Hiring and tenure decisions are typically decided (and appropriately decided, most in academe would say) by academics. A series of lobbying campaigns by pro-Israel groups, however, have some scholars worried that those who criticize Israel are being subjected to political tests and having their jobs endangered.
At Barnard College, Nadia Abu El-Haj, an anthropologist who is coming up for tenure, is under attack by some alumnae and pro-Israel groups for a book, published by the University of Chicago Press, that was critical of Israeli archaeology and its use in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At Wayne State University, similar groups are pushing the university not to hire Wadie Said for a faculty position in the law school. In that case, critics of Said are attacking him and his late father, the literary theorist Edward Said, saying that both Saids' activism on behalf of the Palestinian cause has amounted to support for violent groups.
These debates follow the cancellation last month of a lecture by Tony Judt, a professor at New York University, at the Polish consulate in New York City, amid charges that the Anti-Defamation League had encouraged Polish officials to call off the talk. And in June, Yale University turned down Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who is a leading figure in Middle Eastern studies, for a position — after a lengthy period in which critics of Cole argued that he was not a suitable choice for the position, in part because of his criticism of Israel. And Princeton University has faced criticism over a possible hire as well.
This weekend, the Middle East Studies Association, of which Cole is the president, voted to expand the work of its academic freedom committee — which has focused on helping scholars in the Middle East — to engage in efforts on behalf of colleagues in the United States.
"The subtext of these controversies is whether it is going to be allowed for Palestinians to hold positions in academe in the United States. Is it going to be allowed for people who are not Zionists to hold positions? Is there a Zionist litmus test in the United States?" said Cole in an interview Monday. He characterized the pro-Israel groups' activities as "the privatization of McCarthyism" and said that they represented the most serious threat today to academic freedom in the United States.
Winfield Myers, director of Campus Watch, a pro-Israel group that publicizes information about professors who are critical of Israel, said that Cole and others in Middle Eastern studies are distorting what is going on and that his group respects the right of faculty members to decide academic appointments. Myers said, however, that non-academics have every right to make their views known and that Middle Eastern studies professors are trying to prevent that from happening. "It is ultimately for faculty to decide. We're not saying ‘approve this guy and turn this other fellow down,' " Myers said. But he said that academics do not have the right to make these decisions in a "cocoon of silence" in which information about scholars' "politicized work" isn't well known.
The professors who are being criticized were not available for comment on the criticism, much of which is taking the form of e-mail campaigns urging alumni and others to weigh in against them with senior administrators. In the case of El-Haj, much of the criticism concerns her book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society.
Material published on Campus Watch states that the book's aim is to undermine the historic connection between the Jewish people and Israel, that the critique of Israeli archaeology is poorly researched and written, and that the author's anti-Israel bias undercuts her work. The material also questions whether El-Haj knows enough about Israel and has enough mastery of Hebrew to conduct any anthropological work about Israeli society. The material includes Barnard President Judith Shapiro's e-mail address and phone number.
Wayne State President Irvin Reid has had his contact info — as well as that of Frank H. Wu, the law dean — widely distributed by those seeking to prevent Said's appointment. The Web site of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us states that Said "shares his father's views" and is "supportive of his father's legacy of ‘post-colonial,' ‘Orientalist' slander against Israel." Said is also criticized for his participation in the defense team of Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who reached a plea agreement with the government on various charges against him after a jury rejected some charges and was divided on others.
David Horowitz's magazine is also coming out against Said. (Defenders of El-Haj and Said make much of the tone of the Web sites attacking them, but some of the Web sites defending them aren't exactly subtle in their tones either. One site defending Said says "the Negro President of WSU Irvin Reid is a staunch supporter of the racist state of Israel" and that because of his "unconditional support for the settler-colonial state of Zionist Israel," he has no business running a university in Detroit, home to a large Arab-American population.)
It is unclear what impact the campaigns will have. The academic job market is tough enough that when someone doesn't get a position, there are any number of reasons that could explain that decision. Winning tenure at Barnard or a faculty position at Yale aren't easy things to do regardless of whether one is being criticized on pro-Israel Web sites. At the same time, some of those who have lost their shot at jobs — like Cole at Yale — had strong faculty backing and appeared well positioned to gain certain positions prior to the lobbying campaigns.
Wu, the law dean at Wayne State, said that lobbying administrators there will have no impact. He said that the tradition at the law school — which he supports — is that job offers come only after two-thirds of the faculty agree. Wu said he has never tried to influence the faculty vote, and would never do so — or attempt to block a candidate who gained that level of support. Wu said he feels so strongly about this principle that he does not even vote as a faculty member. "We have a celebrated tradition of shared governance and academic freedom," he said. Sending him an e-mail about Said's candidacy would have about as much impact, he said, as sending an e-mail about Said to the dean of Harvard Law School, where Said is not a candidate for anything.
If the pro-Israel groups start lobbying professors, Wu warned that the effort might backfire. He said that his faculty holds a range of views politically and that professors likely don't all agree on whether it's appropriate for members of the public to seek to influence their hiring decisions. "Some might welcome [the e-mails]. Some might be offended. Some might be so turned off by the e-mail coming in that they may be persuaded to take a position that they might not have otherwise," Wu said
Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said flatly that outside groups do not have a role in these hiring and tenure decisions. "Non-academics and external advocacy groups should not be permitted to intrude in hiring and tenure cases in the academy, he said. "Academic freedom also requires recognition that scholars alone have the right to pass judgment on the quality of a professor's credentials. No scholar should have to be subjected to political litmus tests conjured up by partisan groups."
A Barnard spokeswoman said that the college has received around 25 letters and e-mail messages from alumnae about El-Haj. The spokeswoman said that the college would never comment on the status of a tenure review. Judith Shapiro, Barnard's president, has posted on the alumnae Web site a letter about the dispute. In her letter, Shapiro noted that a review of El-Haj's work would include outside evaluations, by experts in the field. Shapiro — a cultural anthropologist herself — did not offer an opinion on El-Haj's work. But she defended the type of work done, saying that "it is a legitimate cultural anthropological enterprise to show how archaeological research can be used for political and ideological purposes," and noted that such critiques are not unique to the Middle East.
And while Shapiro said she welcomed feedback from alumnae, she also said she wanted to share "my concern about communications and letter-writing campaigns orchestrated by people who are not as familiar with Barnard as you are, and who may not be in the best position to judge the matter at hand."
Cole said that in both the Barnard and Wayne State disputes, good scholars are having their careers unfairly maligned. (In both cases, he said that he knows their work, but isn't a personal friend.)
El-Haj is "very well respected" and the issues she raises in her work are important ones, Cole said. A long-standing concern of Palestinians, he said, is that Israeli archaeologists dig through materials that cover centuries of key developments in the region to focus on the period of ancient Israel. "Getting rid of this professor would be like replicating what she is writing about in terms of what was done on the ground," he said.
And while Cole is no critic of Edward Said, he also said it was unfair and inappropriate for people who didn't like his ideas to take that out on his son. "This shows that it's a blood feud," he said.
Ari Drissman, president of the Wayne State chapter of Students for Israel, said that there were legitimate reasons to oppose Said's appointment. Drissman said that the environment at the university is "very tense" for students who support Israel, who are barraged with anti-Israel leaflets that are "without any facts." He characterized the publicity being given to Said's background as similar to a background check done by a business before hiring a new employee.
And Myers of Campus Watch used similar language. He stressed that all the groups are doing is publicizing information, not trying to intrude on actual decisions. As for his opinion, he said that El-Haj's work is "part of an ongoing effort to delegitimize the modern Israeli state," and that Said has "some rather radical politics."
In getting out the word about these people, Myers said, his group "is not part of some effort to silence the Arab voice." Rather, he said, his group is trying to open up debate. If Middle Eastern studies scholars are offended by the work of Campus Watch, Myers said, "they aren't used to getting criticism," adding that information put out by all groups — his own included — should be open for critique.
For the record
You wrote: "At the same time, some of those who have lost their shot at jobs — like Cole at Yale — had strong faculty backing and appeared well positioned to gain certain positions prior to the lobbying campaigns."
It was reported at the time that Professor Cole received 13 yes votes and 10 no votes in the Yale History Department, hardly strong faculty backing. Rarely do such close votes produce offers of professorships.
