On cria haro sur le Pluton

Posted in academic freedom, Books, Palestine, University of Michigan, zionism by Deputy city editor on October 22, 2007


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.


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