A coward on campus

Posted in academic freedom, Books, Palestine, University of Michigan, zionism by Deputy city editor on October 19, 2007


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Stand With Us Michigan demanded that Kovel’s book be withdrawn.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.


13 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. O.G. Read said, on October 19, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Kovel’s book is hate speech. I wouldn’t expect an anti-Semite like you to recognize that, but most sane non Jew-hating people do. You don’t even have up to date facts, showing your laziness is following this story. U of M Press is distributing the book again, but it is making the decision today whether or not to continue its contract with Pluto Press. Stop being an anti-Semite, and try doing some research into a story before you spout off about it.

  2. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 2:12 pm


  3. O.G. Read said, on October 19, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    I don’t think you proved any point.

    You are ignorant about the facts in this case.

    You are also on record defending a disgusting book by Joel Kovel.

    Kovel writes in Overcoming Zionism that he “loathes Zionism” and that “the notion of a ‘Jewish restoration'” is “atrocious.”

    “Restored for what?” he asks. “To rape Palestine, to pervert the Holocaust, to become courtiers of an empire [the United States] that is destroying the planet itself? As they have built their world, the power-Jews have restored nothing so much as Moloch, the child-devouring shadow-form of Yahweh – a verdict all too literal.”

    There are many more racist and anti-Semitic passages in his book.

    Are you willing to stand by Kovel’s statements? If so, you are an anti-Semite.

    As far as Pluto Press, U of M should not be distributing the numerous racist and anti-Semitic books distributed by Pluto. Among these books include titles by Israel Shahak (whose words are considered classic examples of anti-Semitism) and books like “Hamas, a beginners guide,” which praises the terrorist group.

    Tell me why the University of Michigan should be associated with a publisher that publishes books like these?

    This is not to say that every one of Pluto’s books is bad, but the current distribution deal with Pluto gives U of M no say over what Pluto books it distributes. This puts U of M is a subservient position to Pluto, a completely unscholarly propaganda publisher.

    You can’t honestly say that this situation is not problematic.

  4. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    The point you have kindly proven for me is that anyone who disputes the Zionist project is immediately labelled an anti-semite. Indeed, it is not necessary even to dispute the Zionist project – merely to support the right of someone else to do so.

    I continue to wait for a single anti-semitic citation from the Kovel book.

    Or do you claim that to be anti-Zionist is ipso facto to be anti-semitic?

  5. Tim P. said, on October 19, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Anti-zionism is different than anti-semitism. However, both are forms of racism that are vile.

  6. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I cannot agree. Zionism is a political movement. If you declare opposition to Zionism to be racist, then you declare opposition to this political movement to be unacceptable. Which is totalitarian. Pearl’s website is ridiculous, frankly.

  7. Tim P. said, on October 19, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    So you oppose Zionism, which you call a political movement, but don’t oppose Palestinianism (Palestinians who want their own state)? That shows bias on your part, which, as Judea Pearl described, is racism.

    P.S. That website was one place where the article was posted. Judea Pearl’s website is here:

    I encourage you to write him with your rebuttal, if you think his idea about anti-Zionism being racism is wrong.

  8. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Tim: You have no idea what my views are on Zionism or even as you put it, Palestinianism. Nothing I have written has expressed a view one way or another. My participation in this debate is not motivated by my belief or otherwise in Zionism or anti-Zionism. I am interested in editorial and academic freedom. This is the point of disagreement: You (and Mr Pearl) have decided that to oppose Zionism is racist. I disagree. I think that to label any argument against Zionism as “racist” really makes the term meaningless and is itself a totalitarian construct. There can be and there are racist arguments against Zionism. As there are racist Zionists. Kovel’s book, which I have read carefully, is a passionate argument against Zionism. But that doesn’t make it racist. You disagree. In your terms, it matters not what arguments Kovel makes or how he makes them. The very idea that someone might criticise Zionism is racist. So what you believe is that it is not permissible to criticise Zionism and that it is racist to do so. There is a considerable chasm here between your side and mine! I believe in freedom of expression. You do not.

  9. Tim P. said, on October 19, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    You believe in freedom of expression, yet you remove my last comment. I find hypocrisy funny. Thanks for the laugh.

  10. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    You posted a long article by someone else. Which I deleted. I sent you an email to say you were welcome to resubmit your comment (such as it was) and include a link to the article that impressed you so much. The email was returned so perhaps you did not enter a valid email address when you submitted this exegesis. In any event, you are welcome to post your own words here.

  11. Jonathan Miller said, on October 19, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I notice that both Tim P and O G Read are submitting their comments from the same domain which is registered to a law firm in Michigan named Kaufman Payton & Chapa PC. Can these guys really be lawyers? I hope not for the sake of their clients! Are these even their real names? The law firm web site does not list attorneys with these names. So it’s a mystery!!!

  12. Daniel said, on October 26, 2007 at 2:39 am

    This regrettable pattern of intellectual blackmail resurfaces once again.

    See also: Abe Foxman pulling the plug on Tony Judt’s 2006 speaking engagement:

    The Israeli government pulling the plug on Eyal Weizman’s 2002 exhibition A Civilian Occupation

    Alan Dershowitz pulling his political muscle to deny Norman Finklestein tenure at De Paul:

    These are just three examples from a litany too long to recount.

    Need it really be said that the view that the Israeli state speaks on the behalf of all Jews, and is identical with them, is itself a a view held by avowed Anti-Semites?

  13. Tom said, on November 1, 2007 at 5:14 am

    see video: Zionist Pressure Fails to Stop Overcoming Zionism Book The distributor dropped his book after receiving threatening emails from a Zionist pressure group. But the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism was able to convince them to continue distributing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: