Person

Judith Butler

Nationality:

American

Born:

February 24, 1956 [41]

Occupation:

Author

Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Salary:

$295,133 (2017) [42]

For more information, see Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

Judith Butler is professor of comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and founder of the theory of “gender performativity,” which is considered highly influential in the evolving societal and legal normalization of transgender persons.[1]

She was reportedly one of the first 100 Americans to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to economically isolate and delegitimize Israel with consumer boycotts, disinvestment and legal sanctions.[2] In 2006 she stated it was “important” to understand the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “progressive” and part of the “global left.”[3]

BDS generally and Butler’s support for it in particular has drawn widespread criticisms and denunciations from across the political spectrum, including Democratic elected officials, human rights organizations, and other academics.[4] [5] [6]

Her 2017 salary at UC-Berkeley was $295,133.[7]

Background

Judith Butler (born February 24, 1956) is a social philosopher and professor of comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She is founder of the theory of “gender performativity,” first fully fleshed out in her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Acceptance of her theory in the decades since has been considered highly influential in the evolving societal and legal normalization of transgender persons.[8] [9] [10]

Gender performativity theory rejects the traditional definition of sex based on human organs and chromosomes and even rejects broader conventional labels (such as gay, straight, or bisexual), instead proposing that each person’s gender is an individually distinct product of an ongoing “performance” (such as, but not limited to their behavior, social interactions, clothing, and romantic inclinations). Gender, so the theory goes, is not a fact of who we “are,” but of what we do, and is constantly evolving and redefining a person’s unique sense of “gender.” As a matter of ethics and public policy, the theory rejects social and legal constraints that would force a traditional (more narrow) biology-based “gender” role or behavior on any person.[11] [12] [13]

Even sympathetic commentators have referred to Butler’s prose as “difficult” or “strenuous” to understand, and in 1998 the academic journal Philosophy and Literature awarded her first prize in its “bad writing” contest for the following 94-word sentence:[14] [15] [16]

“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.”

Anti-Israel Activism

Butler is a high-profile supporter of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), an international movement that seeks to economically isolate and delegitimize Israel with consumer boycotts, disinvestment and legal sanctions for its alleged offenses against Palestinians.[17][18][19] The Times of Israel reports Butler was “one of the first 100 people to endorse the United States Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”[20]

BDS and Butler’s involvement with it have drawn public condemnation from across the U.S. political spectrum, including liberal Democratic elected officials. In February 2013 Brooklyn College in New York City scheduled a BDS movement event featuring Butler that was characterized by the leftist publication Mother Jones as an “anti-Israel” event. Four Democratic U.S. House members representing New York City sent a protest note asking the college’s political science department to cancel its support for the event. One of the four was U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D–N.Y.), who in 2019 became chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and is often ranked as a “far-left Democratic leader” by the independent rating service GovTrack.[21] [22]

Hamas/Hezbollah Comments

Speaking at a UC-Berkeley campus event in 2006, Butler was asked to comment on whether it was damaging and unhelpful for “leftist and anti-war activists and intellectuals” to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah.[23] [24] She replied: [25]

“Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence.”

In a follow-up statement, Butler further defined the reasons why these organizations are in solidarity with leftists, saying “those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left.”[26]

Both Hamas (a terror organization based in the Gaza Strip) and Hezbollah (a Lebanon-based terror organization allied with the Islamic-extremist government of Iran) were created on and remain committed to the elimination of Israel.[27] Butler’s opinions regarding the two organizations and her association with the BDS movement generally have led to controversy and numerous criticisms.

One example is a 2012 decision by the city of Frankfurt, Germany, to present her with a major academic prize. The Times of Israel reported on several organizations that sent objections to the city, including the Israeli ambassador. The denunciations also came from B’nai B’rith, a Jewish human rights group, which called her a “virulent critic of Israel,” and the German affiliate of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which cited her for trivializing terrorist organizations.[28]

Eva Illouz, chair of the sociology department at Hebrew University, a self-confessed leftist, and a critic of Israeli government policy toward Palestinians, wrote that Butler deserved the German award (based purely on her academic contributions), but also the harsh criticism over her Hamas/Hezbollah thoughts.[29]

The following year (2013) McGill University in Montreal announced it would confer an honorary doctorate on Butler. McGill history professor Gil Troy responded in his Daily Beast column with an essay similar to that of Illouz.[30] “[S]he failed to denounce the Hamas-Hezbollah religious zealotry, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and genocidal aims,” wrote Troy. “Her need to prettify these terrorist organizations as “social movements,” her reductionist insult to progressivism by suggesting that these brutal anti-democratic movements are at all progressive because they are imperialist meaning anti-Israel, [sic] reflects a moral obtuseness and intellectual sloppiness that has made many intellectuals enablers of Islamist terrorists and Palestinian rejectionism.”[31]

Butler, who is Jewish, rejects that her statements should be construed as supportive of Hamas and Hezbollah.[32]

Occupy Wall Street Support

In the fall of 2011 while in New York City as a visiting professor, Butler made a sympathetic speech to a demonstration by the Occupy Wall Street movement which included the following: [33]

“We object to the monopolization of wealth. We object to making working populations disposable. We object to the privatization of education. We believe that education must be a public good and a public value. We oppose the expanding numbers of the poor. We rage against the banks that push people from their homes, and the lack of health care for unfathomable numbers. We object to economic racism and call for its end.”

NYU Sexual Harassment Controversy

In summer 2018, New York University suspended Avital Ronell, a professor of German and comparative literature, following an 11-month investigation in which the school concluded she had sexually harassed a male student over a period of three years. The investigation, which uncovered emails corroborating the allegations, found evidence of both physical and verbal harassment of a sufficiently “pervasive” nature that it was ruled to have negatively impacted the man’s learning environment.[34]

In May 2018, while the investigation was still ongoing, Butler and several dozen other colleagues and friends of Ronell from many universities authored a letter addressed to both NYU’s president and provost, criticizing the investigation and denouncing the alleged victim.[35]

Conceding they had “have no access to the confidential dossier” which detailed the evidence against Ronell, the letter said the professors deplored the damage the investigation was causing her and stated their desire to “register in clear terms our objection to any judgment against her.” The letter cited Ronell’s academic credentials extensively and dismissed the claims of the accuser, stating “some of us know the individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her” and that the allegations “do not constitute actual evidence.”[36]

In August 2018, following a New York Times story relaying the evidence against Ronell, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a letter from Butler stating her regrets about being associated with the letter to NYU.[37] [38]

Saying the letter had been a “draft” written by many authors and made public without the consent of the signatories, Butler conceded the professors should not have taken such positions before the facts were known, should not have maligned the accuser, and should not have implied Prof. Ronell’s professional status and accomplishments were relevant to a finding of guilt or innocence.[39] Butler’s name appears first on the letter, ahead of a list of supporters that runs for more than two pages.[40]

References

  1. Fischer, Molly. “THINK GENDER IS PERFORMANCE? YOU HAVE JUDITH BUTLER TO THANK FOR THAT.” New York Magazine. June 13, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/judith-butler-c-v-r.html
  2. Ahren, Raphael. “Frankfurt under fire for giving €50,000 prize to ‘virulent Israel critic.’” Times of Israel. September 4, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/frankfurt-giving-prize-named-after-passionate-israel-supporter-to-us-jewish-academic-who-critics-say-demonizes-israel/
  3. Totten, Michael J. “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools.” World Affairs. August 28, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/anti-imperialism-fools
  4. Eichelberger, Erika. “4 House Members Slam College’s Anti-Israel Event.” Mother Jones. February 2, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brooklyn-college-bds-omar-barghouti-judith-butler-israel-palestinian/
  5. Ahren, Raphael. “Frankfurt under fire for giving €50,000 prize to ‘virulent Israel critic.’” Times of Israel. September 4, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/frankfurt-giving-prize-named-after-passionate-israel-supporter-to-us-jewish-academic-who-critics-say-demonizes-israel/
  6. Troy, Gil. “McGill’s Judith Butler Bungle.” Daily Beast. May 24, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/mcgills-judith-butler-bungle
  7. “Search our salary database of California state workers.” The Sacramento Bee. June 4, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.sacbee.com/site-services/databases/state-pay/article2642161.html?appSession=4G2375QF8JS1DF4HRK95L72U8URW085GL3A2VA6PQ4LDWQGJHD8PCVY0701W8447ST73TO2S23N0W7EYPK58YAD49N6XJ768YC38I468817I9055V2PJ1UR1D436TD47&RecordID=406536&PageID=8&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=&CPIorderBy=&cbCurrentRecordPosition=1&Mod0LinkToDetails=True
  8. Duignan, Brian. “Judith Butler.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Judith-Butler
  9. “Judith Butler.” University of California at Berkeley. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://vcresearch.berkeley.edu/faculty/judith-butler
  10. Fischer, Molly. “THINK GENDER IS PERFORMANCE? YOU HAVE JUDITH BUTLER TO THANK FOR THAT.” New York Magazine. June 13, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/judith-butler-c-v-r.html
  11. Duignan, Brian. “Judith Butler.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Judith-Butler
  12. “Judith Butler.” University of California at Berkeley. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://vcresearch.berkeley.edu/faculty/judith-butler
  13. Fischer, Molly. “THINK GENDER IS PERFORMANCE? YOU HAVE JUDITH BUTLER TO THANK FOR THAT.” New York Magazine. June 13, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/judith-butler-c-v-r.html
  14. Hartman, Andrew. “Shock and Awe; or, Reading Judith Butler for the First Time.” Society for U.S. Intellectual History. January 12, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://s-usih.org/2016/01/shock-and-awe-or-reading-judith-butler-for-the-first-time/
  15. Fischer, Molly. “THINK GENDER IS PERFORMANCE? YOU HAVE JUDITH BUTLER TO THANK FOR THAT.” New York Magazine. June 13, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/judith-butler-c-v-r.html
  16. Smith, Dinitia. “When Ideas Get Lost in Bad Writing; Attacks on Scholars Include a Barbed Contest With ‘Prizes’.” New York Times. February 27, 1999. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/27/arts/when-ideas-get-lost-bad-writing-attacks-scholars-include-barbed-contest-with.html?mtrref=www.google.com
  17. Nelson, Cary. “The Problem with Judith Butler: The Political Philosophy of the Movement to Boycott Israel.” L.A. Review of Books. March 16, 2014. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/problem-judith-butler-political-philosophy-movement-boycott-israel/#!
  18. “ISRAELI SETTLER COLONIALISM AND APARTHEID.” BDS Movement. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://bdsmovement.net/colonialism-and-apartheid/summary
  19. “CALLING OUT BDS ANTI-SEMITISM.” Canadian Jewish News. August 26, 2015. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/opinions/calling-bds-anti-semitism
  20. Ahren, Raphael. “Frankfurt under fire for giving €50,000 prize to ‘virulent Israel critic.’” Times of Israel. September 4, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/frankfurt-giving-prize-named-after-passionate-israel-supporter-to-us-jewish-academic-who-critics-say-demonizes-israel/
  21. Eichelberger, Erika. “4 House Members Slam College’s Anti-Israel Event.” Mother Jones. February 2, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brooklyn-college-bds-omar-barghouti-judith-butler-israel-palestinian/
  22. “Jerrold Nadler/Issues and analysis.” Ballotpedia. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://ballotpedia.org/Jerrold_Nadler/Issues_and_analysis
  23. Totten, Michael J. “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools.” World Affairs. August 28, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/anti-imperialism-fools
  24. Ahren, Raphael. “Frankfurt under fire for giving €50,000 prize to ‘virulent Israel critic.’” Times of Israel. September 4, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/frankfurt-giving-prize-named-after-passionate-israel-supporter-to-us-jewish-academic-who-critics-say-demonizes-israel/
  25. Totten, Michael J. “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools.” World Affairs. August 28, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/anti-imperialism-fools
  26. Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler responds to attack: ‘I affirm a Judaism that is not associated with state violence.’” Mondoweiss. August 27, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/judith-butler-responds-to-attack-i-affirm-a-judaism-that-is-not-associated-with-state-violence/
  27. Surkes, Sue. “Hezbollah slams Hamas for accepting Palestinian state in ’67 lines.” Times of Israel. May 2, 2017. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-slams-hamas-for-accepting-palestinian-state-in-67-lines/
  28. Ahren, Raphael. “Frankfurt under fire for giving €50,000 prize to ‘virulent Israel critic.’” Times of Israel. September 4, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/frankfurt-giving-prize-named-after-passionate-israel-supporter-to-us-jewish-academic-who-critics-say-demonizes-israel/
  29. “To call Hamas and Hezbollah members of the global left is not only an insult to the left, but a serious blow to it,” said Illouz. “Two armed movements, financed by Iran, calling for Sharia law, Jihad, and the murder of Jews, that practice the sexual purity of women, endorse capital punishment, and are self-declared homophobes cannot belong to any left that I and most people know.”[note]Illouz, Eva. “Judith Butler Gets a Taste of Her Own Politics.” Haaretz. September 20., 2012. Accessed January 5, 2109. https://www.haaretz.com/an-anti-zionist-gets-a-taste-of-her-own-politics-1.5165162
  30. Troy, Gil. “McGill’s Judith Butler Bungle.” Daily Beast. May 24, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/mcgills-judith-butler-bungle
  31. Troy, Gil. “McGill’s Judith Butler Bungle.” Daily Beast. May 24, 2013. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/mcgills-judith-butler-bungle
  32. Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler responds to attack: ‘I affirm a Judaism that is not associated with state violence.’” Mondoweiss. August 27, 2012. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/judith-butler-responds-to-attack-i-affirm-a-judaism-that-is-not-associated-with-state-violence/
  33. Hagen, Jamie J. “And then Judith Butler Showed up at Occupy Wall Street.” Autostraddle. October 25, 2011. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.autostraddle.com/and-then-judith-butler-showed-up-at-occupy-wall-street-in-solidarity-117911/
  34. Greenberg, Zoe. “What Happens to #MeToo When a Feminist Is the Accused?” New York Times. August 13, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/nyregion/sexual-harassment-nyu-female-professor.html
  35. Adkar, Chitra; and Abhiruchi Ranjan. “When ‘Feminists’ Tolerate Sexual Harassment in Academia.” The Wire. September 2, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://thewire.in/rights/feminism-me-too-avital-ronell-nyu-academia-sexual-harassment
  36. Adkar, Chitra; and Abhiruchi Ranjan. “When ‘Feminists’ Tolerate Sexual Harassment in Academia.” The Wire. September 2, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://thewire.in/rights/feminism-me-too-avital-ronell-nyu-academia-sexual-harassment
  37. Adkar, Chitra; and Abhiruchi Ranjan. “When ‘Feminists’ Tolerate Sexual Harassment in Academia.” The Wire. September 2, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://thewire.in/rights/feminism-me-too-avital-ronell-nyu-academia-sexual-harassment
  38. Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler Explains Letter in Support of Avital Ronell.” Chronicle of Higher Education. August 20, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/judith-butler-explains-letter-in-support-of-avital-ronell/
  39. Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler Explains Letter in Support of Avital Ronell.” Chronicle of Higher Education. August 20, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/judith-butler-explains-letter-in-support-of-avital-ronell/
  40. Adkar, Chitra; and Abhiruchi Ranjan. “When ‘Feminists’ Tolerate Sexual Harassment in Academia.” The Wire. September 2, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://thewire.in/rights/feminism-me-too-avital-ronell-nyu-academia-sexual-harassment
  41. Duignan, Brian. “Judith Butler.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Judith-Butler
  42. “Search our salary database of California state workers.” The Sacramento Bee. June 4, 2018. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://www.sacbee.com/site-services/databases/state-pay/article2642161.html?appSession=4G2375QF8JS1DF4HRK95L72U8URW085GL3A2VA6PQ4LDWQGJHD8PCVY0701W8447ST73TO2S23N0W7EYPK58YAD49N6XJ768YC38I468817I9055V2PJ1UR1D436TD47&RecordID=406536&PageID=8&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=&CPIorderBy=&cbCurrentRecordPosition=1&Mod0LinkToDetails=True
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