The University of Michigan Press will resume distributing a controversial book critical of Zionism, the press's executive board decided yesterday.
The book, called "Overcoming Zionism," argues that Zionism and democracy don't work together and that Israelis and Palestinians should form a single, secular state that isn't explicitly Jewish or Palestinian.
The University Press distributes the book through a contract it has with Pluto Press, a London-based publisher that prints left-wing, scholarly books on social sciences.
In its Aug. 13 newsletter, the Michigan chapter of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us condemned the book and asked its members to call the press's director and ask why the press decided to publish the book.
The group called the book a "collection of anti-Israel propaganda, misquotes, and discredited news stories, and is carried forward throughout by declared contempt for Judaism and its adherents."
The University Press stopped distributing "Overcoming Zionism" in August in response to what University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham called "serious questions raised by several members of the University community about the book."
The press's executive board, which is made up of University professors, reviewed the book, written by Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel, before making its decision.
Kovel said he was glad the press restored distribution of his book, but said the controversy it created was an example of an all-to-common problem.
"People have to join together and combat the tendency to suppress alternatives, particularly where the state of Israel is concerned," he said.
In a statement, the University Press's executive board said it has "deep reservations" about "Overcoming Zionism," but because its contract calls for it to distribute all of Pluto Press's books, it wouldn't break the contract for that book alone.
"Such a course raises both First Amendment issues and concerns about the appearance of censorship," the board said. "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 did say that Pluto's decision to publish "Overcoming Zionism" has led it to reconsider the University Press's 4-year-old contract with Pluto. It plans to make a decision later this fall about whether it will continue contracting with the company.
The board's chair, Prof. Peggy McCracken, did not return calls for comment yesterday.
A blog called Dissident Veteran for Peace posted in August what it claims is an e-mail that University Press Director Philip Pochoda sent on Aug. 24 to Kovel, the book's author. In the e-mail, Pochoda said he was planning to defend the book's distribution with a "free speech defense" but was appalled by what he called Kovel's "reckless, vicious, and unmodulated attack on Zionism and all Zionists."
The e-mail went on to say that the book wasn't something the University wouldn't want to be associated with.
"Perhaps such vituperative and aggressive rhetoric works for the barricades," the e-mail said. "But it cannot be countenanced or underwritten by the university or the university press, even in this peripheral, distributed capacity."
Kovel defended his work.
"My book is a very carefully reasoned and researched effort to open up a line of thinking that has been stifled," he said.
Pochoda did not return calls for comment yesterday. Pochoda declined to comment on the e-mail for an article published yesterday by the online magazine InsideHigherEd.com.
Political Science Prof. Ronald Stockton said because the Middle East inspires such heated debate, the University Press should be careful about giving in to pressure from outside groups.
"Anything you publish on the Middle East, someone is going to be upset," Stockton said. "As a university press, you can't give into that."