Three days after the obscene terror attacks of November 13, 2015, in Paris, Judith Butlerâ€”a leading BDS philosopher, who has called for an end to Jewish sovereignty and self-determination in Israelâ€”had this to say. Quit whining, Paris. Itâ€™s not all just about you. Consider the Palestinians. I am paraphrasing, of course. Here are Butlerâ€™s original remarks:Â
Mourning seems fully restricted within the national frame. The nearly 50 dead in Beirut from the day before are barely mentioned, and neither are the 111 in Palestine killed in the last weeks alone, or the scores in Ankara… One way to think about it may be to come up with a concept of transversal grief, to consider how the metrics of grievability work, why the cafe as target pulls at my heart in ways that other targets cannot.
Our task in these dark times, Butler argues, in her opaque manner, is to take the opportunity to stop being Eurocentric and avoid the error of selective outrage (the fallacy of caring more for oneâ€™s own than for Others), by instead making sure to engage only in â€śtransversal grief.â€ťÂ
Or, in plain terms, we should ideally practice an all-inclusive mourning that takes equal account of every victim of terror (violence in general? misfortune at large?), and not just some, or some more than others. By analogy, should a friend die in a car crash, then grief ought to embrace all the unlucky drivers on the road that day, week, month or year (I suppose?). Well, in any case, itâ€™s the freeway system as a whole that needs to be thought about. Universalism ĂĽber alles, particularism be damned. Love they neighborâ€™s neighborâ€™s neighbor as thy neighbor.
The Metrics of Politically Correct Grief
Butler, in short, sees 11/13 as a teaching moment. Despite what many feel at times like these (revulsion at mass murder committed in the name of a totalitarian political project), the real problem revealed by such attacks is that some deaths pull at a normal personâ€™s heartstrings more than others. Cafe goers are more likely to lament the fate of fellow cafe goers, even as the French are prone to care too much about the French. Moreover, it is unacceptable that the victims of Daesh (aka ISIS, IS) in Paris garner more attention than the victims of Daesh in Beirut or Ankara. Or the â€ś111 in Palestine killed in recent weeks alone,â€ť according to Butlerâ€™s dismaying statistic (we will come back to this unlikely estimate).
That all sounds very â€śtransversal,â€ť doesnâ€™t it?
But wait. One-hundred and eleven (ostensible) victims of whom? Although she doesnâ€™t name the culprits, this is because nobody reading a Judith Butler blog-post on the Verso website needs to be reminded who the villains are in her scenario. So, itâ€™s the politics of character assassination by means of insinuation, at a time like this? For shame.
Moreover, it seems that incredulous readers are expected to feel the same about those terrorists stopped by police from committing terrorismâ€”slain perpetrators of the Knife Intifada includedâ€”as seated cafe goers in Paris, gunned down over their croissants and cafe au lait. Alright. Very transversal, indeed! Canâ€™t get much more transversal than that. Yet, in that case, what of the actual victims of that same ongoing wave of knife (and car) attacks? Sixteen Israeli Jews had been murdered on the streets already, since September, by the time Butler wrote her article, including two on November 13, the same day as the Paris attacks (seven more have been slain since). Curiously, these deaths are not mentioned anywhere in Butlerâ€™s plea for inclusive grief. Are these deaths not grievable? Noâ€”not so very transversal, after all.
Apparently, the philosopher of mourning, who theoretically admonishes readers to empathetically grieve outside all national, cultural and identitarian borders, herself, in practice, confines mourning within tightly policed ethno-national boundaries. Moreover, why no mention of any Jewish victims of terror at all, anywhere in the worldâ€”Israel or anyplace else? In Paris itself, just last winter, shoppers were murdered at the Hyper Cacher market by Islamist terrorists, for exampleâ€”while weâ€™re on the subject of Islamist terror attacks on the streets of Paris lately. A conspicuous omissionâ€”given the molten core of antisemitic ideology that bubbles and burbles at the heart of organizations like Daesh, but also Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda. All have murdered Jews because they were Jews.
Butler fails to so much as allude to any of these acts of antisemitic violenceâ€”not the ongoing spate of stabbings and car-rammings across Israel and the West Bank, contemporaneous with the Paris attacks; not the West Bank kidnap-murders of the summer of 2014; not the shootings at the Jewish Museum in Belgium earlier that same year; not Toulouse in 2012. Butler laments unduly restricted mourning for some, but noticeably restricts mourning for others, in keeping with politically correct â€śmetrics.â€ť
Rubber Bullets and Bogus Statistics
To bolster her case for transversal grief (and against Eurocentrism), Butler counts â€ś111 in Palestine killed in the last weeks alone.â€ť Her figure (absurdly high even by comparison with a high estimate) is not sourced and appears to have been culled from an activist websiteâ€”one that, in actual fact, reports 111 â€śinjuredâ€ť rather than â€śkilled.â€ť A minor difference! (The number includes those said to have been shot with rubber bullets.)
