The University of Michigan will reconsider its relationship with a London-based company that published a book denouncing Zionism, but it will not extend a temporary halt of the book's distribution, the university's executive board announced yesterday.
Written by a professor of social studies at Bard College, Joel Kovel, "Overcoming Zionism" advocates abolishing the state of Israel and replacing it with a single secular state with no ties to the Jewish people, Mr. Kovel said yesterday. Mr. Kovel, 71, a medical doctor and Yale University graduate who lives in Woodstock, ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1998 as the Green Party candidate and sought the party's presidential nomination in 2000.
"Overcoming Zionism" was published by Pluto Press and distributed in America by the University of Michigan Press under a contract with Pluto. But after a group devoted to defending Israel, StandWithUs, denounced the book as a "collection of anti- Israel propaganda, misquotes, and discredited news stories," the university press halted its distribution.
Mr. Kovel said he learned about the decision in an e-mail message saying shipping had been cut off because the book was "hate speech." The author of the message, provided to The New York Sun, could not be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan, Kelly Cunningham, said she could not verify it.
Michigan's executive board voted unanimously to resume distribution yesterday after "both legal and value considerations," the board said in a statement.
"While the Executive Board has deep reservations about ‘Overcoming Zionism,' it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis," the statement read.
It continued, "As members of the University community dedicated to academic freedom and open debate among differing views, the Executive Board stands firmly for freedom of expression, and against even the appearance of censorship."
The board also said the university press's contract with Pluto requires the university to distribute all of the publisher's books.
But the board also unanimously decided to reconsider the contract, saying " Pluto Press's decision to publish ‘Overcoming Zionism' brings into question the viability of UM Press's distribution agreement with Pluto Press."
Mr. Kovel said "Overcoming Zionism" compares Zionism to South African apartheid. "It's a state where one ethnic group dominates others," he said.
He called the temporary halt to his book's distribution "suppression."
Pluto Press, which has also published books by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky, could not be reached for comment last night.