Op-Ed: The New RDS Movement: History Will Vindicate This
Prof. Phyllis CheslerThe writer, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and recipient...
We live on the precipice of disaster, at an extraordinary historical moment where each and every individual is either for the survival of the Jewish people or opposed to it.
Seven years ago, an allegedly feminist Canadian academic, Sunera Thobani, wrote a scathing denunciation of only three other feminist academics—all of whom happened to be Jews: Judith Butler, Zillah Eisenstein, and myself. No one but I seemed to notice this singular but predictable connection. Thobani’s formulaic propaganda appeared in the journal Feminist Theory.
Prodded by left-wing but pro-Israel British academics, the editors reached out to each of us to see whether we might respond to Thobani’s anti-colonialist, anti-Western, anti-White, anti-Jewish, and anti-Zionist rant that, alas, now passes for feminist discourse. Butler and Eisenstein refused; I agreed to do so.
I labored over a response; the editors demanded at least thirty politically correct corrections, I nearly pulled the piece, was prevailed upon to accept their changes and “just publish it.” I did so and it is archived at my website. At the time, I assumed that no more than thirty people ever read my response. Time passed, and I almost forgot all about it.
Then, as Judith Butler increasingly became the prize-winning darling of German postmodern (and anti-Zionist) academics I thought: “Well, at least I stood up for the Jews and the truth while my postmodern and Marxist feminist colleagues refused to do so.” (It is also possible that both Butler and Eisenstein were too busy and viewed the journal as too minor.)
For those who think that there is no bread cast on the water that is not returned to us, I have some unexpected confirmation of this view.
Dahn Hiuni just sent me a rather remarkable letter. We do not know each other but I now know that Hiuni is a multi-disciplinary artist involved in theatre, performance art, visual art, film, video, and graphic design. He is also the son of Israel’s late film producer and writer, Cannes Festival Award winner, Amatsia Hiuni (“Three Days and a Boy”), and is, himself, currently a professor of performance art in New York City.
Nine years ago, Hiuni completed his doctoral dissertation at Penn State, a dissertation in which he cited Judith Butler’s work. As he discovered the nature of Butler’s views, he asked Penn State to “redact” her references from that work. They refused to do so. He then asked them to add an Addendum to his work which they also refused to do.
He sent that Addendum to me. I asked him whether I could make it public. And he said that I am “his hero.” (That’s the bread cast on the waters, perhaps my work has influenced him….).
I have long held that artists and thinkers should not be judged by their prejudices or politics, but by their work. At the same time, we have all just seen the flight of the Jews from Malmo, Sweden, their extreme discomfort in Amsterdam and London, and most recently, the march in Paris on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Thousands of left-wingers, right-wingers, and Islamists chanted “Out with the Jews,” “The Jews Do Not Belong In France.” They made half-Nazi salutes.
The footage could have been taken in Dreyfus’s—or Hitler’s--era. We live on the precipice of disaster, at an extraordinary historical moment where each and every individual is either for the survival of the Jewish people or opposed to it.
Below is a slightly shortened version of Dahn Hiuni’s recent addendum to his 2005 doctoral dissertation. He characterizes it as a “retraction of Judith Butler references in my research, in light of the recently-revealed doubts about her credibility as a public intellectual.” He also wishes to render an “anti-BDS and pro-Israel statement in general.”
And, he calls for a new kind of movement: “Retractions and Disavowals in Scholarship.” Because the graduate school at Penn refuses to add this brief addendum to his original manuscript, he “wishes to disseminate it widely.”
“As an Israeli artist and scholar, and as a secular liberal humanist, it is a source of great anguish for me to know that one of the writers to which I refer in my doctoral dissertation turns out to be a rabid anti-Israelist, anti-Zionist and, for all intents and purposes, an anti-Semite.
“According to her vocal activism, Judith Butler, Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that Israel is a colonialist occupier and an inhumane oppressor. She and others like her often equate Israel with South Africa, mischaracterizing it as a violent Apartheid state. Butler's views are manifestly acted upon through her support of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose aim is to continually vilify and isolate various aspects of Israeli society—especially academia.
