Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2011
From: Judith Butler
Subject: censorship at the NY LGBT Center
Dear Glennda Testone,
I am writing to communicate my outrage and sorrow that our movement has come to this point where it refuses to house an organization that is fighting for social justice. I was appalled to see the very ignorant and hateful messages that supported your center’s decision to ban Siegebusters from holding an event on the topic of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace and other progressive Jewish organizations with whom I have spoken are in strong disagreement with your action. It is simply wrong to assume that housing an event that discusses the BDS movement is anti-Semitic in content or implication. There are increasing numbers of Jewish intellectuals and cultural workers (including Adrienne Rich and myself) who support the BDS movement, including a vocal group from Israel that calls upon the rest of us to put international pressure on their country (including Anat Matar, Rachel Giora, Dalit Baum – one of the founding queer activists there, and Neve Gordon). There are also queer anarchist and human rights groups in Israel- including “Who Profits?” – who support BDS and who are struggling against illegal land confiscations in Jerusalem and the building of the wall or who, at least, would support an open forum to discuss the pros and cons of this strategy, non-violent, to compel the State of Israel. But there is, perhaps most importantly as well a network of Palestinian Queers for BDS that have an important and complex analysis of the situation, calling for BDS as a sustained non-violent practice to oppose the systematic disenfranchisement of Palestinians under the Occupation. It is surely part of our global responsibility to understand this position and to make alliances across regional divisions rather than stay within the parochial assumptions of our own neighborhoods.
The idea that BDS is somehow anti-Semitic misunderstands the point and is simply false. It is a movement that is in favor of putting pressure on states that fail to comply with international law and, in this case, that keep more than 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank under the military control of Israel, which also maintains political control over their survival, mobility, employment, health, and elections – and this has been amply demonstrated. This is a human rights and social justice issue about which we all have to learn. And it seems to me that just as the very notion of freedom must include sexual freedom, and the very notion of equality must include sexual and gender equality, so must we form alliances that show that our concern with social justice is one that will include opposition to all forms of state subjugation and disenfranchisement. We now have many organizations that affirm the interlinking networks of subjugation and alliance: queers against racism, queers for economic justice. We must oppose all forms of anti-Semitism to be sure (as a Jewish queer who lost part of maternal line in the Nazi genocide against the Jews, I can and will take no other stand). But we must extend our critique of racism to all minorities whose citizenship is unfulfilled, suspended, lost, or compromised, which would include the Palestinian people in the last several decades.
The Siegebuster event is one that would simply seek to inform the LGBTQ community of a set of political viewpoints. No one who goes to the event has to agree with the viewpoint put forward there, and neither does the center. By hosting this event, your center would simply be acknowledging that this is an important global issue in which LGBTQ people are invested and are now currently debating. The Center thus would agree that we all need to hear this viewpoint in order to make more informed decisions about the situation. I fear that to refuse to host the event is to submit to the tactics of intimidation and ignorance and to give up on the important public function of this center. I urge you to reconsider your view. These are important matters, they concern us all, and we look to you now to show that the LGBTQ movement remains committed to discussing social justice issues and will not be intimidated by those who seek to expand the powers of censorship precisely when so much of the rest of the world is trying to bring them down. There is still time for you to act with courage and wisdom.
University of California, Berkeley
Visiting Professor, New School for Social Research (Spring, 2011)