This is Judith Butler’s reply to a bundle of four questions asked in Q&A during a 2006 teach-in at UC Berkeley about the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Audience members asked:
1. Since Israel is an imperialist, colonial project, should resistance be based on social movements or the nation-state?
2. What is the power of the Israel Lobby and is questioning it antisemitic?
3. Since the Left hesitates to support Hamas and Hezbollah “just” because of their use of violence, does this hurt Palestinian solidarity?
4. Do Hamas and Hezbollah actually threaten Israel’s existence, as portrayed in some media?
“Ok, well, I would just briefly say: I think its imperative to figure out what the mechanisms are of the various lobbies in the US – the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League – how they work to help to formulate US foreign policy toward Israel. I think there’s no question we need an honest, rigorous appraisal. I think there are some versions of it that strike me as perhaps a little too easily subscribing to conspiracy theories, and I think that there can be an antisemitic version, and there can be a really useful, critical version as well. I have no doubt it’s a very powerful lobby – I actually think of it as multifaceted – and I think we need more careful, rigorous analyses of it.
So you know the short answer is: one neither has to dispute the existence of such a lobby, or its power, to prove that one is not antisemitic; but neither does one have to accept every version of that, given that some versions are, I think, problematically bound up with conspiracy theories.
Similarly, I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence. So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the conversation on the Left. I similarly think boycotts and divestment procedures are, again, an essential component of any resistance movement.”
[[ audience claps]]
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Thanks to Camila Bassi for pointing out this video in her essay “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools': A Cautionary Story on the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard of England’s Post-9/11 Anti-War Movement”
NOTE: The questions start at 10:30 and Butler starts her answer at 14:55. [June 2012: video is no longer at original link, but is now available on youtube]
description from URL where video was originally available at:
Berkeley Teach-In Against War – Part VI – Question and Answer Session
Concerned about the devastation currently being inflicted on the people of Lebanon and Palestine by the Israeli Military Forces and with the very limited and biased reporting on these conflicts presented by most American media networks, we have organized a teach-in on the UC Berkeley campus in order to give students, faculty, and the Bay Area community at large a chance to gain a greater understanding of these events and to participate in an open discussion on their significance for both Americans and the people of the Middle East. During the first hour of this two-hour event, four scholars with expertise in the Middle East will present short analyses (15 minutes each) of the historical and political dimensions of this conflict, focusing on the following themes:
1. The role US foreign policy has played in enabling and authorizing the Israeli bombardment;
2. The origins and historical development of Hezbollah, and the role of this movement within Lebanese social and political arenas;
3. The shifting political alignments within Israel, and their relation to the current war on Lebanon and to Israel’s role in the region more broadly;
4. The impact of Israeli military actions in Gaza and the West Bank on the lives of Palestinians and the political landscape of the Palestinian society.
The second hour of the teach-in will be reserved for audience questions and comments. Confirmed speakers are UC Berkeley Professors Judith Butler (Rhetoric and Comparative Literature), Beshara Doumani (History), Charles Hirschkind (Anthropology), Saba Mahmood (Anthropology), as well as Zeina Zaatari, Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, The Global Fund for Women.
The teach-in took place in 145 Dwinelle on September 7th