The headline states it plainly: â€ś111 Palestinians shot, injured during West Bank, Gaza demonstrations.â€ť
That Butlerâ€™s piece was quickly taken down within days after it was posted suggests she may well have caught her own error. All to the good. But gauge the impact of this symptomatic slip in her discourse. Assess its meaning. Butlerâ€™s sloppy insinuation that victims and perpetrators of terror belong on the same plane of moral equivalence; coupled with her elision of any and all Jewish victims of Jihadi terror (when Jews are in fact a major target): all this goes together to blatantly contradict her own call to transversality. In effect if not in intent, this contradiction also happens to violate the spirit of international legal definitions of antisemitism, proscribing the application of double standards. Soâ€”not at all transversal, it turns out.
We Are All the Eagles of Death Metal
Perhaps, then, this is a teaching moment, indeed. For Butlerâ€™s falsehoods surely prompt us to reflect on broader questions. Such as: Why is it that not only her own failed attempt at an off-the-cuff â€ścriticalâ€ť response to the Paris attacks falls into this kind of â€śerror,â€ť but so many othersâ€™ responses to terrorism do likewise? In short, how is it that politically correct pleas to â€śnot forget any of the victimsâ€ť so frequently leave out Jews in general, Jewish Israelis in particular, and antisemitism altogether as a prime mover of terrorism? As Liel Leibovitz also notes, attacks on Jews are essential to the phenomenon of mass casualty terror.
Indeed, where is the mention of Hyper Cacher, not just in Butlerâ€™s article, but whenever Charlie Hebdo is invoked, the majority of the time? Who recalls that, for Al Qaeda, New York was a â€śJewish cityâ€ť? Or that Osama Bin Laden retrospectively claimed he was helping out the Palestinians on 9/11? Why has the media consistently failed to discuss the series of threats made against the Bataclan theater for years, because of its Jewish ownership and the Zionist orientation of many of its events? Who bothers to recall that the band playing there the night of the attacks, The Eagles of Death Metal, are well-known for being outspoken critics of BDS, and openly fond of performing in Israel? Why is it that the specifically Jewish and/or Zionist targets of terror so frequently cannot be acknowledged as such? Can any of this be mourned todayâ€”transversally or otherwiseâ€”when Israel is so demonized by the likes of Butler and BDS?
The answer to the riddle of Butlerâ€™s representative sins of omission and commission, I submit, is twofold. Antisemitism, as mentioned, appears to be an important part of the equation. So does what I call progressive naivety.
For the naive-progressive mentality, every explicit act of terror is an implicit cry for help, a coded signal that the murderer has been provoked by injustice, helplessly driven to his or her desperate act of mayhem out of (what else?) despair in the face of oppression. For the antisemite, the Jews deserve what they getâ€”certainly the Jewish state deserves what it gets, for perpetuating the â€śroot causesâ€ť of terrorism. Didnâ€™t a prominent diplomat once say, â€śAll the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country Israelâ€ť? And donâ€™t most Jews support the Jewish state? In fact, most do. Are the Jews therefore not, themselves, â€śthe root causeâ€ť of their own murderâ€”and, in a way, everyone elseâ€™s too?
This perverse attitude toward Jews and Israelis is an example of whatâ€™s been called â€śthe new antisemitismâ€ťâ€”in which traditional Jew-hatred morphs from an obsession with Jews into an obsession with the Jewish state plus those diaspora Jews associated with it. And what better way to perpetuate this â€śnewâ€ť kind of Jew-hatred than to contrive a method of ignoring the central role of antisemitism in Islamist ideology? Crediting Islamists with rational grievances â€śunderneath it allâ€ť means discounting the fact of their manifestly irrational, genocidal animus toward Jews right there on the surface. â€śProgressive naivetyâ€ť and â€śnew antisemitismâ€ť thus go together, combining to produce confusion about what Islamist terror is and thereby sowing doubt about how to combat it.
Politically Correct Antisemitism
Both of these essentially metaphysical assumptionsâ€”the naive progressiveâ€™s faith in universal reasonableness and antisemitismâ€™s faith in cosmic Jewish perfidyâ€”are false, of course. More than that, though, they are also dangerous. Now more than ever, we must be able to conceptualize the possibility and recognize the reality of what Paul Berman calls â€śpathological mass movementsâ€ťâ€”totalitarian political movements that fall in love with violent death as their preferred medium of self-expressionâ€”if we are to estimate rightly both for whom to mourn and how to organize. With apologies to Joe Hill, the old slogan, â€śDonâ€™t mourn, organize,â€ť is nowadays as badly out of place as its oppositeâ€”which Butler seems to pathetically enjoin throughout the rest of her article, deriding Franceâ€™s officials for cracking down. We need not choose between the two necessary activities, howeverâ€”so long as we face up to what we have lost so far in the War on Terror, and recognize what we have now to defend with all our strength and intelligence.
