This past Friday we ran a Shabbat service through Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which is starting a chapter on Wesleyan’s campus. For those who may not know, JVP defines itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights” in support of actions such as those put forward by BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) and other activist movements.

In the week leading up to JVP Shabbat, conflict arose surrounding the possibility of the service being cancelled (though it had been on the schedule since the beginning of the semester). A few students approached the leaders of the Jewish community (Jewish Renaissance Fellows, or JRFs) about their discomfort with a JVP service. They expressed concern that it would politicize Shabbat, that it would fragment the Jewish community, and that some people would feel uncomfortable. The JRFs told us that they had met with campus Rabbi David Teva and collectively chosen to cancel JVP Shabbat. We met with two of the JRFs, who quickly realized that this service was necessary and had a right to happen.

Almost immediately after the event was confirmed and made public, we heard that a student who had previously raised concerns would be leading a separate, intentionally apolitical service. Though Talia exchanged emails at various points with several students who had expressed discomfort, few questions were asked about the nature of the service. It became clear to us that many of the objections had nothing to do with the service itself, but with the political message of JVP. Fear inhibited true communication and dialogue.

The Shabbat went ahead in the Bayit, with almost 50 students in attendance. Far from fragmenting the community, the service attracted many students, both Jewish and not, who had never come to Shabbat before but who felt comfortable connecting to spirituality through this lens. After the service, multiple participants approached us individually to thank us and to express the power that the service had held for them. For us, it was a beautiful and liberating experience. After the service, students who had run the alternative service (for which Rabbi David had provided his office) came to the Bayit to eat dinner.

What does this vignette show us about our Jewish community?

There are students in this community who call for dialogue but refuse to engage with concerns about normalizing the occupation. These are often the same individuals who don’t show up when an opportunity for dialogue arises. This Shabbat was a unique opportunity on Wesleyan’s campus to grapple with these issues in a safe space run by Jewish students confronting the same complex position of privilege regarding this issue. Rather than take that opportunity, some chose to blindly oppose its right to happen at all.

It is worth mentioning that the attempt to shut down this Shabbat pushed back against the values of the Wesleyan Jewish Community, which is both officially an Open Hillel and a student-led community in which any student can lead Shabbat services to share their unique Jewish perspective. Wesleyan Shabbat services are varied and diverse, ranging in the past from Meditation Shabbat and Yoga Shabbat to Queer Shabbat and Socialist Shabbat. Explicitly political Zionist Shabbat services have also occurred before without similar attempts at censorship. This plurality requires community members to listen, learn, and share.

The fear of politicization reflects a much larger issue at play in the unwillingness to confront uncomfortable ideas. The illegal occupation of Palestine is not addressed in our community as such, and many are unable to confront their complicity in it both as citizens of the United States and as Jews. Moreover, Judaism itself is inherently political. Jewish worship during the Spanish Inquisition, in the Warsaw ghetto, in Gondar, Ethiopia has always been a political act. We proudly carry on and acknowledge that legacy wherever we are, including here at Wesleyan. To attempt to separate Jewish politics and spirituality is to hide behind our privilege and to ignore how actions done in the name of Jews and Judaism are making other peoples unsafe in our world. The aversion to discomfort and the act of trying to make everyone comfortable is impossible, as well as a product of a privileged existence that should be questioned and challenged at all opportunities.

Going against the both implicit and explicit inclusivity of our community would fragment it more than this open conversation. The proposed censorship would further reinforce the community’s silence on Israel/Palestine and further alienate those who do not align with common Zionist ideologies. Some radical Jews on this campus, ourselves included, have felt alienated from the campus Jewish community because of the way it presents itself as apolitical on the issue of Israel/Palestine in particular. Some of these people were the same participants who thanked us after the service; but many who do not identify with JVP’s political stance were also in attendance and approached us afterward to express appreciation, curiosity, and interest in further debate. This is the power of grappling with issues as a community. Holding an alternative Shabbat service at the same time as JVP’s fragmented the community, since Shabbat services and dinner are the main unifying and centering force in this community every week.

Fear of dialogue is not productive; nor is the act of silencing legitimate views and ideologies that have a strong legacy in our faith tradition. Our experience, and the knowledge that others are more effectively censored, demonstrates why these conversations are essential. We were almost silenced in our open community at Wesleyan. In many other Jewish communities, silence remains the unchallenged norm.

This past week we read two Torah portions, one of which is Zachor. Zachor is the brief section of the Torah that commands the Jews to remember the nation of Amalek, in order to wipe them out. In planning, we almost chose not to mention Zachor in the service. We decided to include it because it is important to talk about the troubling parts of what has been handed down to us. It is necessary to read through, question, and take ownership over the parts of Judaism that we do not agree with. We must examine the atrocities committed in our name in order to reject hatred, bigotry, and genocide. We read Zachor in order to remember that we have the right and the responsibility to say, “Not in my name” and to act on it. This weekend at Wesleyan, our Jewish community took a small, significant step in that direction. May it be the first step of many.

  • Concerned Jew

    It sounds like you are cranky that a few Jewish community members didn’t want to have your views imposed upon them. Hijacking a religious service for your clubs events is not a way to create a safe discussion. You shouldn’t criticize them for providing a space that they felt safe because obviously your space was unsafe for them.

