Go Blue! U-M tells the thugs to push off

Posted in academic freedom, University of Michigan by Deputy city editor on October 25, 2007

The university finally scores a knock-out

Even the deeply cynical cannot but think that the U-M has in the end given not an inch.

The university has in fact acquitted itself well resisting the assault by those who decided that Joel Kovel’s book Overcoming Zionism was “hate speech” and that Kovel was a “racist.”

The university began in a panic. It initially withdrew the book, with Philip Pochoda, the director of the press ,describing it as “hate speech,” although refusing to defend this claim in public.

It quickly became apparent that the executive board of the press was not going to stand by its confused director. Finally, after much agonising, the university has said exactly the right thing: that this is just one of many distribution contracts the university has with other publishers, and it would continue.

It was true that there was no settled polcy on these distribution deals and so there would now be one, but in which the principle of academic freedom remained paramount.

Now what? Obviously, Pochoda must go, after his intemperate email to Joel Kovel.

Is the assault on the University over? One doubts it. It is still good to have stood up to bullies.

This is a heavy defeat for a shape-shifting group that has decided that any criticism of Zionism is racism.

Their totalitarian idea is to exclude from the discussion any “racist” who does not accept a priori the idea of Zion.

For the university to take sides in this dispute would have been a terrible precedent. The university took its sweet time coming up with a statement that in the end, seems to say all the right things. So the criticism is: why did it take so long?

What has happened in Ann Arbor (Updated)

Posted in academic freedom, Michigan, University of Michigan, zionism by Deputy city editor on October 24, 2007

STOP PRESS: After I went to bed last night, the University issued a statement on Pluto and Overcoming Zionism. On first glance it looks good enough at least to have enraged the Zionist censors operating the self-styled Anti-Racist Blog, a ludicrous, hysterical publication which declares racist anyone they especially dislike. Including me! The blog is published under some kind of spiritual guidance from the grand zionist ayatollah Judea Pearl, who believes any criticism of zionism is racist. Make no mistake. This blog, mad though it might seem, has academic freedom at U-M firmly amongst its targets, the university having consorted with the “racists” of Pluto Press and its heretical anti-Zionist authors.

Here is the long-awaited U-M statement:

The University of Michigan Press Executive Board unanimously agreed to continue the distribution contract between the University of Michigan Press and Pluto Press under existing contract terms.

Distribution agreements are undertaken strictly as business relationships and have historically been a small part of the UM Press’s business. Currently, the Press distributes for five publishers. As is the case with all such commercial arrangements, books distributed on behalf of clients are not edited, reviewed, or produced by the UM Press, and they do not bear the imprimatur of the Press or of the University of Michigan.

University presses typically do not have stated guidelines for distribution agreements, but the recent controversy surrounding the contract with Pluto Press has underscored the need for them. In the coming year, Executive Board members will develop policy guidelines for distribution agreements. Underlying its deliberations will be the principle of freedom of expression, which is both fundamental to the University of Michigan ’s educational mission and integral to the UM Press’s goals.

This is robust if not exactly transparent but more will leak out. On the whole, I believe the University may even have done the right thing here. Forgive me if I sound shocked and amazed. I am not used to this happening very often. Now we must defend the university from further attacks from zealots. Because they are coming.

The Michigan Daily reports this news here.

My earlier story on this writen during the lengthy wait for the university’s statement follows:

The executive board of the University of Michigan press met last week to consider the problem of Pluto Press and Overcoming Zionism, the title that has annoyed the Zionists who think criticism of Israel is racism.

We still await a statement. The press office is briefing mañana. The latest is that the Provost wants a look at the dossier. This is going to be run past the president, also. What a mess! Maybe next week?

It is possible/likely some sort of negotiation is going on, or more likely several. I would guess there are personnel questions to be considered as well as contractural ones. Pluto is also quiet.

The Daily is not entirely hopeless and has asked to see the minutes of the U-M Press executive board, which are previously unreleased, and which might reveal more of the history of the deal with Pluto by which the University became the North American distributor for the north London publisher of radical, avante-garde and modishly leftish books. Few of which, unfortunately, anyone at the university has read.

Sorting out some of the contradictions and conflicts is taking longer than expected. President Mary Coleman can reflect that having no communications strategy other than raising money has not been the most farsighted of her policies. The university has been seriously exposed during this crisis lacking both policy and direction. To the question, “who speaks for the university?”, there has been a deafening silence.

One does sympathise with Mary and her legion of development officers. When every brick in the place is for sale, it might seem prudent to err on the side of caution, as far as donors are concerned. But there are other reasons why people give money to universities – and it is because they are universities and they guard values, such as academic freedom, that are uniquely their own to guard. If these are gone: why give money to a university, whose politics are for sale along with its monuments?

The university is at a very sensitive moment and not just in this case. Is it going to defend its values or allow itself to be taken hostage by one side in the ideological battle alongside the physical one in Israel and occupied territories? This is where the university has to be very plain. It must not give in to siren hysteria from anyone.

The university stands on the doorstep of America’s most signifiant immigrant population of Arabs as well as many Jews. It is a place where the hajib can and must always live side by side with the yarmulke. It must never be other than welcoming to both these communities and its great contribution can be to show leadership in this area – as Arab students recently demonstrated when they served humus and cider on the Diag.

Faced with fanatical right-wing pressure, American universities have often been weak in the past and have regretted it. This is a vital moment when the lights will either go out or they will not.

The Ayatollah Judea

Posted in academic freedom, zionism by Deputy city editor on October 23, 2007

Judea Pearl – driven to extremes

It saddens me to note that a leading intellectual godfather behind the Zionist war on free inquiry is the grand Ayatollah Judea Pearl, father of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. Maybe lots of other people knew this but it is news to me.

In this disturbing article sent to me by one of many who have recently called me an anti-semite, Pearl has called for jihad on anyone who questions Zionism. In what is hard to describe as other than a fatwah he declares a singular interpretation of the shared experience of Jewishness to be that of Zionism and that in consequence, “Anti-Zionism is racism.”

This call to arms has been quite successful. Recently, followers of  Judea Pearl have pronounced racist (amongst others) Jimmy Carter, Christiane Amanpour and Joel Kovel, among the distinguished. And of course, in a very small undistinguished way, me. It might be suggested that this is painfully inconsistent with the spirit of inquiry personified by Pearl’s courageous son. One can understand what makes Joel Kovel angry.

Judea Pearl is completely unhistorical. He states:

Anti-Zionism earns its racist character from denying the Jewish people what it grants to other collectives (e.g. Spanish, Palestinians), namely, the right to nationhood and self-determination.

The kindest thing you can say about this claim is that it is muddled. More manifestly, it is profoundly ignorant. Judea obviously knows very little about Spain. Has he consulted any Basques or Catalans lately? Has he read any Spanish history at all? And of course there is no Palestinian state. And if there was to be one, why should Jews not be a part of it? One must be candid. What he is advocating here is irridentism and apartheid. And he’s telling those who disagree they are racists.

You may agree or not with the case against Zionism but it is perfectly respectable, and not least when it is made by Jews or people of Jewish origin who do not want a homeland in the middle east, parts of which have been stolen.

The case against Zionism is that it is a terrifying doctrine for Jews because by demanding a separate state it implies that Jews do not belong anywhere else. This licences anti-semites. Millions of Jews have paid a heavy price. Millions of Palestinians continue to. And the final consequences of this demand and state have yet to be measured.

Is it fair to say that Pearl is as crazed and irrational as the people who murdered his son?

If anyone who even discusses the basis for Zionism, or proposes the idea that Jews and Palestinians should be living in a single state, or suggests that fundamentalist religion is not a just basis for a modern state, is called a “racist,” then the word has lost all meaning and has become merely a tool of intimidation.

Intellectually, Pearl, an engineer by training, is not equipped for his own project. Pace him, Zionism is no longer a political movement. Nor even a religious one. It is a racial one. Never mind there is no scientific basis for race. You can still be a racialist.

American academics and journalists must defend themselves from the attack on inquiry led by Judea Pearl and his confused, deranged accolytes. Even in Israel, the debate is not circumscribed like this. Islamists are not the only fanatics.

More on American campus fanaticism: A very good take on the forthcoming Islamo-Fascism Week starring Ann Coulter et al, is here.

Further information from this parish about Islamo-Fascism Week is here.

Wikipedia entertainingly explores Islamofascism here.

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.

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.

Don’t Tase me bro’!

Posted in academic freedom, America, campus, cromulent grammer, democracy, journalism, Media, news, police, students, taser by Deputy city editor on September 19, 2007

The campus police at the University of Florida attack student who asked too many questions.

There are numerous places on the Internet where you can see University of Florida (Gainesville) police officers Tasing/torturing Andrew Meyer, 21, a journalism student who dared to ask John Kerry several highly pertinent questions when he appeared on campus this week.

They comprise a cinema vérité at its purest. The sound is hyper natural. You can hear clearly the victim begging for mercy, the hissing of the Taser and the screams. The Taser is renowned for causing incapacitating physical discomfort, usually short of death, although this is not unknown (Amnesty has documented 245 Taser-related deaths).

Earlier, some students had hooted and yelped in approval as campus police officers moved in to silence Mr Meyer but belatedly as events unfolded one or two in a crowded room indicated they might share the viewer’s horror at these graphic but highly educative events on an American campus. Not all viewers, of course: the imbecilic brigade of the American right is already screaming that this was a set-up. They are the ones who presumably can he heard to hoot with delight when the campus police take out one of their fellow students. And not Kerry, obviously, who increasingly seems to be himself an imbecile.

A very clear version of the incident can be seen here but You Tube has plenty of other examples. It is a frightening and also very powerful scene and one that will do further enormous damage to the international reputation of the United States and to the American campus. And further confirm that Kerry is as useful as a toad in a laundromat.

One reason why America cannot currently win its so-called war on terror is the repeated demonstrations like this one that when it comes to moral leadership, the American cupboard is looking pretty bare.

Free speech is now under physical attack on the campus of the university of Florida, and by agents of the state. Just like the university of Teheran! (This is also the state where not one but possibly the last two presidential elections were stolen by the Republican party apparat, disenfranchising ‘colored’ voters – one of the points being made by the brave Mr Meyer.)

The American campus is already seized by fear with foreign professors harrassed and deported by Homeland Security; arbitrary and capricious border controls applied to visiting scholars, and hysterical Zionist campaigns against anyone who raises their voice against the State of Israel, its historiography, its behaviour, or questions its claims. This has become a new McCarthyism. Joel Kovel’s recent experiences at the University of Michigan show that a university press long thought to be resistant to political pressure will now grovel to blowhards, although to its credit the university has resumed (grudgingly) sales of Kovel’s book, Overcoming Zionism.

This latest incident in Florida is extraordinary because it shows what happens when you put police onto campuses. The gang of police can be seen surrounding Mr Meyer from the very beginning of his questioning of Kerry. Kerry’s own behaviour as Mr Meyer is attacked is bizarre. He apparently sees it as no part of his own duty to interfere in any way. Profile in courage!

There are so many videos taken from so many angles that this is one of those rare events that the revolution has not only seen fit to televise but to do so from every conceivable angle.

The viewer can see the initial assault on the student when the police who had already been intimidating him decided that enough was enough and it was time to bring down this insolent yelp.

The viewer then sees him calling vainly for support from Kerry, anyone, receiving not a single word of support from anyone, followed by shots being wrestled to the ground by numerous officers while he can be heard begging not to be ‘tasered’ – using what is bound to become an immortal phrase: “Don’t Tase me, bro’!” This is a perfectly cromulent use of the infinitive verb to Tase™.

The Taser, normally marketed as  a non-lethal alternative to firearms, has never previously been marketed as a method of shutting up those who have inconvenient questions. Doubtless, sales will spike on this new publicity, with big orders from China, possibly. Meyer spent the night in jail on the trumped up charges of disrupting a public meeting and resisting arrest.

The president of the university pronounces himself regretful for the incident. I would have thought he should have sacked the police at the very least, or at least sent them to the countryside for re-education, and begged the student to accept an apology (two of the officers have been suspended on full pay). I do know this is a student I would hire for any newsroom unwise enough to have me in charge (not that I am ever likely to have the opportunity – it is merely an expression of the instant and wholly positive impact this young man has had on me as an almost singular representative of what remains decent in his profession).

There are also hundreds of news reports. Counterpunch asks why Kerry stood there and said nothing. Huffington is very good on the sequence. As always, the journalism that does not appear is as interesting as that which does. Why have journalists on American campuses shown themselves as craven and ineffective as their counterparts at the New York Times and Washington Post? I look in vain for the story in The Michigan Daily. America needs more like Mr Meyer.

Naomi Wolf is in top form on this here.

The Adventure of a Liftime : this is a terrific & energetic American blog with great detail and links.