Controversial research on Israel and the Palestinian territories has become the basis of yet another campaign to prevent a professor from winning tenure. A group of Barnard College alumni has drafted an online petition asking their alma mater to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology whose scholarship, they say, is flawed and skewed against Israel.
The group's criticisms of Ms. Abu El-Haj focus on her book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which argues that Israeli archaeologists have produced biased research that bolsters the "origin myth" of the Jewish state.
The petition, which has drawn just over 1,000 signatures, accuses Ms. Abu El-Haj of ignoring or mischaracterizing large parts of the archaeological record, of not being able to speak Hebrew, and of treating Israeli archaeologists unfairly in her work. Ms. Abu El-Haj declined to comment today.
The petition comes on the heels of a high-profile campaign — led by Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor — to persuade DePaul University to deny tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein, a professor known for his criticisms of Israel and what he calls the "Holocaust Industry." Mr. Finkelstein was denied tenure.
This post seems somewhat skewed to me. Professor Finkelstein demonstrated lack of expertise and as for the subject of the post, if a person doesn't even know one of the principal languages of an area, how on earth can they understand findings.
— Dr. Irene Lancaster FRSA Aug 15, 03:22 PM #
The title of the post is factual, unlike the skewed content of your response.
Are you claiming that only someone who reads Hebrew can judge the quality of an Israeli archaeologist? Are the primary texts all in Hebrew?
— john Aug 15, 03:40 PM #
I have an opinion about this post but I will need to keep quiet because I do not have tenure yet and I am afraid, very afraid.
— Richard Aug 15, 03:58 PM #
Again…this is shocking to see the clout in skewing the educational system into just a pro Israel and anti research faculty in the USA!!!
Not speaking Hebrew…you do not need to speak a language to interpret
scientific data…and you can hire people to interpret…how many from the USA in Iraq and Afganistan speak the language of the occupied
countries there? This is again limiting education by a powerful lobby…This is why I only support candidates that do not take lobby monies!!!
— DEB-Z Aug 15, 04:03 PM #
If the controversy is over the quality of Prof. Abu El-Haj's, surely the fact that it survived the review process of an eminently respected university press should be the guiding factor in its counting toward a tenure decision. There is regularly dispute about issues of scholarship, but publication by a press of the quality of the University of Chicago Press is surely a mark of scholarly respectability, although of course not of correctness.
— David Aug 15, 04:07 PM #
Unless Barnard has started admitting men, shouldn't it be "Barnard College alumnae"?
— Gustave Aug 15, 04:11 PM #
One hopes that the tenure committee will place greater store in the review and publication processes of the UChicago press than in the decidedly biased petition of some alumni (many of whom I would presume have no expertise in the field of archeology).
I can only wonder about the long term chilling effect of these politicized interventions into tenure matters.
— Charles Aug 15, 04:41 PM #
That academe is not able to rise above an argumentum ad hominem as demonstrated in this case is quite distressing. However, this "campaign" against Dr. Abu-el-Haj is yet more evidence that most arguments about the Middle East are rarely based on scholarship or data, but more often on emotion and politics.
— M J Miller Aug 15, 04:47 PM #
Question for DEB-Z. Do you refuse to support candidates who take Saudi money, or are you just sickened by Jewish money? Isn't that the lobby you're talking about? Be truthful! Mark
— Mark Silinsky Aug 15, 04:50 PM #
Respected higher education philosopher Sterling McMurrin said that academic freedom is a guiding principle for university action not only because of its intrinsic worth for a free people but also because it is the major instrument by which a society critically examines its own institutions and values in the search for a higher quality and more adaptive pattern of life. To deny tenure because a scholarly work does not support a "preserved and accepted" view of a major religious tradition is to simply continue the political practice of the last six years of making United States culture less adaptive and more endangered in the 21st century world context. The alums need to focus on the future of their institution and culture and not on limiting the adaptability of the United States.
— Everett Frost Aug 15, 04:55 PM #
Ms. Abu El-Haj declined to comment today about her work. However, her opinion on Israel is incorrect and Muslim scholars always support their own terrorists than seeking the truth. The University of Chicago Press has published controversial and trashy material.
— Kan Chandras Aug 15, 05:04 PM #
The original post seems completely factual to me. I am puzzled where Dr. Irene Lancaster perceives bias. As to the content, tenure decisions shoud not be made by alumni or any outside parties, but by the rightful committees within the organization granting tenure.
— Roland Aug 15, 05:47 PM #
The decisions about promotion and tenure should be conducted by our peers. As patients we don't make decisions about the content a doctor should know because we are not the expert.
The involvement of external constitutencies or scholars who are critcized by scholarly research do not bode well for academic freedom anywhere.
This is so reminiscent of McCarthyism. . . prosecution for ideological reasons.
And to those who would not speak out because they do not have tenure, if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything. If you sell your soul to get tenure, you will be souless afterwards. . . This is from someone who got tenure by doing my work but taking ethically appropritate stands when necessary.
