Kevin — Cockburn — Jacques Derrida: Talking Out Of Both Sides of His Mouth

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Jacques Derrida: Talking Out Of Both Sides of His Mouth
This weekend the noted French philosopher Jacques Derrida will be
getting an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University. Philosophers are
notoriously agile at squaring moral and political circles, a necessary
skill in Derrida’s case, since his name can also be found on the Birzeit
Appeal, signed by scores of prominent writers and academics round the
world, protesting the Israeli military and civil authorities for
deliberately paralysing all Palestinian institutions of higher learning
in the occupied territories, most notably Birzeit.
Since March 2001, so the Appeal states, the working life of the
university has been severely disrupted by an intimidating Israeli
military checkpoint on the Ramallah-Birzeit road, which is part of the
expanded network of roadblocks preventing communication between all
Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank.
Since March 2002, the situation at the checkpoint has deteriorated
further and access to the University has on the majority of days been
totally impeded. Following Israel’s military re-occupation of West Bank
towns (including Ramallah) in mid-June 2002, all Palestinian educational
life within the re-occupation zones has been brought to a grinding halt
by a blanket curfew imposed on the civilian population. The majority of
Birzeit students and faculty are confined to their homes with dwindling
hope of returning to their academic lives in the foreseeable future.
“The cumulative effects of these measures over the past 18 months,” the
Appeal concludes, “have put the future of Birzeit University at grave
risk. Sadly, these actions are indicative of Israeli policies towards
Palestinian civil society and its institutions as whole Therefore, we
urgently call upon Israel to take immediate action to restore the right
of education to Birzeit University students and all students in the
Palestinian territory by removing all military obstacles to free and
safe access to educational institutions and work places.
“The international community to assume its responsibility under
humanitarian law by taking real and concrete steps to provide protection
to the Palestinian civilian population.”
The Appeal doesn’t mention the situation in other Palestinian
universities, but it’s similar. Their names: Quds university, Arab
American University ? Jenin, Bethlehem Bible College, Bethlehem
University, Hebron University, Ibrahimieh College, Islamic University.
So why, given that Derrida is a signatory on the appeal, together with
many other distinguished scholars, has he decided to receive an honorary
doctorate in Israel, particularly considering the last sentences of the
appeal, about the “responsibility” of the international community.
Here at CounterPunch our problem is not with Hebrew University. Within
Israeli universities there is still academic freedom — i.e., freedom of
speech — and there are many scholars who speak out against the
occupation. No, our problem is with Derrida, just as it was with Susan
Sontag when she went to Jerusalem to get a literary prize. By traveling
Israel amid its government’s horrifying crimes against Palestinians,
Derrida offers Israel legitimacy.
The same applies to Michael Walzer of Princeton, who received an
honorary doctorate from Tel-Aviv University last week. Yes, He’s the one
that is an expert on “just” wars. Unlike Derrida he did not sign the
Birzeit appeal.
Now a friendly and respectful word about Susan Sontag. Since her
excursion to get that prize, for which I railed at her in prodigious
fashion, she’s spoken up very strongly, as for example in her splendid
speech in the Rothko Chapel this last April 26,on the occasion of the
awards in the name of Archbishop Romero. Sontag paid eloquent tribute,
among others, to Rachel Corrie and to the Israeli soldiers who refuse to
serve in the Occupied Territories.
“We are all conscripts in one sense or another,” Sontag said, For all of
us, it is hard to break ranks; to incur the disapproval, the censure,
the violence of an offended majority with a different idea of loyalty.
Here is what I believe to be a truthful description of a state of
affairs that has taken me many years of uncertainty, ignorance and
anguish, to acknowledge.
“A wounded and fearful country, Israel is going through the greatest
crisis of its turbulent history, brought about by the policy of steadily
increasing and reinforcing settlements on the territories won after its
victory in the Arab war on Israel in 1967. The decision of successive
Israeli governments to retain control over the West Bank and Gaza,
thereby denying their Palestinian neighbors a state of their own, is a
catastrophe – moral, human, and political – for both peoples. The
Palestinians need a sovereign state. Israel needs a sovereign
Palestinian state. Those of us abroad who wish for Israel to survive,
cannot, should not, wish it to survive no matter what, no matter how.”