Pluto Press better get itself a new distributor in America because the University of Michigan wants to be included out of any future relationship with the radical North London publisher of, amongst other works, Joel Kovel’s “Overcoming Zionism,” a passionate attack on the relgious foundations of the Jewish state which has the Zionist lobby on American campuses howling racism, amongst other things.
Other titles susceptible of inciting neocon and donor rage such as “Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx,” are equally unlikely to find sympathetic defenders in the most senior echelons of the university, obsessed as they are with not offending the wallets.
Like Inspector Renault in Casablanca, who discovered gambling going on in Rick’s café while picking up his winnings, the university appears to be “shocked” to discover that Pluto was not simply a liberal press, but a – gasp! – radical one. (Although by European academic standards, it seems pretty tame!) So a divorce looms. Pluto will be a loser. Butthe university also, for caving in to a campaign of intellectual terrorism being waged on American campuses by a fanatical Zionist lobby that is taken seriously only in America. Even in Israel they tell these people to piss off.
This is a hot potato for the university mainly because it threatens the core function of the university presidency which is raising money.
On balance, those who want the book banned and Pluto banished from the precincts probably write bigger checks than critical outsiders. (The horrified faculty think Kovel makes some solid points, actually.)
Mary Coleman, the university president, and the university’s 300 development officers, do not want anyone upset. So it is time to pour oil on troubled waters with a statement (currently awaited) that I predict will be a masterwork in contradiction.
Carefully lawyered, the statement will give the university the chance to promise both sides that they have got what they want. My guess is that it will note a review of the contract with Pluto and note that it only has a few months to go in any case. Hence, the book will be distributed for now, but not later. Masterful!
The fallout from this affair puts in play the future of the U-M Press, whose reputation has been badly damaged. When push came to shove, the press has represented itself poorly, to say the least.
Uppity stakeholders are asking questions previously left unasked. What is the press for? Money? Prestige? To widen the scope of human knowledge?
This is now an open question. Someone at the Michigan Daily should look at the finances. Meanwhile, it is clear that whatever else the press is for, it is not there to irritate donors nor to generate embarrassing headlines in the academic press and the blogosphere.
Will the U-M press continue under present management? It ought to be unlikely, but firing people is notoriously difficult on campus. Does Michigan have a future in the publishing business? This is only one of many unanswered questions, since U-M appears to have very little whatever in the way of a communications strategy.
The affair also renews the question of the power of the Zionist lobby on American campuses who have decided that any attack whatsoever on Zionism constuitutes racism and is hence inadmissible. Is discussion of Zionism about to be shut down? The affair sadly signals the possibility.
Meanwhile, Pluto will have to find itself another American distributor. It has an attractive list. But too scary for a nervous American university.
Phil Pochoda (above) is the director of the University of Michigan press. He is also an intellectual coward.
This is a sad story made personally more distressing for me because the chairman of the university press, Peggy McCracken, is a personal friend and a scholar for whom my admiration is boundless. It is made even sadder by the feeble performance of the campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, where I learned my trade, and whose coverage of this has been embarrassing in its superficiality and lack of curiosity.
Joel Kovel is a controversial scholar and in Overcoming Zionism he has written a controversial book in which he proposes that Israel is a racist, apartheid state. He proposes that no two-state solution can ever resolve the Israel-Palestine problem.
Kovel’s book is published by Pluto Press in London which has had a longstanding distribution agreement with the University of Michigan Press.
Enter the bullies in the form of Stand With Us Michigan, one of a growing network of groups on American campuses that specialise in the intimidation of anyone who dares to question Israel. Anyone who does is immediately accused of anti-semitism. This, it must be said, is part of a long-standing pattern of abuse hurled by some Zionists at anyone who disagrees with them. (Indeed, this has been going on for more than a century.) They reserve their most intemperate and abusive attacks for other Jews. But they are not reluctant to hurl the accusation of anti-semitism at others who dare to question Israel. Recent victims include both Jimmy Carter and Christiane Amanpour.
Stand With Us Michigan demanded that Kovel’s book be withdrawn. Incredibly, this is exactly what Mr Pochoda did. It is unclear whether this ban stands or not. It is apparently under some kind of review. Worse, the university is now apparently considering whether to terminate its distribution agreement with Pluto altogether.
In a barely literate screed, Pochoda wrote to Joel Kovel declaring himself, “apalled [sic] by your reckless, viscious [sic], and unmodulated attack on Zionism and all Zionists.”
He added – and this is the sting:
For us, the issue raised by the book is not free speech but hate speech. Perhaps such vituperative and aggressive rhetoric works for the barricades, but it cannot be countenanced or underwritten by the university or the university press, even in this peripheral, distributed capacity.
Intrigued, I ordered a copy of Kovel’s book and read it carefully. I failed to detect the hate speech to which Pochoda refers although I did discover a closely argued book whose author has strong views. Bemused, I wrote to Pochoda asking him for a citation which might substantiate the accusation of “hate” speech. Reply there was none. I wrote again. Here is his belated response:
My comments on Overcoming Zionism were made in a private and, I presumed, confidential note to Joel Kovel. He apparently chose to make the note public, but I have no interest in engaging in further public discussion.
This to me is remarkable. Pochoda withdraws a book, apparently because he believes it constitutes “hate speech,” and then in effect declares that he has no responsibility to defend his actions or his words in public. This is cowardice wrapped in arrogance.
Pochoda, who earned $163,000 last year, is a disgrace to the university. And not just because he can’t spell.
Inside Higher Education has a good piece on this with further links.
The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism is tracking assaults on academic freedom.
The blogger Dissident Veteran for Peace has come to Kovel’s aid.
The Michigan Daily, which boasts of defending editorial freedom, has so far been useless, scooped on the story and belatedly offering a single feeble news report. There is no evidence that the editorial staff have a clue what is at stake.
Joel Kovel’s site is here.