Publius, at 8:05 am EST on November 21, 2006
How much academic freedom is there in Arab and other Muslim universities? How many Jewish faculty are employed by these universities?
Hans Gesund, at 8:15 am EST on November 21, 2006
Nadia Abu El Haj
Note that Abu El Haj is being criticized by archaeologists for her scholarship, not for her politics.
No less an authority than William Dever has stated: Ms. Abu El-Haj seems intent on writing Jews out of ancient Middle East history, and demonizing a generation of apolitical Israeli archaeologists in the process. Barnard should deny Ms. Abu El-Haj tenure, he said, "not because she's Palestinian or pro-Palestinian or a leftist, but because her scholarship is faulty, misleading and dangerous."
The book slanders an entire scholarly field.
anon, at 8:30 am EST on November 21, 2006
Recently we discussed on these blogs the honesty of the committment of right leaning groups like FIRE, NAS, ACTA and Horowitz to academic freedom. Here is a perfect example. With the academic freedom of professors being threatened by partisan groups outside of academe where are they? As you can see they have little interest in academic freedom as a value, they just want to see a bias in their favor rather than against them. Hypocrites.
Ken, at 9:50 am EST on November 21, 2006
"How much academic freedom is there in Arab and other Muslim universities?" What does that have to do with the question at hand? We're talking about academic freedom in the U.S.—are we to start limiting the rights of American citizens based on the political situations in their countries of ethnic origin? Would we deny a position to an African American professor on the basis on human rights violations in Liberia, or to an Asian American because of the limits on academic freedom in China?
Mary, at 10:15 am EST on November 21, 2006
This whole article makes me ashamed to be an American in an institute of higher learning. Americans are supposed to be tolerant, yet we have been recently seduced by the media and the government into a state of hatred. Insitutes of higher learning are supposed to be places where professors are judged on their credentials, work, and scholarship, not on their politics or religious beliefs. Although any group has a right to express their opinion, it is the fool who allows that opinion, however strong, to sway their own actions without investigation. Are the universities now halls of the foolish or are they driven by the big bucks thrown in their path by these groups to change their course?
Anon2, at 10:15 am EST on November 21, 2006
Abu El Haj: the book, is it "daft?"
This is a controversy about a book that denies that the ancient Israelite kingdoms existed. "What was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland" is "a tale best understood as the modern nation's origin myth… transported into the realm of history." The Hasmonean and Davidic dynasties are a mere "belief," an "ideological assertion," a "pure political fabrication."
Serious people argue about the dates of those kingdoms, their size, government, economy, etc. Serious people do not deny that they existed.
James Davila, a student of the period from St. Andrew's University, Scotland, has called Abu El Haj's book "daft."
anon, at 11:35 am EST on November 21, 2006
Input or Intrusion
This politicized controversy about Middle East Studies reminds me of the controversies on theological matters in the Middle Ages. Do U.S. academics now require the Imprimatur of the Anti-Defamation League or other political groups to publish anything on Middle East studies? How and where does one apply for the Imprimatur? Will the required Imprimatur be eventually extended to other subjects also, including physics, chemistry and mathematics?
Mathew, Professor, at 1:15 pm EST on November 21, 2006
Academics or Politics
I have read the Abu El Haj books, and the problems with it go beyond her intense hatred for the Jewish State.
this is supposed to be an anthropology of Israeli attitudes towards archaeology. Yet, jusding by the text and the footnotes, she does not know Hebrew and did not do filedwork in Israel (she appears, again, judging by the sources, to have taken a very brief tour of the country.)
I don't know anything about the scholarship of Said the younger, but from what I have read, I would say that the objections to Abu El Haj are based on her scholarship.
Could it be that it is people who share her politics who are politicizing this tenure process by spinning criticism of her scholarship as criticism of her politics?
Pam, at 1:15 pm EST on November 21, 2006
I cannot believe the messages discussing the qualification of either candidate. This should be an internal university decision with no input or whatsoever from unsolicited outsiders. Come on people, where is your sense of decency and fairness? And just to answer Gesund's remark. I am an Arab, a Muslim and a US citizen, and I am currently chairing a hiring committee at a US institution. Some of the applicants are Arabs, some are Jews and some (like it should be,) with other ethnic or religious backgrounds. Actually, my statements about ethnic or religious backgrounds are just educated guesses. Anyway, it is a wonderful mix. None of the short listed are Arabs. At least one of the shortlisted is a Jew. We have not held interviews yet. But this Muslim will not mind hiring a Jew or a person from any other religion. I will be fair to all applicants and that it the way it is supposed to be.
TM, at 6:45 pm EST on November 21, 2006
Post-structuralists are Terrorists?
Several of the campus-watch type comments above don't quite grasp the book's theoretical location: it is criticism of archeology, not "slander"; many "serious people argue about" how any nation is a social construction based on origin myth; you don't need local fieldwork when you're studying archeology writings; that an Archeologist trashed the book is (a) not surprising and (b) not the final word on its academic worth.
Kate, at 6:50 pm EST on November 21, 2006
Archaeologists are criticising the book because it paints a false and slanderous portrait of the profession of archaeology. She accuses archaeoligsts digging in Israel of deliberately destroying artifacts by the inappropriate use of bulldozers and "big" shovels — by contrast with responsible, European archaeologists. She presents no data to back up these wild accusations. She merely cites anonymous "European" archaeologists as her source. But the Europeans at ASOR did not agree. She then accuses archaeologists digging in Israel of deliberately destorying evidence in the upper, Islamic layers, and of willfully politicizing and misrepresenting their finds. Again, entirely without evidence.
This is slander.
Her book reveals — to anyone who actually reads dig reports — a monumental ignorance of archaeological methodology. She repeatedly gets things wrong in a way that reveals her ignorance of the field she is slandering.
There are reasons why this book was a hot topic at ASOR last week, and I heard no archaeologists saying anything kind about it.
anon, at 8:50 pm EST on November 21, 2006
"The Hasmonean and Davidic dynasties are a mere ‘belief,'" — I haven't read her book, but how much does this differ from statements by Israel Finkelstein (a very serious archaeologist)? I suspect that since El-Haj is not herself an archaeologist, she took most of the basis of her thesis from scholars such as Finkelstein.
bob, at 10:45 am EST on November 22, 2006
What Israel Finkelstein said
Israel Finkelstein says that the David dynasty started later (by a few decades)than the traditional dating, and that it started smaller. He has suggested that David and Solomon may have been something like tribal chieftans.
Finkelstein is, of course outnumbered by distinguished archaeologists who have produced evidence of the existence of a large dynasty at the traditional dates — massive city walls, stele inscribled House of David, etc. Jeff Chadwick, Aren Maeir, Gabriel Barkay, William Dever and many more. The argument might be settled more readil if digs could occur in Hebron, the City of David and the Temple Mount. Muslim opposition prevents it. We all know what they are afraid will be found.
What Israel Finkelstein has certainly never suggested is that the dynasty and the kingdoms were mere "myth." He has, of course, spent his life digging up evidence of those kingdoms.
Arguments, based on evidence, about the dating, scale, and details of the ancient Israelite kingdoms will continue. But to deny flatly that they existed is nonsense.
Dana, at 12:20 pm EST on November 22, 2006
Nadia Abu El-Haj
I'd like to thank Inside Higher Ed for alerting me to Nadia Abu El-Haj's book. I rusht right over to Amazon and ordered it. Fulfilling my lifelong interest in Israel, I spent part of a sabbatical visiting all the major archaeological sites in Israel (and many of the minor ones), as well as the museums, etc., but by the time I'd finisht I had a depressing sense of how virtually every important artefact had to have a political spin on it. It put me off doing any further work on the project, so I haven't kept up with the literature. But I am pleased to know that someone has had the courage to do a book on it. No good deed goes unpunisht, of course, so I expect to hear more of her plight on this website. I've been following the fate of the Middle Eastern studies scholars in the U.S. who've paid the price for not toeing the lobby line. What irritates me is that so few Full Professors, i.e., people in the best position to speak out on the perversion of Middle Eastern Studies and the silencing of those who encourage critical thinking on the question of Israeli policy and Zionist history, are finding the courage to support their beleaguerd colleagues. The American academy seem caught between the Israel Lobby and the Religious Right—the proverbial rock and hardplace. I hope this is just a passing phase, and that American scholarship in the field of Middle Eastern studies can again be trusted by the international community. I'm not a big fan of the Realist position in IR, but I applaud Walt and Mersheimer for finally getting some kind of dialogue about the lobby off the ground.