    • absolutely

      I couldn’t agree more with the above. Services for some people is about a spiritual or religious environment. It’s not when they want to be hearing your views.

      You can’t force someone to listen to your views and you shouldn’t take it so personally that people who expressed concerns about a political service held their own apolitical service. The influx of people at the JVP Shabbat is great, but you recognize the large number of people who were not there or have not been attending services recently because of their political environments.

      This isn’t about your point of view or opinions. Host a non-religious basic forum where you can express your opinions and see who’ll show up. You might be surprised.

    • Farklempt

      1) Hijacking implies an unauthorized takeover (with violent undertones). The service, which I attended, was a Shabbat service first and foremost. It was there to serve as the weekly event that Jews on the campus are normally exposed to. There was no hijacking. It was sanctioned and agreed upon.

      2) There is a difference between comfort and safety. The very concept of having / allowing an alternative Shabbat is based on a desire to explore what discomfort we have with the politicization of Judaism in the face of Israel. Judaism (one could argue), a faith, is not inherently political (I’m not sure if I agree with this, though). The global discourse on Israel has assumed religious undertones, which is exactly why the phrase, “not in our name,” is used: the idea of explicitly linking Judaism with a nation pre-exists the service’s intention to address a political friction within the community. Having a dialogue, whether it be over Shabbat or not, should never concern safety. Comfort on the other hand needs to be dealt with as it continues to be a polarizing force within Jewish communities, ours included.

      3) In response to you, “absolutely”: Every religious service is inherently politicized / view-based. Pick up a Sidur (prayer book). Some prayers are included from the larger lexicon, some are omitted. Some are translated, some are not. The translations to the vernacular must necessarily alter meaning as a product of linguistic subtlety and signification. Every Shabbat service is forcing you to listen to views and opinions. The question that needs to be answered is, why is this any different?

      4) I found the Shabbat service to be quite spiritual. A large part of my feeling that way was a product of views being explicitly shared rather than implicitly expressed in the texts. If there are enough people who feel spiritually connected to a certain type of service, is that not grounds for involvement/engagement/organization?

      • absolutely

        Yes some prayers are included from the larger lexicon and some are omited. Yes translation can affect meaning of prayer. However, I still disagree that a basic Shabbat Service is forcing me to listen to an opinion.

        Prayers mean something different to everyone. I for one choose to read certain passages and not others and am often looking into the meaning of what I’m saying. If someone doesn’t want to say a prayer about the State of Israel, they can remain quiet. However, a service which is titled, led, and focussed on the beliefs of a specific political organization IS in fact forcing someone to listen to someone elses views, especially when there is no other official option for services on campus.

      • Concerned Jew

        I’m just going to respond to 2: Basically, there is no reason that you should complain that more students didn’t go to your shabbat. The stupid rotation cycle at the bayit is a ridiculous system that pleases no one. Students who want to form their own service should be encouraged to do so because it will only strengthen the community by providing a space for everyone.

      • Anonymous
    • Linda Johnson Carraway

      Let’s define ‘unsafe”, shall we? It’s much too widely-used a word to be thrown around carelessly. I feel unsafe if I feel that someone I don’t know is following me in a car. I would feel unsafe walking down the streets of Washington Heights in NYC today– though I didn’t back in 1963. I would feel unsafe if a sociopathic hater from North Carolina argued with and threatened me when I wore my hypothetical hijab. None of these scenarios has ever happened to me, neither in the US nor in any other part in the world. Do you know when I felt unsafe? When I visited Gaza in 2009–about 4 months after Cast Lead– and heard Israeli navy boats taking potshots at local fisherman in their miniscule fishing boats. So, don’t worry– you don’t need to feel unsafe in the US until the navy starts taking potshots at you while you are paddling in your campus pond.
      Dialogue in and of itself is neither deadly or unsafe. It is only what you make it out to be.

      • Anonymous

        Stockholm Syndrome Linda,
        I’m constantly congratulating liberals on their being elected as spokes’tards for Islam.
        Congratulations for supporting people (Hamas) a people who would force you into submission if not turn you into their sex toy if given half a chance.

  • student

    When people will stop with the typical knee-jerk reaction of calling me a supporter of apartheid and truly listen to what I have to say (as well as actually learn the history of Israel and not just repeat false propaganda), then I will happily have a discussion. Until then, I know that it will be a fruitless endeavor.

    • Gfrankel

      Let’s talk about the history of Israel. Im listening to you student

  • Wes Jew

    This article is a pure farce and a complete distortion of the entire situation. To readers of this article: key points of the weeks events were left out or SKEWED in order to tell a compelling story at the expense of proverbially throwing certain community members under the bus. This is pure bullying.

  • JewcyJ

    because Jews are not even allowed to have one safe space on campus. This is a very anti-semitic organization.

    • concerned

      Seriously people can have different opinions including on Israel, and especially Jews. You know the joke that if you want 3 different opinions find 2 Jews. Debate is part of the culture. I don’t think marginalizing voices is healthy. Even if they are self-deprecating, Israel hating…they can express their opinion.

    • Anonymous

      “One safe place on campus.” Seriously? If you think antisemitism is that rampant in the US – in a country where Jews are the wealthiest, most successful, most powerful ethnic or religious group by orders of magnitude – you really need to get your head examined.

