Talking about philosophy in Tel Aviv

Some 100 speakers will engage audiences in all-night discussions ranging from linguistic justice to Jews leaving France, at the 5th Tel Aviv Night of Philosophy tomorrow.

May 28, 2019 21:18
A RAPT AUDIENCE at the Tel Aviv Night of Philosophy.

A RAPT AUDIENCE at the Tel Aviv Night of Philosophy.. (photo credit: MARION CARUZA/FRENCH EMBASSY)

Israelis are invited to imitate the origins of Western philosophy – said to have begun on the streets of Athens when Socrates would engage passersby in philosophical conversations – by joining any of the cultural institutions, art galleries and bookstores for the fifth Tel Aviv Night of Philosophy on Thursday night.

The night is expected to begin on the roof of the French Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv with a panel on Art and Democracy, in which noted artists Sigalit Landau and Dani Karavan, joined by playwright Yehoshua Sobol, will converse with cultural critic Shany Littman and the audience. The panel will be held in Hebrew. 

Prof. Astrid von Busekist Sadoun will offer a French-language lecture at the auditorium of the French Institute, about the situation of Jews in France, with Danny Trom, who recently published France without Jews.  Busekist Sadoun is also scheduled to give a talk on Justice, Social Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, alongside world-famous theorist of Just and Unjust Wars Michael Walzer focusing on a book they co-authored titled Faire Justice which will be released soon. The talk will be in English.

Known for his 1977 instant-classic Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer is one of the standing authorities on the morality of warfare as well as being a profound commentator on Jewish political thought.

Busekist Sadoun will also be speaking in English at Café Liwan in Nazareth on Saturday, about on the ethics of language policies. 

While many of us are used to thinking about languages in terms of national identity, and related to borders and sovereignty, Busekist Sadoun points out that languages enable skills, as the mastery of language opens the path to a variety of rights and opportunities. Such rights are often denied to those who cannot speak a particular native language.
Thinkers like Philippe Van Parijs and Abram de Swaan have focused on issues of linguistic justice. Parijs points out that the unique status of English as a global language is unprecedented and that – in his view – English has good reasons to serve as the world’s lingua franca.

Yet he is also acutely aware of the less desirable effects of having one language shine above all others. He suggests coordination policies that would allow for other languages to also thrive within a framework of references. For example, English-speaking countries might pay a tax that would be used to support less widely spoken languages. In his introduction to his 2011 book, Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World, he cites the work of Socialist thinkers Karl Renner and Otto Bauer, who sought to solve the issue of “the national language” tormenting the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian empire of their times.

Parijs suggests that power, military might or the soft power of the market and pop-culture, are not enough to resolve modern issues about language and power, and argues that fair and just ways are vital if the European Union is to thrive.        

Taking a different approach, Busekist Sadoun speaks about the burden of speaking a minority language, and how various policies could be used to ease that burden.

Immigrants and refugees are expected to speak the languages of the countries they end up in, if they want to get a job or medical treatment. In contrast, Gaelic and Welsh speakers in Ireland and the UK enjoy a great measure of institutional support – but they can’t take it to the bank.

IN ONE of the funniest scenes in the satirical novel An Beal Bocht (The Poor Mouth) by Brian O’Nolan, scholars arrive at a poor Gaelic-speaking village to document the purest living examples of the local language. But their efforts brings about horrific, and very funny, results.

In Israel, Arabic speakers talk of the burden of being suddenly seen as a threat when speaking in Arabic in public spaces where Jews are the majority. Yet even Arab speakers don’t carry as big a burden as an elderly man who speaks Amharic when he needs to get directions in Israel. 

Pointing out that just language policies and democratic language policies are not the same, Busekist Sadoun maps out the various linguistic, philosophical and political options that shape the way we frame linguistic equity.

Some argue that languages are intimately tied to identity. If we accept this, we might suggest the modern state needs to protect the identities of all those who live in it, and their languages. Others argue that this is exactly why those who speak a minority language, such as immigrants, must speak the national language. Otherwise, how will they integrate?
Others see languages as communication tools and say language policies should be based on objective parameters.

Busekist Sadoun argues that the identity and utility arguments can be combined by a smart language policy. Such a policy would respect minority cultures, enable democratic participation, and contain mechanisms by which all speakers would be able to form a relation to the common language.   

Curious about issues of justice and boundaries, Busekist Sadoun authored a book about eruvim (Portes et murs, 2018). The almost invisible eruv lines around sections of public space are used by Orthodox Jewish communities to “privatize” space for Shabbat. This is done to enable the community to do things otherwise forbidden on the Jewish day of rest like carrying food or pushing a baby stroller.

Not all people are happy to witness an eruv being placed every Friday before Shabbat, as they see it as a “religious takeover.” That has led to objections in the UK, Canada and the US.

Poring over 400 court cases, Busekist Sadoun found that the courts always agreed to the building of eruvim. Why? While each case is unique, the overall answer is that Jewish communities were able to voice their claim in the liberal-secular language of the law, arguing women’s rights, for instance, as an eruv allows women with children to arrive to prayers with their babies in strollers.

“We should all be able to share space in urban places without losing anything,” she explains. Space is not a zero-sum game in multicultural environments, and we should not confuse space with territory. Gay or ethnic neighborhoods merge into the fabric of the city, so why would an eruv for an Orthodox Jewish population be different?

Speaking about the radical changes French Jews are now witnessing in France – a resurgence of overt antisemitism that has driven many Jews out of the country – she flatly insists that while violence is experienced by many other groups – gays, Muslims or blacks – “Only the Jews are killed because they are Jews.”

The lectures in Tel Aviv and Nazareth by Busekist Sadoun are but a few events in  a lecture-packed night in a variety of locations that will include more than 100 speakers from France, Israel, Spain, Germany, Austria and Poland. Admission is free.

The French Cultural Institute, 7 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Art and Democracy begins at 6:45 p.m. Jews in France Today from 8-8:50 p.m. Justice and the Hebrew Bible from 10:40-11:40 p.m.

Liwann Café, Old City of Nazareth. Language and Ethics from 6-8 p.m. Phone: 04-628-3511 or go to

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