“Such characterizations of Israel, propagated by Butler and her cohorts, amount to biased, false propaganda. When Butler expresses such views, she betrays a lack of knowledge of the ancient and modern Israel, one that represents dangerous ignorance at best, and at worst—willful, ideological erasure.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex one. Butler seems to lack both an informed historical context and basic, on-the-ground factual information needed to make fair observations. (She is of course a professor of rhetoric and comparative literature, and not a scholar of Middle East history.)…
“And yet there is much irony here. The country Butler vilifies is the only thriving democracy in the Middle East where someone like her—a woman, a lesbian, and a political agitator—would be protected. The people in whose name she purports to speak, however, would oppress, punish and possibly put her to death merely for who she is. In light of this selective blindness, it can only be surmised that Butler et al are operating with a special kind of bias, a scapegoating that is all too familiar to students of history. To those who would distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, I retort there is no difference: to be anti-Israel is to be anti-Jewish. Israel is the Jewish state.
“Of course, the other great irony is the fact that Butler herself is Jewish. Despite this fact, she seems to have little to no appreciation for her people's history and the kind of deep memory and moral responsibility it entails. Instead, she opts to identify with neo-Leftist academics whose zealous and sanctimonious policing of global injustices have cultivated this special and disproportionate animosity toward Israel…To appease her colleagues and ostensibly to ensure her status, she performs this brand of self-righteous academic extra-curricular activism. Unfortunately, Butler's behavior is symptomatic of the false sense of security that many American Jewish intellectuals suffer, now 70-plus years removed from the gas chambers of Europe. As though it could never happen again.
“Apparently, it bears repeating: The Jewish people have a painful history. Centuries of exile, persecution and violence culminated in the well-organized European Holocaust. This finally lead the community of nations in 1948 to help re-establish the State of Israel where it had always been, two millennia before the advent of Islam or the Roman word Palestine. And while Jews agreed to share the land with the peoples who had since taken up residence there in their absence, their unfriendly neighbors rejected the offer. Israelis have been fighting ever since to safeguard their extremely small country, the only viable safe haven away from historic European anti-Semitism and now its Western and Islamic manifestations….
“Butler is of course not alone. She is a product of American and European academia, where, to prove their grasp of and allegiance to 'progressive politics,' many a provincial professor cynically and expediently jumps on the politically correct bandwagon of the decade… Butler has used her tenure (at Berkeley) to help breed a resurgent and virulent anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism from the Left. The rhetoric is couched in the guise of an erudite, theoretical, post-colonial, multiculturalist critique and, needless to say, is delivered in a lather of postmodern gibberish so self-referentially incoherent it could be termed anti-social. The half-baked, ahistorical ideations that brew there tend to metastasize through self-congratulatory academic publishing and conferences, and had indeed reached Penn State by the time I was there.
“So uncomfortable has the situation gotten in academia, with both veiled and overt anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hostilities, that I can no longer remain silent. That is why I have decided to start my own movement called Retractions and Disavowals in Scholarship, or RDS. This movement calls on all academics to examine and re-examine ongoing and completed research, for questionable sources, and where necessary, to retract and disavow portion that originate with biased writers—however veiled or fashionable their speech. While dissertations and theses cannot be changed after their publishing, addendums may be added, like this one.
“I am a proud Jew and a proud Israeli. I come from an historic, beautiful and friendly country that has given much to world civilization. In its recent reincarnation as a modern state, Israel continues to bestow its gifts—scientific, technological, literary, artistic and academic. I brought my intellect, inquiry and scholarship to Penn State, as well as my sense of social justice to help improve the campus community in the four-and-a-half years I was there. Had I known of Judith Butler's unconscionable politics, as they were brewing, I never would have included her writings along with mine. Let it be known to any reader that I lament the inclusion of biased and socially irresponsible writers in my dissertation, and I am confident that history will vindicate me.”