BERLIN – The city of Frankfurt is slated to present the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize, which comes with a 50,000 euro award, to a US professor who advocates a sweeping boycott of ties with Israel’s cultural and academic establishment and has defended Hezbollah and Hamas as progressive organizations.
The prize recipient, Dr. Judith Butler, a professor in the rhetoric and comparative literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, has courted intense criticism in Germany, Israel and the US ahead of the September 11 ceremony.
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a Frankfurt-based Middle East expert, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday that by presenting the Adorno Prize to Butler, the city of Frankfurt is legitimizing a “de facto boycott of its partner city Tel Aviv’s academic and cultural institutions,” because Butler supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting the Jewish state.
Von der Osten-Sacken sparked the effort to rescind the award to Butler in a widely read early June article on the website of the Berlin weekly Jungle World titled “Adorno prize for Hamas fan.”
Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) was a German Jewish social philosopher who fled the Hitler movement to the US and returned to post-Holocaust Germany to teach at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. Adorno wrote about modern anti-Semitism and opposed German leftist students who attacked and sought to delegitimize Israel after the Six Day War.
The Adorno award recognizes excellence in the disciplines of philosophy, music, theater and film, and is presented every three years.
In August, the German section of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) slammed the award to Butler because she is against Franz Kafka’s literary estate remaining at the National Library of Israel, and called for a boycott of the library located on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
SPME, which has a global membership of 60,000 members, said Butler’s support of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and for the annual Israeli Apartheid Week means that she “can’t be an Adorno prizewinner.”
In an email to the Post, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, wrote, “The boycott campaign is part of the wider NGO-led war targeting Israel and demonizing the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and equality – the modern embodiment of anti-Semitism.”
Steinberg continued, “If Butler were a sincere human rights advocate, she would turn her concerns to the suffering of Syrians, Iranians and millions of others who are victims of real rather than invented war crimes. Instead, Butler is one of a tiny number of token Jews who are used to legitimize the ongoing war against Israel, following a dark practice used for centuries in the Diaspora.
By giving Butler and her campaign of hate a platform, officials of Frankfurt share the responsibility and the shame for this immoral behavior.”
When asked about her statement that Hamas and Hezbollah are “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left,” and the criticisms leveled against her, Butler wrote the Post by email on Thursday, “I am surprised that those who oppose my receiving the Adorno Prize seek recourse to scurrilous and unfounded charges to make their point.”
She continued, “My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context and misrepresent my established and continuing views. I was asked by a member of an academic audience whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to the ‘global Left,’ and I replied with two points. My first point was that those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global Left. My second point was the following: As with any group on the Left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against it.”
Butler added, “I do not endorse those practices, and cannot. So it has always seemed absurd to me that my comments were taken to mean that I support or endorse Hamas and Hezbollah! I have never taken a stand on either organization.”
Butler continued, “I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, but I reject some versions and accept others. I do not accept any version that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship.”
Academic experts and journalists specializing in Israel- and Islamic-animated anti-Semitism sharply criticized Butler.
Dr. Charles Small, the director of The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy and the Koret Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, told the Post, “It boggles the mind that a so-called scholar has come to perceive Hezbollah and Hamas as part of a progressive Left. [These are] organizations dedicated openly to the killing of Jews, Israelis and Zionists; the subjugation of women; the doing away with basic notions of democracy and equality for all citizens. This supporter of reactionary, xenophobic, sexist homophobes, who are on the payroll of the Iranian regime, will actually be killing innocent Syrians as she accepts her ‘reward.’” Small noted that “hundreds of thousands” of refugees are fleeing what Butler terms a “progressive social movement” in Syria.
According to the US, Hezbollah is aiding Syria’s regime in its violent crackdown of the country’s democracy movement and has caused a massive refugee crisis.
“Adorno — a true scholar and master of the study of totalitarianism and anti- Semitism — was also made into a refugee by this insidious ‘logic’ which will be on display when Butler is recognized,” Small said.
Dr. Bruce Bawer, who has written about Butler in his book to be released in September, “The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind,” wrote the Post on Saturday, “It’s striking how scared Butler seems to be that the Adorno prize people will change their minds. This is after all a woman who turned down an award from a German gay rights organization a couple of years ago because she considered that organization ‘Islamophobic’ for having criticized Muslim gay-bashing.
“With that act, with her kind words for Hamas and Hezbollah, and her enthusiasm for the BDS movement, Butler has made it quite clear which side she stands on when the rights of free individuals are up against the politically correct cause du jour, however violent, intolerant, and tyrannical it may be.”
Israeli, British, US and French professors have sent emails to the Post in support of Butler. Prof. Neve Gordon, a supporter of BDS from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, wrote, “The well-orchestrated witchhunt initiated by the so-called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East against Judith Butler is a sly attempt – based on half-truths and lies – to silence a staunch critic of Israel’s rights-abusive policies in the Occupied Territories.”
Post emails and telephone queries to Frankfurt’s Mayor Peter Feldmann seeking a comment were not returned. The mayor’s office referred the Post to Dr.
Sonja Vandenrath from the city’s cultural agency. She said “no comment” about the decision to award Butler the Adorno Prize.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote the Post, “Theodor Adorno was a pillar of intellectual brilliance and integrity in pre-WWII Germany, who was forced out of German life because he wasn’t an Aryan and then helped rehabilitate a nation. Does anyone believe for a second that such a man would countenance the boycott of cultural and academic life in the Jewish state of Israel? Bestowing the Adorno Prize to someone who prides herself in supporting the BDS campaign, the Frankfurt committee besmirches the heroic legacy of Adorno.”
Cooper continued, “World Jewry does not expect all Germans to support all policies of Israel – home to so many of the survivors of Nazi Holocaust, but in 2012, is it too much to expect that they at least commit ‘to do no harm?’ Honoring a proponent of BDS – whose adoption could lead to Israel’s demise – should trigger revulsion among thinking Germans, not accolades.”