Judith Butler speaks about BDS at Toronto's Israeli Apartheid Week

Judith Butler, world renowned scholar and writer, speaks on "The Academic and Cultural Boycott" of Israel during Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto, March 9, 2011.

More than 500 attended the talk, with some students lining up four hours early to secure a front-row seat for the evening lecture. Butler said that she decided to take a more public and explicit stance about two and a half years ago when she signed on to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. She says, that in the wake of ineffectual actions on the part of international organizations and state governments, "BDS is the only way that citizens can call for the enforcement of international law."

When asked about the role of academics in political struggles, she said, "I think academics have to ally with other cultural workers -- with artists and other public figures -- who are regularly invited to Israeli institutions or to collaborate on projects in Israel." She said that after a visit to Israel in 2004, her speaking engagement was interpreted as indicating her opposition to the boycott idea. She subsequently decided not to visit Israel for a number of years. She took a more explicit stand in 2008 after she worked out her own position "and when BDS revised some of its position."

BDS in the United Kingdom initially targeted not only Israeli institutions, but individuals too and differentiated between "righteous" and iniquitous, apartheid-supporting Israelis. In the lecture, she joked that she always thought that "righteous" was a bad word. BDS then narrowed its focus to Israeli institutions and government initiatives that support the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Butler says, "Now I will go to Palestine and I will speak at Birzeit [University in Ramallah] or other Palestinian institutions. I visit the Freedom Theatre of Jenin and I collaborate with a number of people at Birzeit University."

In her lecture, she said that a driving force in the BDS movement, among civil society organizations in Palestine, is the Women's Studies Department at Birzeit.

She continues, "But I will not speak at Israeli institutions. And, I think, that if there was an Israeli institution that came out explicitly against the occupation -- really held to that position, publicly and consistently -- I would consider speaking at such an institution. But to speak at an institution that does not oppose the occupation is to participate in the normalization of the occupation, so it's impossible at this point in history."

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