Many university presses in the United States distribute books for publishers from other countries — and vice versa. The University of Michigan has recently discovered that such an arrangement can land a university in the middle of a controversy over a book neither written by one of its professors nor published by its press.
The University of Michigan Press last month halted distribution of Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the "one state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country, without a Jewish character. The book was written by Joel Kovel, distinguished professor of social studies at Bard College. The publisher is Pluto Press, a British outfit that describes itself as having a left-wing focus and that publishes books by and for scholars in the social sciences. The University of Michigan Press is the American distributor for Pluto.
Laurie A. Brand, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California who heads the academic freedom committee of the Middle East Studies Association, said she had not read Kovel's book but had recently been informed that Michigan had suspended distribution. "It does sound very disturbing," she said.
Whether the book is good or bad, she said, "let him publish it and let people talk about it," and if people condemn it or ignore it or praise it, that would be their choice, Brand said. "But what we should not do is to try to prevent its arrival on the market."
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