- Editor’s Introduction
As Studies in American Jewish Literature 33.2 goes to press, pretty much every Jew in America, and a good number of the literary critics and cultural studies scholars in America, be they affiliated with the American Studies Association (ASA) or Modern Language Association (MLA), what with these organizations’ boycott resolutions, seem to be talking about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, and therefore about Zionism, and therefore, even if they don’t necessarily know it, about the relationship—actual, potential, possible, and/or spectral—between Israel and American Jewishness. Like few historical events before it, BDS and the reaction to it are highlighting the ways in which Zionism—increasingly, but not entirely, in the form of a kind of pro-Israelism—exists as both a project of, and a machine for resolving, American Jewish identity.
Thus, though in this issue we feature three articles covering a lot of important ground in the field of Jewish American literary study—children’s Holocaust literature, Philip Roth, and the circulation and effacement of Jewish identity in twentieth-century American poetry—we are also featuring a Forum section on the place of Judith Butler in the BDS debate. Butler is probably the most prominent public intellectual affiliated with the BDS formation, and her recent book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (Columbia, 2012) stands for many as a key philosophical document of the movement. So we here include three essays, from across the academy, that address Butler, her book, and the controversy surrounding her role in BDS. Dean Franco of Wake Forest University (and a member of the Studies in American Jewish Literature editorial board) offers a review of the book; Shaul Magid of Indiana University critically assesses the “raw nerve,” as he terms it, she and her book have touched in the U.S. Jewish community archipelago; and Rebecca Stein of Duke University offers another kind of review, one responsive to Butler’s career and oriented to contest the attacks that have been directed her way since she started writing on Israel. Better than simply adding to the yelling on either side of the debate, we have tried to critically examine the debate across a few of its key sites of investment. [End Page ix]
As editor of this journal, I am of course anxious about wading into (or perhaps barreling toward) the question of the relationship between Zionism and Jewish Studies, especially at a historical moment when the debate seems so unrelentingly and unbridgeably polarized. I am also acutely conscious that the three essays included in this issue’s Forum section can all be argued to occupy one side of that debate, at least for the purposes of a broad-strokes kind of argument. It likely warrants insisting that this does not imply that the journal (qua journal) endorses a particular side of the debate. It does imply, however, that the journal’s editorial policy holds that no argument or position worth its weight in printed pages is “unbiased,” nor should any debate be treated as neutral. I guess one might say that with the present Forum Studies in American Jewish Literature wants to recognize that an open and critical approach to the intersection of Jewishness and Israel—even and/or especially if painful or fraught—remains an option for critics of Jewish identity. [End Page x]