A diasporic critique of diasporism: The question of Jewish political agency

Julie E. Cooper*

*Corresponding author for this work

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21 Scopus citations


As the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have dwindled, Jewish scholars in the United States have increasingly invoked the concept of diaspora to counter a purported Jewish consensus regarding Zionism. In this essay, I critique prominent exponents of this approach (Judith Butler, Jonathan and Daniel Boyarin) from a diasporic (i.e., non-Zionist) standpoint. My concern is not that Butler and the Boyarins attack Israel publicly, endorse a binational solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and/or support the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions-rather, it is that they lack a compelling vision for diasporic politics. Their visions prove wanting because they contest Zionism on the terrain of Jewish identity. To loosen Zionism’s hold, Butler and the Boyarins recover alternative approaches to the attainment or grounding of Jewish identity. Yet when framed as an ethic of particular identity, diasporic thinking can neither rebut Zionism’s political arguments, nor can it develop alternative models of Jewish self-rule. Instead of theorizing Jewish identity, I argue, diasporic thinkers should envision Jewish political solidarity beyond the confines of the nation-state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-110
Number of pages31
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2015


  • Daniel Boyarin
  • Diaspora
  • Jewish political thought
  • Jonathan Boyarin
  • Judith Butler
  • Zionism


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