Janie Canuck, Professor at University of Saskatchewan, at 7:10 am EST on November 23, 2006
Why aren't we talking about the mythmaking that is Zionism? More absurd than arguing about Hebrew tribes from 5000 years ago is arguing that Palestinians don't exist and that all those Eastern European "founders" of Israel conveniently found a vacant land. That's what Zionists would have you believe. It's ludicrous. What isn't ludicrous is the assertion that Israelis would be demolishing ancient non-Hebrew ruins.
Diggin' bones, at 11:50 am EST on November 23, 2006
Abu El Haj — the text
this will give readers some idea of why archaeologists feel that this book is slanderous
"The most controversial practice in Israeli archaeology has been the use of bulldozers on archaeological sites. Among Palestinian officials at the Haram al-Sharif and the Awqaf as well as many other archeologists – Palestinian and European or American (trained) – the use of bulldozers has become the ultimate sign of "bad science" and of nationalist politics guiding research agendas. Critics situate this practice squarely within (a specific understanding of) the politics of a nationalist tradition of archaeological research. In other words, bulldozers are used in order to get down to earlier strata which are saturated with national significance, as quickly as possible (Iron Age through Early Roman.) During the excavation of the biblical site of Jezreel in which I participated, a bulldozer was used in order to more quickly determine the direction and structure of the Iron Age moat. In doing so, the remains above it were summarily destroyed. A joint dig of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the research priorities of the excavation were defined by the Tel Aviv team. The aim was to study the Iron Age."
(the footnote to this paragraph reads: "This bulldozing incident occurred a week after I stopped participating in the excavations and was recounted to me by after the fact by several participants, both archaeologists and student volunteers. The decision to use bulldozers precipitated quite an argument between the British and Israeli archaeologists digging the site, I was told. With one exception, the former strenuously objected. The exception was a British archaeologist who was a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, a student of the Israeli archaeologist leading the dig.")
"While this chronological focus (and its nationalist implications) provides a partial explanation for such excavating techniques, in order to more fully understand when and why bulldozers are used on excavation sites in Palestine/Israel, the practice needs to be situated within a broader set of methodological questions. The practical logic that guides archaeologists at work determines how sites will be excavated and which remains will be produced, carefully recorded, and preserved. At both the Jezreel excavations and the Jerusalem excavations, archaeologists moved through dirt rather quickly. Israeli excavators tend to use large shovels, pick axes and large buckets in order to move through the earth. In contrast, for example, the European (mostly British) trained archeologists at Jezreel explained that they would prefer to excavate with smaller tools and slower digging techniques, including, for example, sifting dirt in search of very small remains: artifactual, animal, seeds, and so forth These smaller finds are seen as essential to the reconstruction of aspects of ancient daily life. In general, however, in Israeli archaeology – and clearly, on those excavations carried out in Jerusalem's Old City – the practical work of excavating favors larger (mostly, well-reserved architectural) remains over smaller remains. It is only after "significant finds" have been located that specific loci are more carefully excavated from smaller remains (often pottery shards) that can illuminate the history (the chronology of identity) of the architectural structures themselves or lend insight into the settlement patterns of specific (of significant) stratigraphic layers." (pp. 148-149)
anon, at 1:45 pm EST on November 27, 2006
It's difficult to discuss issues in the Middle East without confusing politics and scholarship. Clearly, it is perfectly appropriate for anyone to call the attention of a tenure committee to grossly incompetent scholarship or blatant anti-Semitism. This in no way affects the committee's freedom to decide, but it does alert members of such groups to address areas with which they may be unfamiliar. After all, most faculty who will vote on tenure will not be specialists in the candidate's area and may be inclined to "go along" with someone else seen as more expert. If such communications encourage serious scrutiny of a candidate's work, so much the better. Reputation in a field does not guarantee scholarship (witness Juan Cole)and careful examination by colleagues without an axe to grind is all for the good.
Mark Press, Chair, Dept. of Psychology at Touro College, at 4:50 pm EST on November 27, 2006