Parting Ways

Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Parting Ways
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51795-9
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction Self-Departure, Exile, and the Critique of Zionism
    (pp. 1-27)

    Perhaps in some formal sense every book begins by considering its own impossibility, but this book’s completion has depended on a way of working with that impossibility without a clear resolution. Even so, something of that impossibility has to be sustained within the writing, even if it continually threatens to bring the project to a halt. What started as a book seeking to debunk the claim that any and all criticism of the State of Israel is effectively anti-Semitic has become a meditation on the necessity of tarrying with the impossible. I will try to make this clear in what...

  6. 1. Impossible, Necessary Task Said, Levinas, and the Ethical Demand
    (pp. 28-53)

    Although it is commonly said that a one-state solution and an ideal of binationalism are impracticable goals, even by those who bear such concepts goodwill, it is doubtless equally true that a world in which no one held out for a one-state solution and no one thought anymore about binationalism would be a radically impoverished world. I take it that we might say the same about pacifism. It might be discredited as lacking all Realpolitik, but would any of us want to live in a world in which pacifists no longer existed? What kind of world that would be?


  7. 2. Unable to Kill Levinas Contra Levinas
    (pp. 54-68)

    Levinas remarked on multiple occasions that “the face is what one cannot kill.” This remark is, indeed, remarkable, if only because we know quite literally that the body can be killed, and with it a face of a certain kind. But if Levinas is right—and let us begin with the presupposition that he is—then it would seem to follow that although the body can be killed, the face is not killed along with the body. He does not say the face is eternal and that is why it cannot be extinguished. Rather, the face carries an interdiction against...

  8. 3. Walter Benjamin and the Critique of Violence
    (pp. 69-98)

    One might well ask about Walter Benjamin’s views on Zionism and consult his long-standing discussions with Gershom Scholem to discern those politics. In this text, however, I am less interested in the particular questions he raised about Zionism in the 1920s and ’30s than I am with his own views on violence, and legal violence in particular. It is well-known that Scholem sought to persuade Benjamin to emigrate to Palestine and to learn Hebrew, but Benjamin did not comply. At one point Scholem arranged for a stipend to be given to Benjamin from the Hebrew University, and Benjamin went to...

  9. 4. Flashing Up Benjamin’s Messianic Politics
    (pp. 99-113)

    I continue to think about Benjamin in order to understand the right to wage public criticism against violence, but also to articulate the values of cohabitation and remembrance—the values of not effacing the active traces of past destruction. These may well be Jewish things to do, but, if they are, they are also non-Jewish things to do. My contention from the outset of this book is that the relation with the non-Jew is at the core of Jewish ethics, which means that it is not possible to be Jewish without the non-Jew and that, to be ethical, one must...

  10. 5. Is Judaism Zionism? Or, Arendt and the Critique of the Nation-State
    (pp. 114-150)

    Clearly, zionism is one way that religion has entered public life, although there are ways of thinking about Zionism that are obviously antireligious, including ways of defining Jewishness for the purpose of Israeli citizenship that are shorn of explicit religious references. Indeed, the category of “Jewish” proves complex in these debates, since rabbinic law defines Jewishness for an apparently secular state law in Israel that in other respects distinguishes itself emphatically from rabbinic law. How does this ambiguity affect the more general discussions of religion and public life that seem to be so much with us during these times?


  11. 6. Quandaries of the Plural Cohabitation and Sovereignty in Arendt
    (pp. 151-180)

    I propose considering the emergence of this notion of cohabitation in the Eichmann trial (although I do not contend that this is the first instance), since, in at least one moment in that text, Arendt voices an accusation against him, namely, that he and his superiors thought they could choose with whom to cohabit the earth. It is a controversial line since the voice in which she levels the accusation is and is not her own, but the implicit and firm conviction voiced here that none of us should be in the position of making such a choice, that with...

  12. 7. Primo Levi for the Present
    (pp. 181-204)

    Primo Levi’s task was to render the reality of the Nazi concentration camps through a fiction that was faithful to that historical reality. Especially in Levi’s later works, there is some tension between memory, which he calls a fallacious instrument, and the demands of a story or a narrative. He was well aware that the history of that period would be told time and again and that the stories might well take the place of memories and, eventually, would have to take their place, once there were no more living survivors. In his last years, he gave a set of...

  13. 8. “What Shall We Do Without Exile?” Said and Darwish Address the Future
    (pp. 205-224)

    Among edward said’s final reflections were a set of speculations that, in my view, seemed to imply that binationalism could be the undoing of nationalism. Of course, one has to pause at the very start of such a consideration, since it makes sense to be opposed to Zionist forms of nationalism, but do we want to oppose the nationalism of those who have yet to see a state, of the Palestinians who are still seeking to gather a nation, to establish a nation-state for the first time and without firm international support? To this most urgent question I want to...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 225-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-251)