Or are we rather to assume, as Butler has said before, that â€śunderstanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely importantâ€ť? If so: why not Daesh too? Merely seeing such movements as â€śon the Left,â€ť Butler avers, doesnâ€™t put them beyond criticism, after all. Thus, progressive naivety (of which â€śtransversal griefâ€ť proves to be the latest variant) sees a kernel of rationality in even the most insane, most heinous acts of barbarism.
Are We Being Transversal Yet?
Delusional, uncomprehending sympathy for intolerant reactionary extremism is a pathology that we as a society ought not to foster, if we are to preserve and protect the liberal norms of tolerance that define us as a civilization. When it comes to fighting terrorâ€”and to fight back as needed is surely one of the best ways to mourn for the dead, wounded, and traumatizedâ€”anti-Israel, anti-Western, antinomian academics like Butler are worse than useless. Their infantile anarchism is part of the problem. Indeed, committed anti-Zionists like Butlerâ€”who is after all a scholar of queer theory and cultural studies, not political science or Middle East studiesâ€”can only distract our attention and dilute our resolve if we let them.
In their zeal to press on at all costs with their perverse agenda to boycott the one island of democracy and stability in an unstable, undemocratic region, illiberal ideologues will always find a wayâ€”explicitly or implicitlyâ€”to condemn Israel. Apologists for â€śleftwingâ€ť â€śprogressiveâ€ť Islamism will forever find a way to blame the victims of terror. We bring it on ourselves. We grieve improperly. By means of omission and commission, bothâ€”Butlerâ€™s twisted response to the Paris attacks is the latest proof.
 See Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).
 Judith Butler, â€śMourning Becomes the Law,â€ť Verso Blogs, November 16, 2015, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2337-mourning-becomes-the-law-judith-butler-from-paris; accessed November 19, 2015. As of November 24, the post seems to have been removed.
 Gregory Lobo addresses this broader issue in an insightful column in Spanish, â€śSobre la jerarquĂa de la muerteâ€ť, El Espectador, November 20, 2015, http://www.elespectador.com/opinion/sobre-jerarquia-de-muerte; accessed November 30, 2015.
 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, â€śIn Memory of the Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism in Israel,â€ť http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Terrorism/Victims/Pages/In%20Memory%20of%20the%20Victims%20of%20Palestinian%20Violence%20a.aspx; accessed November 30, 2015. On the Palestinian side, reliable numbers are more difficult to come by, but various sources suggest that about 105 have died over the last three months, in violent clashes with Israelisâ€”including 124 terror attacks by Palestinians since October, with 79 stabbing attacks and 18 car attacks that month alone.
 â€ś111 Palestinians shot, injured during West Bank, Gaza demonstrations,â€ť Maâ€™an News Agency, November 13, 2015 (updated November 14, 2015), https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768807; accessed November 30, 2015. Published just days before Butlerâ€™s own piece, it stands to reason that this was her source: both the figure of â€ś111â€ť and the timespan of â€śweeksâ€ť is the same in both cases.
 Liel Liebovitz, â€śHow to Stop Mass Casualty Terror Attacks: Take Violence Against Jews Seriously,â€ť Tablet, December 1, 2015, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/195425/stop-mass-casualty-attacks; accessed December 1, 2015.
 I draw here on Paul Bermanâ€™s notion of â€śrationalist naivetyâ€ť (a phrase which I modify slightly to suit my own taste), which he formulated to make sense of the sympathy garnered by the 9/11 attackers and even more so the Second Intifada suicide bombers. See his Terror and Liberalism (New York: Norton, 2003).
 Wikipedia records the infamous remark of the French Ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Bernard, speaking before an audience in 2001. â€śDaniel Bernard,â€ť https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Bernard_(diplomat); accessed November 30, 2015.
 Petra Marquardt-Bigman â€śJudith Butler and the Politics of Hypocrisy,â€ť The Jerusalem Post, August 30, 2012, http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/The-Warped-Mirror/Judith-Butler-and-the-politics-of-hypocrisy-365385; accessed November 30, 2015.
 I wish to thank Paul Berman, Russell Berman, Simone Hartmann, Gregory Lobo, and Scott Polisky for their perceptive comments on previous drafts of this essay. Einav Yogev also helped. Any infelicities in the final iteration are my own doing.