This is from quite some time ago, back with Larry Summers was the president of Harvard. But it’s still worth reading.
Judith Butler takes on charges of protest as anti-Semitism for those of us who want there to be an Israel, but who also want to condemn human rights violations.
Summers’s view seems to imply that criticism of Israel is ‘anti-Israel’ in the sense that it is understood to challenge the right of Israel to exist. A criticism of Israel is not the same, however, as a challenge to Israel’s existence, even if there are conditions under which it would be possible to say that one leads to the other. A challenge to the right of Israel to exist can be construed as a challenge to the existence of the Jewish people only if one believes that Israel alone keeps the Jewish people alive or that all Jews invest their sense of perpetuity in the state of Israel in its current or traditional forms. One could argue, however, that those polities which safeguard the right to criticise them stand a better chance of surviving than those that don’t. For a criticism of Israel to be taken as a challenge to the survival of the Jews, we would have to assume not only that ‘Israel’ cannot change in response to legitimate criticism, but that a more radically democratic Israel would be bad for Jews. This would be to suppose that criticism is not a Jewish value, which clearly flies in the face not only of long traditions of Talmudic disputation, but of all the religious and cultural sources that have been part of Jewish life for centuries.
Just as for those who think to protest American actions is unpatriotic, it helps to remember what justice is for–justice isn’t some lofty idea that might never obtain. Perfect justice, perhaps. But a general sentiment that the system works justly and decently is a non-optional foundation to the long-term stability that many of us hope for Israel. Not everything can be accomplished with the barrel of a gun.