      • JewcyJ

        “Jews are the wealthiest, most successful, most powerful ethnic or religious group by orders of magnitude” …..

      • Anonymous

        Per capita, there is no doubt about it. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. What’s your point?

      • NotADouchebag

        …That’s actually nazi rhetoric TJTruth. Look up some FBI statistics on US hate crimes. They are disproportionately against Jews (62.4% of all religious hate crimes). The idea that Jews are over-privileged is a prevalent misconception as old as the middle ages. Last year, there was an anti-Jewish shooting spree, about which you probably never heard. This happened in Wisconsin less than a month ago.

      • Anonymous

        I never said Jews in the US are “over-privileged.” I think the privilege is well-deserved. Jews are better educated than the population at large, have stronger family systems, marry later in life and are financially more successful than the population at large. Jews have every right to do well in the US, but it couldn’t happen if any sort of overt discrimination were in place. With regard to reports of anti-Semitism. I suggest you watch the documentary “Defamation” by the Israeli filmaker Yoav Shamir, who questions whether the term “anti-Semitism” has become a sort of all-purpose label in the US for anyone who criticizes Israel. If one equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism (wrongly in my opinion, although a number of American Jews do), than it’s no wonder that allegations of anti-Semitism have increased sharply in the US in recent years, what with the Likud government of Israel funding massive expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories in violation of international law and with the wholesale destruction of Palestinian hospitals, mosques, homes, power and sewage plants in the military incursions in Gaza, not to mention hundreds of children killed. There has been worldwide criticism of these actions – and rightly so in my opinion. As a Jew, I know that Netanyahu’s actions in no way reflect what it means to be Jewish, and I take great offense to notion that the egregious behavior of the Netanyahu government has anything at all to do with my family or my religion.

      • Sammy Hagar

        Well said. Thank you!

      • Anonymous

        So the truth comes out. People are envious of the Jew’ successes. Be it in business, artistry, medical advances, Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics – people can’t stand the fact that there are a people (Jewish people) who are more talented.

      • SeeThroughYou

        Naw, we just stay home on Friday night so we don’t get as distracted from our school and work goals, lol

      • Anonymous

        I AM Jewish. Jewish success is well-deserved. My point is that if any sort of real, overt discrimination existed in the US targeting Jews, then this success would be impossible.

      • Anonymous

        I would like to add that there is obviously anti-Semitic sentiment out there judging from the comments on websites and social media. But does it affect Jews on a day-to-day level? I don’t think so. We must remain vigilant, but courageous, and focus on the American Jewish tradition of social justice for all peoples. We can’t circle the wagons. We have a responsibility.

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        You could make the same argument for straight white males and their successes in all their ventures. Is it just jealousy that drives the woman’s and civil rights movements, then?

    • Linda Johnson Carraway

      So you are saying that any Jewish organization that calls for peace and reconciliation is anti-Semitic?

  • Angry Jew

    I was at the bayit, there were 30 students there, at most. Most of them weren’t even Jewish. Why would you hold a shabbat service that alienated so many Jews? It was clearly a political group event that lacked any nuance or open discussion. Probably the worst shabbat I’ve been to at Wes.

  • Anonymous

    Page 1.

    “The spiritual father of the fanatical incitement against the Jews was Abner of Burgos, a Jewish kabbalist and scholar who converted to Christianity in about 1321, upon experiencing a deep religious and spiritual crisis, and became known as Alfonso of Valladolid. His… despair of the Jewish question found expression in his polemics—some written in Hebrew, others in Spanish—which contain a complete doctrine of denunciation of the Jews and their laws and morals. Oral Law, he maintained, constituted a code of robbery, usury and deception. …Various sayings by the Talmudic sages … were interpreted by this apostate to mean that the Jews must be deprived of the easy livelihoods of usury and medicine, that they must be deprived of their autonomy and that they must be terrorized and subjected to harsh laws. Only then would they merit redemption.”

    –H. H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People.

    Prelude: at Vassar College

    Starting in late February the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie has been the scene of some of the ugliest depredations yet organized by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign designed to expel Israel from the family of nations. The college founded in the nineteenth century by a brewer has become a witches’ brew of bullying and raw violence carried out by Students for Justice in Palestine and its collaborators. They described themselves as “staging an action [italics mine]” (on March 3) against the on-campus part of an International Studies class that was to include a trip to the Middle East to consider “water issues” in the region. Since the Jew and then the Israeli have been perpetually on trial it was considered necessary by Vassar to convene a special forum to consider the “ethics” of a course that would include setting foot in Israel. Although the trip’s itinerary confirmed that its (predictably tendentious) purpose was to convince students that Israel is unfairly depriving Palestinian Arabs of water, that slander was not sufficient to protect it (or its two garden-variety Jewish leftist instructors) from the wrath of BDSers, who consider Israel the devil’s own experiment station or, in the colorful lingo of Philip Weiss, a Jewish hater of Israel in attendance at the forum, “a blot on civilization.” Their violence (which included screaming, interruptions, and perhaps ululating) was the existential realization of a letter published on March 1 by a group of thirty-nine Vassar faculty members who condemned the Vassar administration for daring to criticize the recently passed resolution of the American Studies Association in favor of boycotting Israeli academic institutions.

