The University of Michigan Press is cutting ties to a London-based book publisher that last year published a controversial book about Israel.
Pluto Press published "Overcoming Zionism," a book by Bard College professor Joel Kovel. He argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and advocates solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating a single democratic state for both groups that would not have a Jewish character.
The U-M Press, which was the sole distributor of Pluto books in the United States, faced criticism from Jewish advocates and some members of the university's Board of Regents for being involved in the book's distribution.
When the controversy flared last summer, the executive board of the U-M Press defended its relationship with Pluto, saying reservations about the content of a single book shouldn't interfere with an existing business relationship, and that stopping the book's distribution would be a blow to academic freedom and free speech. The U-M Press does not review content of the books it only distributes.
But under pressure from Jewish advocates and three regents, the executive board announced in January that it would re-evaluate all of its distribution deals based on newly created internal guidelines. Pluto was the only independent publisher that didn't measure up.
Last month, the university sent a two paragraph letter notifying Pluto executives that the distribution contract would be terminated in six months, effective Dec. 31. A six-month notice is required by the distribution contract.
"It wasn't just one book," said Betsy Kellman, regional director of the Southfield-based Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, who said Jewish advocates read all of Pluto's titles.
"You can certainly criticize Israel, but when you set them up for a different standard of criticism than any other nation, that's when we get into trouble," she said.
Peggy McCracken, a professor who is chairwoman of the U-M Press executive board, said Pluto does not put every chapter of its books through an academic peer review, unlike the U-M Press.
The new guidelines say that the U-M Press will distribute books only from publishers whose missions and processes of peer review were reasonably similar to its own.
On its Web site, Pluto Press calls itself one of the "world's leading radical book publishers," with 70 new titles published each year.
"We got a lot of pressure from both sides of this question, and we got a variety of opinions on both sides," said McCracken. "The decision to establish guidelines was the board's decision, not to make the decision on the contract based on a single book."
Losing the revenues from distributing Pluto books will have an impact on the U-M Press, but it's too early to be specific, she said. The U-M Press received $918,000 in revenues from distributing Pluto Press books in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007. That was 16 percent of the U-M Press' total revenues that year.