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February 24: Queer Theory and Anti-Zionism

Lawrence Bush
February 24, 2017
Judith Butler, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who is one of American academia’s most ardent critics of Israel and Zionism and a leading queer theorist, was born in Cleveland on this date in 1956. "Gender Trouble, published in 1990, made Butler a star," writes Molly Fischer in New York magazine. "It introduced ‘performativity,’ the idea that gender isn’t something we are but something we continually do . . ." According to a 2010 interview, Butler got her start as a philosopher in Hebrew school, at age 14, where she attended special classes in Jewish ethics (punishment, she said, for being too talkative in other classes); asked what she wanted to study, she responded with three questions: “Why was Spinoza excommunicated from the synagogue? Could German Idealism be held accountable for Nazism? And how was one to understand existential theology, including the work of Martin Buber?” Years later, she would hold the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Since 1993, she has been on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. Butler is an active supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has been widely attacked by Jewish leaders in Israel, Germany, and elsewhere. Her other books include include Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1996), The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (1997), Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (2000), Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009), and Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012). To see her speaking about gender as a performative act, look below. "[W]e have now reached a position in which Jews cannot legitimately be understood always and only as presumptive victims."

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.