    The professors charged that critics of the ASA boycotters had had “a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinions.” It is now almost 65 years since Lionel Trilling remarked (in The Liberal Imagination) on the way in which modern liberals not only want the right to go their own way in all things, but to go their own way without any questions ever being asked of them. Those who carried out the “action” also had their special complaint. According to Weiss they were “people of color” (perhaps by analogy with “jeans of blue”), and therefore entitled to accuse their critics of “racism.” (They understand liberal-left quackery only too well: liberals think “the poor” are their equals in every sense … except that of being equal to them.) But the final word on that allegation of “chilled” discourse was left to the gloating Weiss: “The spirit of that young progressive space was that Israel is a blot on civilization, and boycott is right and necessary. If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.”

    Matthew Arnold, recalling (back in 1883) the happier moments of his second visit to America, expressed pleasure that “in colleges like Vassar College in the State of New York,” women (“the fair host of the Amazons”) were now studying Greek art and Greek literature. One wonders what he would say if he visited the same place now. I believe that what would most shock him would be not the bullying, the intimidation, the thuggery—to Oxford itself he had applied Byron’s aspersion: “There are our young barbarians all at play!”–but the flagrant violation of conscience in intellectual work, a violation like the following course description by Vassar’s Professor Joshua Schreier:

    “History 214: The Roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict:

    This course is NOT designed to present ‘an objective’ account of a ‘two-sided’ conflict. The fact that there are supposedly two sides does not obligate us to portray each as equally right and/or equally wrong. The goal, rather, is to understand why the conflict arose, and what sorts of power inequalities have made it continue. … Why and how did economic globalization, technological development, and European imperialism foster the creation of two different national identities in Palestine? Why and how and when did these two identities develop in such a way as to preclude members of certain religious or ethnic groups from belonging?”

    Ruth Wisse has pointed out the impossibility of finding a course description at any elite American college or university that operated from the opposed ideological premise to Schreier’s: namely, that “the Jewish people had a connection to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean that was greater and of longer duration than the nomadic peoples who came to be called Palestinians, and that the central place of Palestinians in world politics is due to an imbalance of power between the small Jewish state and the petroleum-drenched Arab states with which it must contend.”

    When he wrote this description, which apparently raised no eyebrows in whatever Vassar administrators pass judgment on curriculum, Schreier was an untenured toiler in the college’s Jewish Studies Program; now he is its chairman—and also (a fact that may surprise some people) the chief campus spokesman for the academic boycott of Israel. Here is how Lucette Lagnado (a Vassar graduate) reported the revelation in the Wall Street Journal (February 24, 2014): “The head of the Jewish Studies Program… had also expressed support for the boycott movement. Prof. Schreier was quoted in the campus paper ruminating that while once ‘instinctively against’ the boycott, he had heard more ‘substantiated, detailed’ arguments in its behalf, and as a result ‘I am currently leaning in favor of it,’ he concluded delicately, as if choosing a favorite tea.”

    Self-hatred– or self-love and apostasy?

    In his formidable book entitled Jewish Self-Hatred (1986) Sander Gilman showed how apostasy in the form of conversion to Christianity was the solution to their personal predicament chosen by substantial numbers of disaffected European Jewish intellectuals . He concluded the book by suggesting that “one of the most recent forms of Jewish self-hatred is the virulent Jewish opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.” In the modern world, however, the contradiction between liberal pieties and the defense of Israel is rarely resolved by formal apostasy, and it is difficult to find any self-hatred in such Jewish Israel-haters as Professors Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Judith Butler, and Jacqueline Rose, who suffer rather from a self-love that would shame Shakespeare’s Malvolio. They do on occasion cling to the outer trappings of medieval apostasy. Marc Ellis, the wandering “liberation theologian” and former Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University, famously spent one Yom Kippur publicly confessing the sins of (other) Jews against Palestinian Arabs in front of a Christian audience at the (Protestant) Union Theological Seminary. (He also praised the “courage” of Gillian Rose, sister of the aforementioned Jacqueline, for her deathbed conversion to Christianity via the Church of England.) Daniel Boyarin, the University of California, Berkeley professor (of Talmud) who has identified himself as a Jew “destined by fate, psychology, personal history, or whatever, to be drawn to Christianity,” warned that “My Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Daheishe, Beteen,” (i.e., places the Israeli army had entered to pursue people inclined to massacre Jews). Noam Chomsky favors St. Paul’s Cathedral, in (or in front of) which he has often held forth, in one instance introduced by another perfervid Jewish Israelophobe, the late Harold Pinter, who introduced Chomsky as “the leading critical voice against the criminal regime now running the United States.” (Lest that remark prove overly cryptic, the ever-helpful Chomsky had a few weeks earlier clarified: “Antisemitism is no longer a problem [in the U.S.], fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.”

    These, however, are but the dramaturgy, the trappings and suits of woe where “virulent Jewish opposition to the existence of the state of Israel” is concerned. We see it more frequently, and frighteningly, in the BDS movement, dedicated to turning the pariah people into the pariah nation by calling into question Israel’s “right to exist,” just as the Nazis had called into question, and very successfully too, the Jewish people’s “right to live.” The leaders of this movement are “disproportionately,” if not preponderantly, Jewish apostates of a new kind that may well frighten us.