— Kimberly Aug 15, 05:54 PM #
The president of Barnard happens to be a cultural anthropologist herself. This is one tenure decision that will surely be based on the candidate's merits rather than on public opinion.
— CU Alum Aug 15, 06:05 PM #
A lesser question: "Facts…" was published in 2001: haven't any criticisms or analyses been published in the intervening 6 years. Why now?
A clarification: The petition doesn't attack Dr. Haj's inability to read ancient inscriptions ("the findings" of comment 1; the "primary texts" of comment 2; the "scientific data" of comment 3). Rather, it censures her inability to read the publications (mostly untranslated) of the Israeli scholars she denigrates.
Dr. Finkelstein's work is meticulously documented, annotated, and footnoted; Dr. Haj's sources are (mainly) anecdotal and anonymous. Linking the two misserves the former.
— richard Aug 15, 08:09 PM #
I believe this movement by the Barnard graduates is a first! I can remember students rallying around a distinguished faculty member when the nabobs and nincompoops wanted an academic/administration lynching, but never the students organizing to lead the lynching. Wonder who could have motivated the grads to launch a petition drive?
When this Reign of Error is over, most of academe will be embarrassed over its cowardly silence.
— Donald M. Freeman Aug 15, 08:33 PM #
If you check out who have signed the petition, you'll see there are many men and not so many actual Barnard alums.
A real Barnard alum who will fight any witch hunts.
— Kara Aug 15, 09:11 PM #
Muzzling Scholars of Arabic Ancestry
by Joachim Martillo (ThorsProvoni@aol.com)
"Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition" by Yael Zerubavel discusses the construction of memory and the invention of traditions in Mandatory Palestine and in the State of Israel. The book describes some unusual Israeli or Zionist practices associated with Masada and Bar Kochba archeological excavations.
Rather like Nadia Abu el Haj in "Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-fashioning in Israel," Zerubavel describes the use of archeology and other scholarship to construct Zionist national identity.
Other scholars have investigated the political use of archeology in various contexts. Not only Max Weinreich and Eric Hobsbawm provide similar analysis in their published works, but "Constructing ‘Korean' Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State-Formation Theories" by Hyung Il Pai addresses precisely that same issues with regard to the development of Korean national consciousness.
Even though Abu el Haj focuses more narrowly on professional archeologists whereas Zerubavel looks at Israeli society as a whole, both authors make similar points in their books, and Zerubavel provides support for some of the claims for which Nadia Abu el Haj has been most criticized.
Zerubavel received the 1996 Salo Baron Prize of the American Academy for Jewish Research for her work while Nadia Abu el Haj is the target of an international campaign to drive her out of Columbia/Barnard. The difference in the responses evoked by the two authors merits a scholarly study in itself.
— Joachim Martillo Aug 15, 10:37 PM #
To your question…No not just the Jewish Lobby, I am Jewish…I mean all lobbies, as I believe I stated…I truly believe in no lobbies monies should influence the politicians, media, or academics!!! Especially academics where we as parents are paying over 30-40 thousand dollars a year for special interest groups to control classes!
— DEB-Z Aug 15, 10:40 PM #
El-Haj's work has been subjected to withering criticism from many in her field. Her book is more agitprop than scholarly research. Here are reprints/links to a few of the critical analyses:
— Ben David Aug 16, 05:52 AM #
Yet another victim of the US (orthe AIPAC) thought police.
— Salfeet Aug 16, 07:08 AM #
It seems to me that any group from the college should be encouraged to express their opinion on any tenure decision and it should be part the decision making process. That said the committee and the provost should make their decision based on best academic practices.
— Steve Aug 16, 07:18 AM #
One does not need to invoke lobbies or state policy to understand the purported bias in Abu el Haj's work but attitudes that are present as individuals in different societies.. Academics are not immune to the biases present in their lands of origins. . Scientists, despite multiple denials, are not unbiased, but can only try to control the degree of their bias. I doubt that the author even realizes the extent of the pervasive demeaning attitude in her study, at least in my view A good exercise for the author would be to examine the same issue as it relates to her own society as a baseline for the fairness of her approach. Having accomplished that feat, the perceived attack on Israeli
archeological self-interest would be more credible.
— Arthur Lustig Aug 16, 07:41 AM #
Message for DEB-Z. If you are so concerned about universities being bought off by foreign monies, you may want to check-out MESA's position of Cambridge's pulling its new publication, "Alms for Jihad." You tell me, who has the real power to censor the Middle East East debate.
— Mark Silinsky Aug 16, 09:02 AM #
Arguing the validity of this work is a side show to the essential question that the world has must come to terms with in order to really create peace:
What is the nature of hatred?
Israel exists not because of archaeological evidence legitimizing biblical fantasies.
It exists because a large portion of humanity has for thousands of years, exhibited hatred and contempt for Jews, Jewish culture, and in some circles, our right to exist. The founding of Israel in 1948 was and continues to be the only response to this condition that will guarantee the survival of our people. Its very existence was forged on the same anvil of hate provided by people who would see it destroyed. You cannot have it both ways.
So, if you are unhappy about Israel's existence, then it is your duty to eradicate the hatred that underpins what has become the crucial political issue of our time.
