There is a certain lack of clarity in Judith Butler’s remarks at Brooklyn College, not so much in her words, but in what actions they may license or lead to. I have been discussing this with Sergio Tenenbaum, and here is what we do not understand. (Thanks to Mark Lance for helping clarify the issues.)
Butler says, first:
the academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal rights and the rights of the dispossessed . . . When those cultural institutions (universities, art centers, festivals) were to take such a stand, that would be the beginning of the end of the boycott
I take it that universities rarely take a stand about such matters, and especially not publicly funded universities. Who has ever demanded, for example, that the University of Texas should take a stand on the death penalty in Texas? (Very few people, if any, advocated sanctions against Witwatersrand University or the University of Cape Town during apartheid, though they may have been fairly adamant about not consuming South African products or attending sports events involving South Africa.)
So first of all, Butler seems to say, in effect, that until the state of Israel takes certain measures, she will boycott all Israeli universities. Is this her position?
Butler may allow that if a department were to take a stand, she would not boycott that department, even though she would boycott the university of which it is a part. If so, she should say so, and say how she would do both. (To be clear, it is not that I doubt that you can boycott a university while not boycotting some of its departments, but I’d just like to know her meaning on this point.)
Butler says, second:
BDS does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship. I concede that not all versions of BDS have been consistent on this point in the past, but the present policy confirms this principle. I myself oppose any form of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their citizenship. Others may interpret the boycott differently, but I have no problem collaborating with Israeli scholars and artists as long as we do not participate in any Israeli institution or have Israeli state monies support our collaborative work. [Italics added: note that Butler seems to say that she should not participate in an Israeli institution as a result of collaborating with a scholar who is employed by one.]
Once again, clarification would be appreciated. Certainly, the above statement implies that Butler would not boycott somebody who works at (say) the University of Chicago on the sole grounds that this individual has Israeli citizenship. But what about Israelis who work at Israeli universities? These individuals are wholly supported by “Israeli state monies” and it could be said that even their collaborative research is so supported, since all their research is (at least partially) supported by their salaries. So: would Butler boycott and refuse to collaborate with them?
For the curious: my own position is that Brooklyn College was right to invite/allow Butler to speak. On the other hand, although I am (I suppose) a Zionist, I do not think that the Israeli state is right in its treatment either of its own non-Jewish citizens, or of those Palestinians who live within or close by and outside its borders. I do not intend, by this post, to debate these matters. But I do think that Judith Butler should be forthright about the consequences of her views.