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 on Sept. 11.
Written by a professor of social studies at Bard College, Joel Kovel's Overcoming Zionism advocates abolishing the State of Israel and replacing it with a single secular state with no ties to the Jewish people, Kovel said.
Kovel, 71, a medical doctor and Yale University graduate who lives in Woodstock, Mass., 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 U-M Press under a contract with Pluto. But after the Michigan chapter of the Los Angeles-based, pro-Israel group StandWithUs denounced the book as a "collection of anti-Israel propaganda, misquotes and discredited news stories" and questioned why U-M chose to distribute it, the university press halted its distribution.
In a letter from U-M Press Director Philip Pachoda to Kovel, which Kovel says is authentic and Pachoda and U-M will neither confirm nor deny, Pachoda writes that no one at U-M Press had read the book before distributing it and that after reading it that he and other faculty "were apalled [sic] by your reckless, viscious [sic] and unmodulated attack on Zionism and all Zionists. For us, the issue raised by the book is not free speech but hate speech. Perhaps such vituperative and aggressive rhetoric works for the barricades, but it cannot be countenanced or underwritten by the university or the university press, even in this peripheral, distributed capacity."
But Pachoda did not have the last word.
On Sept. 7, the executive board of the U-M Press met and, citing free speech concerns, ordered that Overcoming Zionism be distributed while it undertook a review of its relationship with Pluto Press, to be completed by the end of November. U-M issued a statement that confirms that Pluto Press publications are distributed without review, and that had the book gone through its "standard review process," it would not have been distributed.
While the board said the university press contract with Pluto requires the university to distribute all of the publisher's books, it also unanimously decided to reconsider: "Pluto Press's decision to publish Overcoming Zionism brings into question the viability of U-M Press's distribution agreement with Pluto Press."
Kovel writes in Overcoming Zionism that he "loathes Zionism" and that "the notion of a 'Jewish restoration'" is "atrocious."
"Restored for what?" he asks. "To rape Palestine, to pervert the Holocaust, to become courtiers of an empire [the United States] that is destroying the planet itself? As they have built their world, the power-Jews have restored nothing so much as Moloch, the child-devouring shadow-form of Yahweh - a verdict all too literal."
Unmasking Pluto Press
In the Sept. 25 StandWithUs Michigan newsletter distributed by e-mail and posted on the Internet, StandWithUs Michigan Director Jonathan Harris contrasts the mission of Pluto Press with that of the U-M Press.
"A visit to the Pluto Web site reveals that Pluto Press is not a true commercial publisher, or even an academic one, but rather was founded in 1969 as the pamphleteer of International Socialism, the later British Socialist Worker's Party," Harris writes. "Though now independent, Pluto Press has never been anything other than an ideological enterprise, calling itself 'one of the world's leading radical book publishers.'
"In contrast, the UMP Web site claims the press was founded in 1930 as a publisher of 'important scholarly research.'" He adds that Pluto Press is the only outside publisher that U-M Press has a distribution agreement with.
Harris does not see it as a free speech issue because he does not challenge the right of Pluto Press to publish whatever they wish. What he does question is U-M's promotion of a single publisher with a single political perspective without academic review.
Harris urges community members to contact U-M President Mary Sue Coleman to express concerns.
"Not only should we be concerned about Pluto Press, we should be concerned that there may be other instances, particularly in the classroom, where free speech concerns compromise U-M's academic standards," Harris said.
Other Questionable Books
Jonathan Schwartz, a recent graduate of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, notes on his blog, "Anti-Racist Blog: Exposing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on American College Campuses," that Pluto also publishes, and U-M distributes, works by Israel Shahak.
In a Sept. 24 posting, Schwartz cites an article in the Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2001) claiming Shahak, now deceased, "openly hated Jews and Judaism. His writings center around the theme that Judaism is the fountain of all evil and that most of the world's problems can ultimately be traced back to Judaism. He propounded the thesis that Judaism is a racist form of irrational anti-Gentile hatred ... [and that] Jews worship Satan daily."
Shahak's work is regularly cited and promoted on neo-Nazi Web sites. The Radio Islam Web site contains the full text of Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of 3000 Years, a book cited by the Anti-Defamation League as a classical anti-Semitic interpretation of Jewish texts.
"The University of Michigan and its press need to break their ties to Pluto Press now," Schwartz says. "Every minute Michigan continues to distribute and make money from racist books published by Pluto, the more shame is brought upon the public university."
Besides StandWith Us Michigan and Schwartz's Anti-Racist Blog, the Anti-Defamation League/Michigan Region and the Great Lakes Region of B'nai B'rith also have been in communication with the university about the issue.