In email correspondence with Phil Orenstein, Barnard College president Judith Shapiro claims that archaeologist Nadia Abu El Haj, who is coming up for tenure at Barnard, has received a death threat.
Shapiro's email was prompted by Orenstein's May 16 letter to her in which he opposed El Haj's tenure bid. In one of her replies, Shapiro wrote:
Nadia Abu El-Haj has also received death threats from those opposed to her work.
Two questions leap to mind:
Can Shapiro (or Nadia Abu El Haj) produce evidence to back up this claim?
Was the threat reported to a law enforcement agency?
There is no excuse for threatening scholars, and I sincerely hope that anyone who does so is arrested and prosecuted. Vigorous debate is the lifeblood of intellectual life, and only intellectual cowards resort to threats. If El Haj received such threats, no legitimate critic of hers will wish for anything other than seeing the person or persons who made the threats swiftly brought to justice.
For some scholars, the claim to having received death threats or other threatening communiqués can be a badge of honor and an attempt to silence critics. It simultaneously conveys victimhood, the most lauded status in academe, and impugns the character and motives of higher education's detractors. As Daniel Pipes explained on his blog in 2005, El Haj isn't the first Columbia professor to make this allegation: Hamid Dabashi made similar claims in 2002 and again in 2005 in light of critical views of his scholarship. UCLA Islamic law professor Khaled Abou el Fadl has also publicly claimed to having received death threats.
Abu El Haj's scholarship has come in for considerable criticism over the past several years, and Campus Watch has posted nearly 30 pieces that take issue with her work. Her book, Facts on the Ground; Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, denies any historical Hebrew connection to Jerusalem, and charges that Israeli archaeologists have both invented evidence of a Jewish history of the city, and destroyed evidence that would prove that Jerusalem has Palestinian roots. Hers is a thoroughly politicized scholarship, and there is significant controversy surrounding her tenure bid at Barnard.
I will update this post as new information becomes available.