More and more of the Jewish community is mobilizing against the University of Michigan Press' troubling relationship as U.S. distributor for a London-based publisher of a highly controversial book that essentially advocates doing away with the State of Israel in favor of a single secular democratic state with no ties to the Jewish people.
The mobilization is against Pluto Press, the independent publisher of Joel Kovel's Overcoming Zionism: Creating A Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine and other politically and ideologically charged books on the Middle East that are anti-Jewish when viewed through a lens of reason.
"In any case, what is wrong with the Jewish state is the fact of being a Jewish state," summarizes Kovel in Overcoming Zionism. He equates Zionism with Jewish power and dominance - shades of past anti-Semitic canards that led to pogroms, ghettos and the Holocaust.
A Nov. 27 letter to the U-M Board of Regents, signed by leaders of six pro-Israel organizations, characterizes the books as "uniformly anti-Israel, proudly radical and often anti-Semitic in nature." At a time when Jews again have become scapegoats for the world's ills and when anti-Semitism is rampant in Europe and Arab lands, Jews can't ignore Pluto Press' seeming hammerlock via a curiously unique distribution agreement on a campus with a large Jewish enrollment and heavy Jewish investment.
Signatories to the letter include the directors of the Anti-Defamation League/Michigan Region, StandWithUs-Michigan, B'nai B'rith International/Great Lakes Region, Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, American Jewish Committee/Detroit Chapter and the National Christian Leadership Council for Israel.
The Zionist Organization of America also has protested.
Student groups like the American Movement for Israel and the Israel IDEA also have chimed in to counter the falsehood that the dispute is over free speech or academic freedom as opposed to real hate and prejudice wrapped in a commercial money-making agreement. Student involvement is especially heartening; for too long, Jewish students have been too intimidated or too unprepared to defend Israel in debates or discussions with pro-Palestinian apologists.
The November letter plainly states the case against University of Michigan Press (UMP) and the publicly funded university, which has received millions of dollars in support from Jewish benefactors.
UMP has no business distributing Pluto Press books or promoting the enterprise on its UMP Web site. Pluto Press should not be mistaken for a publisher of high scholarship or important research. It has a right to publish whatever it wants; but U-M, because it is not a private institution, must be held to a more rigorous, higher standard. Still not convinced? The work of now-deceased Israel Shahak, who authored another Pluto-published book, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of 3000 Years, is popular on neo-Nazi Web sites.
I second the letter's assertion that "the University of Michigan legitimizes these books and, by extension, classical and current anti-Semitic propaganda both on campus and nationally."
UMP presents a specious argument that its Pluto deal, which prevents any editorial review, is strictly a business decision worth $1 million in annual sales to UMP, according to the Michigan Daily. UMP doesn't publish original works on Israel, the Middle East, Zionism and Judaism. So, as the letter asserts, Pluto Press has become "the public face of UMP on these issues, providing a one-sided and wildly skewed version of reality."
That backdrop dims UMP's disclaimer that its Pluto agreement does not "bear the imprimatur" of UMP or U-M.
A Book Of Hate
In Overcoming Zionism, Kovel, a social studies professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., writes, "Zionism cannot be reasoned away; it has to be confronted, and its lived world has to change." He propounds overcoming Zionism's shield of legitimacy and undoing the "racist core of the Zionist state."
We can't ignore this harangue. Kovel eyes dramatic change - "which is to say to dissolve the Jewishness of the state. For this, one does not smash or trample Zionism; one overcomes it and frees people from its chains," he writes.
Further, he brands the notion of a "Jewish restoration" as atrocious. "Restored to what?' he asks. "To rape Palestine, to pervert the Holocaust, to become courtiers of an empire [America] 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."
The core message of Overcoming Zionism should jolt you: one state, a secular "universal democracy" called Palesrael, for Jews and Arabs with a complete right of return for displaced Palestinian refugees.
That scenario, of course, would end the Jewish state.
U-M has spent years revamping its reputation to assure a diversity of students and ideas in the classroom. It's not an inherently bigoted campus. It has been at the forefront of important social justice issues. U-M divested from apartheid South Africa. It chose not to divest from Israel when pro-Palestinians seeking to curb Israel's defensive occupation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank pitched that baseless ploy.
Further, UMP's own mission promotes varied perspectives; yet Pluto Press' library is unabashedly anti-Zionist. A return to Zion, of course, is biblically intertwined with Judaism. That's what makes UMP's embrace of Pluto Press so disconcerting.
U-M regents Andrea Fischer Newman, Laurence Daitch and Andrew Richner oppose the UMP-Pluto Press partnership. What's necessary is a unanimous vote of the regents to pressure the UMP board to disband this transaction. The demeaning deal will quickly erode any benefit derived from the earnings.
To contact the U-M Board of Regents, see the Web site