The award of a philosophy prize to the pro-Palestinian Jewish-American philosopher Judith Butler has angered a number of groups in Germany and Israel.
The city of Frankfurt awarded Butler the Theodor Adorno Prize for her work in philosophy which made her “one of the key thinkers of our time.”
“Someone who boycotts Israel can’t be an Adorno prize winner,” a German scholars’ groups was quoted as saying by the Jewish Chronicle Newspaper.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany also criticised the decision, referring to Butler as “morally corrupt” and “confessing to be an Israel-hater,” according to Spiegel Online.
The Jerusalem Post attacked Butler and condemned Frankfurt for awarding such a prestigious prize to a “US advocate of boycotting Israel.” The newspaper called on the city to rescind the prize, which is due to be presented on 11 September, the anniversary of the birth of Theodore Adorno, an academic who fled Frankfurt due to the Nazis.
Jewish academics accuse Butler of supporting Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and describing them as “progressive,” while accusing Israel of carrying out “state violence.”
Butler angered pro-Zionist academics when she led a campaign in the United State to boycott Israeli cultural and academic institutions in protest at its policies towards the Palestinians. She also supported a divestment and sanctions campaign against the self-proclaimed Jewish state.
Butler has written a prolonged response to the attacks, refuting the claims that she supports Hamas and Hezbollah and is anti–Semitic.
“The accusations against me are that I support Hamas and Hezbollah (which is not true), that I support divestment and sanctions (partially true), and that I am anti-Semitic (patently false).
“I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have,” she added.
Butler expressed her dismay at the charges, stressing that she defends the Jewish tradition.
“Perhaps I should not be as surprised as I am that those who oppose my receiving the Adorno Prize would seek recourse to such scurrilous and unfounded charges to make their point. I am a scholar who gained an introduction to philosophy through Jewish thought, and I understand myself as defending and continuing a Jewish ethical tradition that includes figures such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt,” she said.
Yet the famous philosopher repeated her criticisms of Israel and its policies:
“In the United States, I have been alarmed by the number of Jews who, dismayed by Israeli politics, including the occupation, the practices of indefinite detention, the bombing of civilian populations in Gaza, seek to disavow their Jewishness. They make the mistake of thinking that the State of Israel represents Jewishness for our times, and that if one identifies as a Jew, one supports Israel and its actions. And yet, there have always been Jewish traditions that oppose state violence, that affirm multi-cultural co-habitation, and defend principles of equality, and this vital ethical tradition is forgotten or sidelined when any of us accept Israel as the basis of Jewish identification or values.”
You can read Butler’s full response here.
The story of awarding Butler the prestigious 50,000 euro prize generated little disquiet in the global media.
Butler, a post-structuralist philosopher, works mainly in the fields of feminist theory, queer theory and political philosophy.
The Adorno prize was launched on 1977, to celebrate the memory of Theodore Adorno, who is a prominent figure of the Frankfurt School. Adorno fled from Germany when it was under Nazi rule to the United States. He returned to Germany after the fall of the Nazis.
The award acknowledges outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film.
Butler is the Berkley Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature.