Discussion with Judith Butler and Micha Brumlik
organised by the ICI Kulturlabor Berlin and the Jewish Museum Berlin
Lily Fürstenow-Khositashvili September, 2012
Zionism came into being under the influence of the national emancipation movements in Europe in the second half of the 19th century. The idea behind it was the “national liberation movement of the Jews,” based on the sources of the Jewish religious “longing for Zion.” It was presumed to “resolve the Jewish issue” by means of setting up a Jewish state in the “land of the fathers.”
The Zionist movement in Germany set itself the goal to prevent the assimilation of the Jews that was particularly strong in Germany. Although in the 1905-1920-ies the headquarters of the Jewish World Zionist Movement was in Germany, Zionism itself was never a mass movement in the country the way it was in East Europe.
What Zionism was then and what it has developed into now, has been the question analysed at the discussion “Is Zionism an Integral Part of Judaism?” with Judith Butler, Micha Brumlik and Andreas Öhler organised by the ICI Kulturlabor Berlin and the Jewish Museum Berlin on September 15, 2012. The discussion received immense public attention, especially triggered by Judith Butler's polemic against the politics of Israel towards Palestine. Of course, Zionism is part of Jewish history and taking a closer look at the milestones of its development and historical origins provides clues to solving the problems of today, namely that of the state of Israel and its policy towards the Palestinian population.
If cultural Zionism is something that one could identify with, Zionism as a form of colonialism exploiting the Palestinian population is something difficult to accept, especially now when the time of national states is outdated. As Judith Butler put it, from a Jewish nation with a centuries-long history of exile, persecution and co-habitation with other nations, Israel is expected to develop an ethics of co-habitation within a binational state. It is never late to start learning how to live together and an open debate especially in Germany with its history of the Holocaust, will hopefully provide one more impetus towards remedying the situation.
With the Palestinians making up to 30 per cent of the population of Israel, settler colonialism in Palestina is presumed hardly acceptable. Thus the basic requirements put forward by Judith Butler come down to: ending of occupation, securing equal rights to palestinians and granting them the right of return.
Ironically centuries of exile and persecution of Jews throughout history appear to result in a state of Israel that itself causes exile and persecution. A state with the population of former refugees to produce refugees upon its foundation – seems like an unresolvable contradiction with all the economic, socio-political and cultural implications involved.
As for the role of gender in the issue of Jewish-Palestinian co-habitation, the topic is according to Ms. Butler as urgent as ever, with masculinisation of society, the questionable reproductive technology pursued by the state of Israel and homophobic violence to name but a few.
Clearly the problem of Jewish-Palestinian relationships can hardly be resolved by podium discussions only, neither the policy of world-wide boycotting of the current politics of Israel appears to be the best solution. There are too many cliches, feuds and traumas to be overwhelmed. Both sides have too much at stake. The solution thus cannot be reduced to simple formulas and prescriptions for peaceful co-existence. Yet unless it is all expressed in language it would be difficult to speak of any progress whatsoever. Language is the source of oppression and simultaneously the only way to fight the oppressive regime on condition that both sides are granted equal right to speak, which does not necessarily mean to forgive and to forget but to remember and to move on.
The podium discussion “Is Zionism an Integral Part of Judaism?” was organised by the ICI Kulturlabour Berlin and the Jewish Museum Berlin. It was hosted by Judith Butler, a US philosopher, Micha Brumlik, professor of education at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main, and moderated by Andreas Oehler. Judith Butler, famous for her theory of performative gender, received the prestigious Theodor Adorno award for excellence in the field of humanities on September 11 in Frankfurt am Main.