and the political Zionism on which they have been based. If this were not honorable enough, she then presents a sustained reason for refusing the form of self-congratulation that would frame these resources in a renewed claim for Jewish exceptionalism, but rather claims for them, through a most touching engagement with Said and Darwish, the grounds for a dispersal of the Jewish self to a reach beyond itself to non-Jews, thus locating it in the broadest and most humane form of democratic culture. I think it is, perhaps even without our knowing it, the book on this subject that we have all been waiting for." — Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University
"In her important new book, Judith Butler makes the profoundest argument possible for a diasporic, non-nationalist ethics, grounded in key Jewish writers and traditions of Jewish thought. In this context, her passionate commitment to the complexity of writing acquires a further level of political urgency in relation to Israel-Palestine. Some of the readings are simply brilliant. In many ways the culmination of her thinking to date, Parting Ways will confirm Butler's place at the forefront of debate about one of the most anguished political crises of our times." — Jacqueline Rose, Queen Mary, University of London
"Following in the footsteps of Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler offers an illuminating critique of Zionism, here developed into a general theory of "cohabitation." Her compelling juxtaposition of Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals and texts (Levinas, Benjamin, Arendt, Said, and Darwish) constitutes an essential reflection on the notion of exile and diaspora, thus positioning herself against the logic of the nation state. Even those who disagree with some of her basic assumptions will find Parting Ways illuminating, challenging and thought provoking." — Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Ben Gurion University
2. Unable to Kill: Levinas Contra Levinas
3. Walter Benjamin and the Critique of Violence
4. Flashing Up: Benjamin's Messianic Politics
5. Is Judaism Zionism? Or
6. Quandaries of the Plural: Cohabitation and Sovereignty in Arendt
7. Primo Levi for the Present
8. "What Shall We Do Without Exile?": Said and Darwish Address the Future
Read an excerpt from Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner):