March 5, 2024 - 5:00pm

The Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians on 7 October were neither antisemitic nor a form of terrorism, but were in fact “armed resistance”, the American theorist Judith Butler claimed on Sunday.

Butler told a roundtable discussion in France, hosted by the political debate show Paroles d’Honneur, that the attacks were “anguishing” and “terrible”, but nonetheless constituted “armed resistance” against state violence and should be treated as such. She also said it was open for debate whether the Hamas attacks had been the right thing to do.

“We can have different views about Hamas as a political party. We can have different views about armed resistance,” Butler stated. “But I think it is more honest and historically correct to say that the uprising of October 7 was an act of armed resistance. It is not a terrorist attack and it’s not an antisemitic attack,” she said. “It was an attack against Israelis.”

She went on: “The violence done to Palestinians has been happening for decades. This was an uprising that came from a state of subjugation and against a violent state apparatus.” The theorist added that “you can be for or against armed resistance. You can be for or against Hamas. But let us at least call it armed resistance. And then we can have a debate about whether we think it’s right or whether they did the right thing.”

Butler suggested that labelling the attacks “armed resistance” rather than terrorism made one subject to accusations of supporting Hamas, clarifying that she personally opposed the methods the group had used.

Hamas killed about 1,200 Israelis in its 7 October attacks, according to Israeli authorities, and witnesses have reported numerous rapes occurring during the massacre.

Butler is a longtime critic of Israel, and has advanced the concept of an anti-Israel Jewish identity. She wrote in October of Hamas’s attacks that “the only possible response to such killings is unequivocal condemnation”, and criticised the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee’s statement blaming the attacks entirely on Israel’s “apartheid regime”.

In the same piece, Butler argued that it was still entirely appropriate to debate the terms of the discussion and to remember Israel’s own violence: “relentless bombing, the killing of people of every age in their homes and on the streets, torture in their prisons, techniques of starvation in Gaza and the dispossession of homes”. What’s more, this violence, she said, “is waged against a people who are subject to apartheid rules, colonial rule and statelessness”.

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.