CMES: "If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem": The Use and Abuse of Jewish Memory


Friday, May 4, 2018, 5:00pm to 7:00pm


Thompson Room, Barker Center, 12 Quincy St, Cambridge, Ma

The 2018 Hilda B. Silverman Memorial Lecture Series presents

Brian Klug
Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, St. Benet's Hall, University of Oxford

On December 6 2017, the U.S. acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "This is," said Donald Trump, "nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality." It was, actually, both less and more than that: less, because in reality the city's political status is contested; more, because Jerusalem in the Jewish imagination transcends reality. It is Zion, the city that the psalmist vows never to forget (psalm 137), "a port city on the shore of eternity" (Yehuda Amichai). But Jerusalem also exists in the here and now. What sort of politics results from remembering a place that is at once terrestrial and celestial? By and large, it is the politics of Jewish prerogative, the practice of domination and dispossession - as if the Messiah will enter Jerusalem riding on a bulldozer. As one Likud Minister recently declared, "The time has come to express our biblical right to the land." Is this what not-forgetting Jerusalem means: exceptionalism? Or is there a better use to which Jewish memory can be put: sharing the land and cultivating peace?

Brian Klug has degrees in Philosophy from the University of London and a PhD in Social Thought from the University of Chicago. He is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at St. Benet's Hall, Oxford; member of the faculty of philosophy at the University of Oxford; Honorary Fellow of the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton; and Fellow of the College of Arts & Sciences, Saint Xavier University, Chicago, where for several years he was Chair of the Department of Philosophy. In 2012 he was Visiting Scholar at the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

In much of his work, Dr Klug addresses the messiness of our talk about race, ethnicity and religion, with an eye to questions about justice, human rights and political belonging. He has a special focus on Judaism (including Zionism and antisemitism), not least in the context of Arab-Jewish relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Drawing on resources within Judaism itself, his work takes philosophy across disciplinary boundaries into neighbouring fields in the humanities and social sciences. All this is reflected in his writing, his teaching and his public speaking, and connects with his political activism.

The essays in his Being Jewish and Doing Justice: Bringing Argument to Life (2011) are a cross-section of his work. Other recent books are: Words of Fire: Selected Essays of Ahad Ha'am (2015), Offence: The Jewish Case (2009), and A Time To Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity (2008, co-editor). He has contributed essays to numerous books, including two that are forthcoming: The Medieval Roots of Antisemitism (in press, 2018) and Contemporary Engagements with Arab and Jewish Questions: Interrogating National Identity and Political Sovereignty (2019). He is well published internationally in journals and periodicals. His essay on the range of Jewish responses to the 1917 Balfour Declaration will shortly appear in The Journal for Levantine Studies. Download a PDF of Dr Klug's full professional biography here.

Contact: Liz Flanagan

See also: IsraelHistoryReligionSilverman Lecture Series2017-18