MONTREAL — Pro-Israel student groups are objecting to McGill University’s decision to give an honorary degree to Judith Butler, an American feminist academic and philosopher who holds anti-Israel views.
Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is scheduled to receive a doctor of letters May 30 from the faculties of arts and religious studies.
McGill is honouring her as “one of the leading philosophers, theorists of gender and sexuality, and public intellectuals of our time.” It also acknowledges her activism in anti-war politics, including with Jewish Voice for Peace.
McGill Hillel and McGill Students for Israel acknowledge Butler’s scholarly achievements, but say she’s an inappropriate choice for this honour.
They have sent a letter of protest to the university’s chancellor Arnold Steinberg denouncing Butler’s “pro-terror, anti-Israel position” and asking that the honour be withdrawn.
Butler, who is Jewish, is a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, and has spoken sympathetically about Hezbollah and Hamas as leftist social movements, but rejects violence.
“We consider the honour McGill is about to bestow on Prof. Butler astounding and deeply offensive,” the letter states. “We urge you to rethink this decision.”
However, the umbrella Hillel Montreal is not backing its McGill affiliate’s call for Butler to be dropped.
“We do not believe that the honorary degree for her academic work condones in any way her anti-Israel activism,” said Hillel Montreal executive director Jeff Bicher.
McGill arts dean Christopher Manfredi defended the choice, saying Butler’s work over many years deserves such recognition. Freedom of expression also must be defended, even if those opinions are considered controversial or objectionable by some, he said.
Hillel Montreal’s position echoes that of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Its spokesperson David Ouellette told The CJN that CIJA believes McGill’s bestowing an honorary degree “in no way supports her political activism, but rather recognizes her contribution to academia.
“The Jewish community has enjoyed a very good relationship with McGill over a long time,” he said. “The university has built and continues to build strong ties with academic institutions in Israel, and has repeatedly denounced any attempt to delegitimize or boycott the state of Israel.”
But Ouellette did accuse Butler of “moral turpitude” in her promotion of BDS and the “lie” of Israel’s practising apartheid, as well as her "welcoming into the family of progressives the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah."