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How Anti-Israel Bias Corrupts Duke University Press

Recently, I have written a series of articles about widespread anti-Israel bias at Duke University Press (DUP) and its particularly offensive November publication, ‘The Right to Maim,’ by Jasbir Puar. Puar sells anti-Semitic blood libels, suggesting that Israelis — and by extension Jews — target Palestinian children for maiming and subsequently profit from incurred disabilities in ways such as Palestinian sweatshop labor. Comparing Israelis to Nazis, Puar wonders if Hamas-ruled Gaza is “a debilitation camp” for Israel and asks, “Is Gaza an experimental lab for the production, maintenance, and profitability of biopolitical debilitation?”

‘The Right to Maim’ is extensively and virulently anti-Israel, yet the book does not inform the reader of Puar’s role as an Advisory Board member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). In the author’s biography on the book’s DUP and Amazon webpages, Puar is identified as a professor and author, but not as a prominent BDS activist. Where is the transparency and academic integrity?

The DUP peer review process includes an editor soliciting a manuscript, the manuscript being “sent to two readers for review,” followed by the manuscript being sent to the “Editorial Advisory Board (composed of Duke faculty members) for final approval.” In the case of ‘The Right to Maim,’ a staff which includes several BDS activists ostensibly solicited a book by a prominent BDS activist, which was then approved by an advisory board including at least six BDS-related activists.

‘The Right to Maim’ was published as part of DUP’s ANIMA series, edited by Mel Y. Chen and Puar. In 2009, Chen signed a letter to President-elect Obama stating, “It is time for constructive disengagement from Israel, financial, diplomatic, military” and “Almost certainly, the only hope of a lasting solution is a single state in Israel/Palestine.” In other words, the only Jewish majority country on the planet should be shunned, if not eliminated entirely.

Some highly respected publishers are explicit about what may constitute a conflict of interest. For example, SAGE Publishing states, “A potential conflicting interest might arise from relationships, allegiances or hostilities to particular groups, organizations or interests, which may influence excessively one’s judgments or actions.” Elsevier warns of “Personal beliefs that are in direct conflict with the topic [an author] is researching.” Under such criteria, ‘The Right to Maim’ should raise unmistakable red flags to responsible overseers of a university press.

Yet despite the profound conflict of interest, the president of Rutgers University, Robert Barchi, last month defended Puar’s book and said it was “reviewed independently by scholars around the country. It was then accepted for publication by the Duke University Press, which is a very prominent scholarly press, and published. It’s a piece of scholarly work.” In an effort to defend a professor who worked for him, Barchi relied on DUP’s reputation rather than on its record.

DUP’s anti-Israel bias, however, appears to have deep roots. For example, in 2008 DUP published a “special issue” of their South Atlantic Quarterly journal, titled ‘Settler Colonialism,’ edited by Alyosha Goldstein and Alex Lubin, both signatories of the USACBI. Just this month, the USACBI wrote on Facebook, “It is time to get rid of the racist two state solution,” – a rallying cry to abolish the state of Israel.

In the 2008 publication, English professor Matthew Abraham stated, “It is one of the tragic ironies of history that Israel’s settler colonial project has done to another people, the Palestinians, what Hitler’s Lebensraum project sought to do to the Jews: to use separation, expulsion, ethnic cleansing…and state terror to erase the existence of a people….If there is a threat of another Holocaust, it exists within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories…”

In the same issue, historian and anti-Israel activist Ilan Pappé wrote, “the Zionist movement” is “a political force committed to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” DUP seems grotesquely committed to comparing Israelis to Nazis.

In addition to trivializing the Holocaust, demonizing Israelis, and disseminating anti-Semitism, DUP endorses revisionist history. For example, Pappé claimed that in 1948, “the Zionist movement took over most of the land of historical Palestine by force.” Any credible historian, however, could testify that in 1947, the United Nations recommended and adopted –with broad international support– a two-state plan (the Partition Plan), proposing the creation of Palestine and Israel as a solution to the land’s history of British colonialism.

The Jews agreed to the plan; the Arab countries rejected it. Five Arab armies attacked the fledgling state of Israel. More than 6,000 Israelis were killed and 15,000 wounded.

Historian Benny Morris once bluntly observed, “At best, Ilan Pappé must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.” Any competent peer review would have demanded a much more thorough and unbiased accounting of history from Pappé and others published by DUP.

It is time for Duke University to take a serious look at DUP’s rampant anti-Israel bias, compromised peer review, lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, and execrable scholarship. DUP is in desperate need of oversight.

[Photo: Danny Navarro / Flickr ]