    Cynthia Ozick explains:

    “The Nicholas Donins and Pablo Christianis of ages past ran to abandon their Jewish ties even as they subverted them. The Nicholas Donins and Pablo Christianis of our own time run to embrace their Jewish ties even as they besmirch them. So it is as self-declared Jews, as loyal and honorable Jews , as Jews in the line of the prophets, as Jews who speak out for the sake of the integrity of Jews and Judaism, that we nowadays hear arguments against the survival, or the necessity, or the legitimacy, of the State of Israel.”

    • Anonymous

      Page 2.

      The Jews of BDS

      Despite its precedents in the Nazis’ kauf nicht bei Juden campaign begun in 1933 and the expulsion of Jews from German universities by “Hitler’s Professors,” and the Arab economic boycott of Israel now over 66 years old, the BDS movement may fairly be called, despite local variations, “Jews Against Themselves.” It was begun in England in April 2002 by the Jewish academic Steven Rose and his wife. Espousal of the boycott of Israel, especially its academic institutions, soon became the identifying mark of “progressive” English Jews, so much so that Howard Jacobson devoted a whole satirical novel (The Finkler Question, 2010) to “the Jews of shame,” people who were ashamed of Israel’s very existence, though not of their own illiteracy, cowardice, and treachery.

      Sixty years earlier it was a widespread joke that “when a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.” But in The Finkler Question characters are far more likely to believe, as one named Kugel explicitly states: “I am a Jew because I am a non-Zionist.” Another character, almost certainly based on the actor Stephen Fry, is described as follows: “To be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life. Indeed, one among them only found out he was Jewish at all in the course of making a television program in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was. In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping before a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. … Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy on the following Saturday.”

      Another Anglo-Jewish tribune of the BDS movement, and not merely a fictional one, is the very ashamed Jacqueline Rose, the psychoanalytically inclined professor of English, who laid Zionism on her couch long ago—and found it incurable. In the nosology of social diseases she merits a special place. She has long been so consumed by shame that she insists only the erasure of Israel can cure her affliction: “Appalled at what the Israeli nation perpetrated in my name,” she has repeatedly expressed the wish to live “in a world in which we did not have to be ashamed of shame” and looks forward to curing her shame-sickness by destroying its cause: Israel.

      In America the most flagrant, blatant, and obscene Jewish defamer of Israel has been a Boanerges of global reach through a megaphone of Brobdingnagian proportions. Richard Falk recently completed a six-year term as a United Nations “rappporteur” (literally “talebearer” ) for human rights in the “Palestinian territories”—this after forty years as professor of international studies at Princeton University. He had also acquired fame outside of academia as a regular in the New York Review of Books (the Women’s Wear Daily of anti-Israel Jews), and once again in 1989 when, in a Commentary dispute (with me) over Edward Said’s claim that the UN charter entitled the PLO to murder “collaborators ,” he praised Said as “this courageous and compassionate person who [sic] many of us value.” From his UN post, Falk has relentlessly described Israel as Satan’s lair, called for “a legitimacy war against Israel,” blamed the Boston Marathon bombings on “Tel Aviv,” and then–in the summer of 2011– having exhausted his own store of verbal eloquence on the topic, posted on his “blog” site a cartoon of a dog wearing a yarmulke urinating on a blindfolded female figure of Justice. If any single figure ever embodied the image of the UN as the center of the world’s evil, it is Richard Falk. But—it is almost needless to add—this did not stop him from placing himself in the line of Jewish Biblical prophets working for “social justice” by leading the international assault on Israel for countless human rights violations.

      Second only to Falk as the public face of the BDS movement to blacken Israel’s reputation and caricature Zionism is Judith Butler, a professor of philosophy with a mind so coarse that it sees in the establishment of Israel not one of the few redeeming events in a century of blood and shame, not one of the noblest examples of a commitment to life by a martyred people, not an expression of the yearning for human dignity symbolized by the Exodus from slavery that has characterized Jewish civilization for millennia, but an emotional quirk, a stupid prejudice, no more worthy of respect or preservation than a taste for high cholesterol foods. “Some Jews have a heartfelt investment in corned beef sandwiches,” she sneers. So what?

      Butler is a latter-day descendant of what has been called the California School of Jewish Studies, to which she arrived after establishing herself as a theoretician of “Queer Theory” as well as a member of that cadre of philosophy and literature teachers who hate both for being at once the instruments and results of class and gender oppression. Like the aforementioned Boyarin, who sought to make the “feminized Jewish man” into a universal model, she belongs to the Queer Nation, and believes that sexual identity is arbitrarily constructed independently of biology. Not for her the old wisecrack about how “language has gender, people have sex.” But what has remained most constant in her movement from philosophy to anti-Zionist politics is the stupefying opacity of her prose, as epitomized in the following (award-winning) 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.”

      This from the winner of the Theodor Adorno Prize, chaired professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, occupant of the Hannah Arendt chair in the European Graduate School in Switzerland, recipient of numerous honorary degrees. Among the many awards lavished upon Butler this is surely the most deserved. The sentence appeared in the journal Diacritics in 1997 and won the annual Bad Writing Contest conducted by the journal Philosophy and Literature.

      Prior to autumn 2003 Butler was someone who defined her “Jewishness” in opposition to the State of Israel. She was mainly a signer of petitions harshly critical of the state. She did express misgiving about signing one petition (for halting American aid to Israel) because it “was not nearly strong enough… it did not call for the end of Zionism.” Upon looking more deeply into the matter, she discovered that there had been “debates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as to whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state.” From this she swiftly concluded that demanding an end to Zionism in 2003, calling for politicide, was no different from taking a debater’s position against it fifty years before the state came into existence—and over a century before tens of thousands of Jews had died beating back repeated attempts “to turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood.”

      The annus mirabilis of what has become Butler’s life struggle against Zion began in September 2002 when Lawrence Summers , then president of Harvard, delivered a speech deploring the upsurge of antisemitism in many parts of the globe: he included synagogue bombings, physical assaults on Jews, desecration of Jewish holy places, and (this with special emphasis) denial of the right of “the Jewish state to exist.” But his most immediate concern was that “at Harvard and… universities across the country” faculty-initiated petitions were calling “for the University to single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university’s endowment to be invested.” (Summers’s speech stands to this day as a rare exception to the timidity of university administrators in facing up to the true nature of BDS activities; and it may have contributed to his being forced out of Harvard’s presidency in February of 2006, ostensibly because he had alluded to, without condemning, the view that women have less natural aptitude for science than men.)

      Butler had herself signed the same petition in Berkeley, where it circulated in February 2001. She therefore found Summers’ remarks not only wrong but personally “hurtful” since they implicated Butler herself in the newly resurgent campus antisemitism as well as the violence it quickly fomented. (She could hardly have failed to notice that the Berkeley BDS petition provided the impetus for anti-Israel mob violence at her own campus on April 24, 2001, a few weeks after it had been circulated, and for more explicitly anti-Jewish mobs at nearby San Francisco State University in May of the following year. She therefore decided to write a reply to Summers in the London Review of Books, whose main political impulse is the unwillingness to share the globe with a Jewish majority state. Her essay, entitled “No, It Isn’t Anti-Semitic,” published August 21, 2003 is a key document of the BDS movement and as central to “antisemitism denial” as the work of Robert Faurisson is to Holocaust denial. It operates, moreover, at the same intellectual level as the Frenchman’s work.

      Summers, knowing how ubiquitous in anti-Israel discourse is the straw man called “the defender of Israel who decries any criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitism,” had gone out of his way to separate himself from this (entirely conjectural) figure, but to no avail.

      Butler has continued, with steam-engine regularity, to insist that it is “untrue, absurd and painful for anyone to argue that those who formulate a criticism of the State of Israel is [sic] antisemitic or, if Jewish, self-hating.” She further accused Summers of striking a blow against academic freedom because his words were having “a chilling effect on academic discourse.” (Do Butler’s words sound familiar? That is because she had performed—“performativity” is her academic hobbyhorse—at Vassar not long before the aforementioned thirty-nine professors complained that criticisms of the American Studies Association had nearly frozen their vocal chords.) No evidence is (or indeed could be) adduced for Butler’s allegation. Of one thing we can be sure: the chill did not take hold at Harvard itself, which would very soon (in November) play host to Oxford’s Tom Paulin, who had urged (in yet another “criticism of Israeli policy”) that Jews living in Judea/Samaria “should be shot dead,” or at Columbia, where Paulin continued merrily through autumn semester as a visiting professor, or at the New York Review of Books , which in October 2003 would publish Tony Judt’s call for an end to the state of Israel, or in the London Review of Books itself, which in January 2003 published another 133 lines of Paulin doggerel called “On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card,” a versified regurgitation of Butler’s “No, It’s Not anti-Semitic.” If Summers’ Harvard speech had a chilling effect on antisemitic clarion calls, including incitement to murder, one would not wish to know what the fully heated versions sound like.

      Although Butler’s assault on Summers is a loose, baggy monster, what it leaves out is more blatant than what it includes. Like all BDS manifestoes, it omits history altogether, distorts evidence, and omits context. Did it never occur to Butler that the divestment campaign is one prong of the endless Arab campaign to strangle the Jewish state? The “occupation” which Butler and fellow BDSers constantly bemoan did not cause Arab hatred and violence; it was Arab hatred and aggression that led to occupation. For nineteen years, from 1948-67, the Arabs were entirely in control of the disputed territories, theirs to do with whatever they pleased; and somehow it never occurred to them to establish a state there, or indeed to use those territories as anything except staging grounds for attacks on Israel. (Are there still people outside of the State Department who believe the Arabs are as interested in having a state as in pulling down that of their neighbor?)

      The Harvard/MIT divestment petition that Butler championed against Summers was promoted at MIT by Chomsky, who would be rendered nearly speechless without calling Israelis Nazis. Butler was herself one of the “first signatories” of a July 28, 2003 petition that uses the Israeli-Nazi equation (beloved of denigrators of Zionism going back to British official circles in Cairo in 1941): it says Israeli use of concrete, barbed wire and electronic fortifications has made “Israeli citizens themselves into a people of camp wardens.” So it would seem that, for Butler and her loyal followers in the BDS movement, “Language plays an important role in shaping and attuning our… understanding of social and political realities”– except when it happens to be the antisemitic language that demonizes Israel as being black as Gehenna and the Pit of Hell.