Texts like this do not serve that purpose, and rightly deserve to be criticized.
— Jeff Schantz Aug 16, 09:16 AM #
I can't evaluate her scholarship, but the fruits of her apparent bias disturb me. I hope she is worthy of and recieves tenure so that she can continue to spark academic consideration of her views. The academy should not reject her findings, but draw more serious scholars to the issues. This can bring the world to better understandings of both the facts and the emotions.
— Kim Aug 16, 09:20 AM #
I get so physically drained listening to the same old attack/counter-attack between two utterly predictable positions, marshaled by utterly predictable militants.
I can't imagine being a scholar who works on the Middle East.
To deal with such close-minded, religion-inspired, ultra-nationalist bigotry from every side on a daily basis, in your research, in the classroom—it must really grate on the soul.
A question to you handful of humanistic, critical thinkers in Middle East studies (whether Jewish, Muslim or neither): how do you DO it?
(Does anyone remember that old Star Trek episode, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield?" ...from way back in the late '60s; but it says all there is to say on the subject.)
— d Aug 16, 09:27 AM #
I also disagree with any strong "Alums for Jihad", or ACTA, which is a "watch dog" group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of the Vice President!, or other individuals that try to influence negative feelings, news coverage, wars, and class selections and material directed toward specific groups for the purspose of creating hate and segregation. It appears we have the wife of the VP very involved in this process. Apparently helping with the development of this McCarthyism taking place in universities across America now!
As a parent and a voter I am very interested in what is taking place with mind control in this country. Esp. as this related to brain washing who we support in wars and social issues!
— DEB-Z Aug 16, 09:42 AM #
As a Columbia University alumna, of which Barnard College is a part, I am appalled and ashamed that the University would even consider being pressured by outside groups in tenure decisions. As stated before by Kimberly, tenure decisions are left to the appropeiate committee and shoulfd not be influenced by outsiders. This goes to the very heart of academic freedom, for the preservation of which tenure was instituted. I hope Columbia does the right thing in this regard.
— Josephine Herrera Aug 16, 10:12 AM #
It's a pity so few of the people who express outrage about Abu El-Haj's book have read it. Most of the accusations the petition makes are false, distorted, or without evidentiary support, including the claim that Abu El-Haj does not read or speak Hebrew, the claim that she denies the existence of ancient Israeli kingdoms, and the notion that scholars never use unattributed quotations. The latter, at least, is standard practice in cultural anthropology, intended to protect the identity of the individuals with whom we speak. On other occasions, Abu El-Haj's opponents have claimed that she spent almost no time in Israel for her research (she was there for two years) and that she cites no Hebrew-language sources or archaeological reports, a claim which is easily checked—and disproved—simply by looking at her bibliography. The irony in this latter charge is the odd assumption that Israeli archaeologists and scholars only write for their colleagues in Hebrew, making the Israeli scholarly community sound far more insular than it is. The thoughtless and irresponsible claims of the petitioners, not Abu El-Haj's research, is the real shame.
— Gregory Starrett Aug 16, 10:22 AM #
I'm not an academic, and I'm not a parent of a college student (yet). I'm just someone who's interested in public discourse on various topics. I'm puzzled by the emotional reaction to this story. From what I can tell, an alumi/ae group is expressing its opinion (last I heard, we still had that right). They have no control over the tenure process; they are simply raising their opinion to be examined by the decision makers. Are we so afraid of thinking and of others' opinions in this world? Let the discourse continue! It's our only hope.
But then, I'm just a simpleton.
— TLC Aug 16, 10:30 AM #
Once again we are faced with an uproar over controversial scholarship and tenure – and once again this leads us to forget that scholarship is only one part of the tenure process. On days like this I wish that all the energy spent "shouting" electronically at each other (with little hope of convincing the other side to change its views) would be spent focusing on what we actually do at universities – teaching students to be able to think critically and clearly, to be able to marshall arguments based on evidence, and to be able to express their conclusions in a logical and reasonable manner. But I suppose I'll be long gone from the profession before any argument as heated as this one would take place on the quality of a tenure candidate's teaching.
— T.L. Aug 16, 10:43 AM #
One would do well to read the scholarly criticism of
El-Haj's work. Like most academic provocateurs riding the last anemic waves left over from the surge tide of 70's Marxist deconstructionist revisionism, her career seems to have benefitted more from political correctness and the crypto-anti-semitic faculty fashionistas than quality research. I think 1000 alumni may be trying to bring this to someone's attention. Barnard's greatest sin may not be in granting tenure to a poor scholar, but in continuing to embrace those who encrypt wanton demolition within the tendentious methodologies of amateur deconstructionism.
— marci Aug 16, 11:50 AM #
The lady knows her stuff, she speaks hebrew, all of this is nonsense, particularly marci's incoherent spewage.
Frankly, I admire people who fight the fight in the US academy, because anyone who signs this petition against Nadia and anyone who supports this campaign is without exception an enemy of humanity. period.
— Paul Manning Aug 16, 12:12 PM #