      • Anonymous

        Page 3.


        In his History of the Jews in Christian Spain Yitzhak Baer tells us that Abner of Burgos, the apostate cited at the beginning of this essay, not only devised a plan for terrorizing and destroying the Jews which “the enemies of Israel were to carry out in its entirety in the year 1391.” “The aging fanatical apostate who wrote these diatribes,” Baer adds,” launched his holy war himself, not only in words but also in deed.” But our new apostates need not work so hard: they can rest content with being accessories to, rather than perpetrators of, murder. The machinery for destruction of the state of Israel is already in place. It exists not only in Iran, whose leaders explicitly call for wiping Israel off the map with nuclear weapons that they are now almost certain to obtain. The neighbors of this tiny country would be delighted to see it reduced to sandy wastes, as would countless citizens of the Dark Continent (Europe, that is) who cannot forgive the Jews for the Holocaust. If many Iranians and Europeans still deny there was a Holocaust, that is because, as the courageous German scholar Matthias Kuntzel has observed: “Every denial of the Holocaust contains an appeal to repeat it.” The BDSers may be obtuse, craven, morally bankrupt; but they would also have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to recognize the link between their efforts and the murderous intentions of those who regret the Holocaust only because—for a time—it gave antisemitism a bad name.

        There is yet one more calamity that has been brought closer by the reckless Jewish promoters of BDS, a calamity that one might have expected at least the Jewish Studies professors among them to think about for just a moment. “In only one respect,” wrote Hillel Halkin in 2007, “are things [now] worse. In the 1930’s the Jews were a people that had lost a first temple and a second one; yet as frightful as their next set of losses was to be, they did not have a third temple to risk. Today, they do. And in Jewish history, three strikes and you’re out.”

        Edward Alexander is co-author, with Paul Bogdanor, of The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders (Transaction Publishers).

  • Seriously?

    The fact that you would publish this in the argus says a lot about your character. This is the most self-aggrandizing and unnecessary article I have ever read… and it’s rather poorly written. The issue was handled inside the Jewish community and the fact that you felt you needed to rehash it on the pages of the argus is pure bullying. Since you are clearly responding to comments, respond to this: why did you feel that this article had to be written?

  • AJ Gem

    Maybe you should have tried to have your Shsbbat service in an Arab or Muslim country. Then you would really see what intolerance is. and I hope none of you are LGBT because you would be in danger of being put to death Why are so many in the BDS movement willing to tolerate and/or turn a blind eye to these human rights abuses perpetrated by those whom you support ?

    You are sadly misguided in supporting those who wish for your demise.

  • rabbstudent

    I was a student 10 years ago dealing with similar issues on campus. I’m currently a rabbinical student and proud member of JVP. Yasher Koach for leading this service and for this clear and compassionate article!!

    • Anonymous

      Despite its precedents in the Nazis’ kauf nicht bei Juden
      campaign begun in 1933 and the expulsion of Jews from German universities by
      “Hitler’s Professors,” and the Arab economic boycott of Israel now over 66
      years old, the BDS movement may fairly be called, despite local variations,
      “Jews Against Themselves.” It was begun in England in April 2002 by the Jewish
      academic Steven Rose and his wife. Espousal of the boycott of Israel,
      especially its academic institutions, soon became the identifying mark of
      “progressive” English Jews, so much so that Howard Jacobson devoted a whole
      satirical novel (The Finkler Question, 2010) to “the Jews of shame,”
      people who were ashamed of Israel’s very existence, though not of their own
      illiteracy, cowardice, and treachery.

      • Linda Johnson Carraway

        It’s my understanding that the current BDS movement is a child of the Palestinians. However, anyone may join it and many do.

      • Anonymous

        No, Linda. It is the child of man’s oldest prejudice, that being anti-Semitism. It’s just packaged in a new package and suckers like you buy it as if this time it were different.

      • Linda Johnson Carraway

        I wonder who will have the last laugh on this subject. The sucker or Arafat? Arafat: it is said not to waste time exchanging talking points with a dyed-in-the-wool Zionist, because he does not want to be faced with information that differs from his. So, I’m choosing to exit this ‘conversation’ now. Sarcasm doesn’t go anywhere with me.

      • Anonymous

        Silencing debate by disappearing.
        Silencing debate by name-calling.

        Silencing debate by rioting.

        Silencing debate by making stuff up.

        Silencing debate by spinning jihad.

        Silencing debate by beheading.

        Silencing debate by death threats.

        Silencing debate by theft and rape.

        Silencing debate by cold shoulder.

        Silencing debate by taqiyya.

        Silencing debate by throwing acid.

        Normative behavior for Muslims and Islamic apologists, rather than an aberration.

      • Anonymous

        I think you should help Abbas and his dear friends and allies Hamas create a Palestinian state.
        Since Hamas is more popular than Abbas let’s call it Hamasistan. It could be based on all the other Islamist states. Women like you would have zero rights. Gays would be hung. Jews would be verboten. Non-Muslims would be killed unless they convert to Islam or pay a crippling tax that is designed just for them.

        I know you think this makes a lot of sense and is something people like you and college punks should march for, shout about, and pretend they care about. The world needs another Islamist state. What in the world would we do we do without replacing a remarkable country like Israel where on a per capita level more advances in medicine, technology, advancement for green agriculture as well as being the only country in the world where green space has expanded with a hate-filled Islamic state instead.
        Your logic is really a marvel to behold!

        In Hamasistan criminals will be punished by being tied to
        the back of jeeps and skinned to death on dirt roads until they die. The lucky criminals will simply be pushed off
        rooftops, and if they’re really lucky the rooftop will be very high.

        In Hamasistan they will blame all their problems on Israel that
        way the politicians can line their Swiss Vaults with endless international aid
        money and not be held accountable.

        In Hamasistan they will shoot rockets into Israel during
        rush hour and when schools get out.
        That’s the way they do things in Hamasistan. Then they will blame Israel for making them
        do it.

        Yes, this will solve all the problems just ask any leftist,
        liberal, dreaming moron and he will scream it at you as if there is no doubt
        about it.

    • Andrew

      This mendacious article ignores facts, history and context to create a false narrative. The fact is JVP is a racist organization. As a Rabbinical student you should be first to condemn their complicity in the oppression of women, the execution of gay men and their hatred of Jews. JVP seeks the elimination of Israel b/c JVP hates Jews.

      • Anonymous

        Got it in one . Undermine Judaism and you destroy Israel . Destroy Israel and you eradicate Judaism . This is the goal of all self haters who cannot bear to be in their own skin so great is their need to assimilate . The ultimate ashamed Jews . Their connection to the faith of their parents is merely an accident of birth . There is nothing Jewish about ‘Jewish ‘ Voice for ‘ Peace ‘

  • Karl Popper’s Ghost

    I find it puzzling how you can simultaneously demand the following things that are so obviously in conflict with one another:

    1. You talk about fear inhibiting true dialogue, yet what you are asking for is the shutting down of dialogue, via boycott and ‘anti-normalization’.

    2. You mock the ‘fear of politicization’ and wonder why students might not want their spirituality hijaked by your agenda on shabbat. You may not share their agenda or their spirituality but your lack of understanding of what spirituality is weakens your claim dramatically.

    Your claim that “Judaism is itself inherently political” and that worship during some the most trying moments in Jewish history (the inquisition, the ghetto, etc.) “has always been a political act” is so brazenly offensive and tone deaf, that it’s almost poetic. You are entitled of course to view your spirituality this way. Do you not see what you’ve communicated by saying this: you are saying judaism for me is an instrument of my politics. That is all. That is how I connect to my spirituality.

    Well, if that is ALL it means then what value is there in Jewish Community for you? Why should members of this community who don’t share (that’s a polite version of ‘loathe’) your politics have their shabbat hijacked for this? That’s not even getting into the reasons why they happen to not share your politics (that might have something to do with the fact that your politics – rightly or wrongly [note: ‘rightly or wrongly’ is consistent with rightly] are seen by many (most?) in the community as directly threatening to communal interests as such (as opposed to curiosities like yoga and socialism (we’ll leave the judgment of the propriety of a shabbat organized around these for another time)).

    3. Then to cap it all off you end with the vignette about zachor. Perfect. I’m glad you decided to keep it in. You claim to want to include the entire community. Did it occur to you that some members of the community view zachor as a required portion of the shabbat reading for that week (it’s only once a year, that week) and that Maimonides views hearing zachor as a commandment from the torah? I’m not preaching halachic observance here, I’m just pointing out that your cavalier deliberations on this matter demonstrate everything that is problematic in your claims to try to ‘unify the community’ with your shabbat. You don’t seem to respect what shabbat means to the members of the community. From here it seems that you are seeking a rubber stamp of approval from community to designate your cause as authentically ‘Jewish’. That you do so at the price of dividing the community and mocking its values, is not only unfortunate: it demonstrates that what you seek is oxymoronic.

    I’m not a member of the Wesleyan undergraduate community, so it’s not my place to opine as to whether you should have been given this platform at Hillel. I’d be happy to have a dialogue with BDS supporters. My experience of this has not been all that pleasant. But I do see where the other side is coming from. Do you? Given how JVP tends to cast their fellow Jews, given how you misrepresent the values and nature of judaism and the Jewish community, and given the bizarre combination of asking for dialogue but attempting to shut down any event with an Israeli speaker, are you really surprised that most of us don’t take the ‘open’ in “Open-Hillel” literally?

  • AD

    The BDS movement is racist and anti semitic which seeks the complete elimination of Israel. JVP is neither Jewish nor for Peace. They are complicit with the oppression of women and the execution of gays and should be condemned for the hate mongers they are.

  • Dan Fischer ’12

    Thank you Talia and Yael for your powerful article. Mazel tov to Wesleyan’s Open Hillel chapter for courageously hosting a Shabbat service run by Jewish Voice for Peace. It takes courage to stand for justice in defiance of self-proclaimed, Zionist leaders. Sending much love and solidarity from a Jewish alum.

  • Mohammad Fuxpigs

    Jews are and have always been behind Communism, Marxism, Cultural Marxism, etc. Hence being nation wrecking parasites kicked out of over 100 nations. Hitler literally did nothing wrong.