Duke University has a problem with academically-driven antisemitism. Its press, the Duke University Press, is once again promoting blood libels against Jews under the veil of criticism of Israel. Writing this off as pseudo-academic nonsense would be a mistake.
Duke University Press acts as the gatekeeper through which new "knowledge" attains the seal of academic approval, and is then dispersed as "fact" in classrooms at Duke and across the country. On a campus where the leaders are promoting and tolerating antisemitism, it now comes as no surprise that Duke also has a problem with students feeling threatened and afraid because they support Israel.
In 2017, Duke University Press published The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir Puar. Puar updated antisemitic blood libels when she alleged that Israel specifically targets Palestinian children to maim them and then profit from their incurred disabilities. Like other Duke University Press authors, Puar repeatedly compared Israelis to Nazis.
Now, three years later, Duke University Press has published a fawning review of The Right to Maim in its own Journal of Middle East Women's Studies. Reviewing their own publication by lavishing it with praise is not a good look for Duke.
In the review, Stephen Sheehi — Professor of Middle East Studies and Professor of Arab Studies at the College of William and Mary — makes the grotesque, thinly veiled comparison of Israel to the Third Reich when he suggests that Israel may wish to exterminate the Palestinians: "One seriously wonders if Israel would want to completely erase the Palestinian people (through death or displacement) if they could get away with it."
Sheehi, like Puar, is a prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The inclusion of Sheehi as a reviewer is not surprising considering that in 2018, I reported that seven members of Duke University Press' Advisory Board signed initiatives related to BDS, and a number of the Press' editors publicly support BDS. Signaling a continuation of their anti-Israel fervor, in 2020 Duke University Press promoted one of their self-declared "anti-Zionist" editors by granting him the ability to acquire books.
Sheehi applauds Puar's updating of blood libels: "Puar's contribution is to cogently and persuasively demonstrate that 'the occupation itself can be understood as disabling the entire Palestinian West Bank population through restrictions of mobility.'"
Accusing Israel and the Jews of disabling an entire population is absurdly inflammatory and antisemitic. The "classic" antisemitic blood libel is that Jews kill children to drink their blood and eat their flesh. The new blood libel, promoted repeatedly by Duke University Press, is that Jews maim and disable an entire population to seek profit.
In May of 2019, Duke University Press published a special issue of its Radical History Review journal titled "The Politics of Boycotts." Ilana Feldman — professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs at George Washington University — summed up the gist of the entire journal issue by falsely referring to Jews in Israel as "a nonnative population," thus erasing thousands of years of Jewish history on the land.
In 2019, Duke University co-sponsored the "Conflict Over Gaza" Conference, which made international news for featuring a rapper's antisemitic performance. I attended this conference, which was, in reality, an Israel-bashing farce masquerading as an academic seminar. In late January 2020, Duke University resolved an antisemitism complaint filed with the US Department of Justice stemming from this conference.
Duke and its Press' continued and persistent demonization of Israel — driven by anti-Zionist faculty and staff — sends a message to students and the campus that being intolerant of Israel is normal and valued.
Of immediate concern is the behavior of Duke student Hadeel Abdelhy. On November 13, 2019, Abdelhy posted a picture on Twitter of students from the group Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee (DIPAC). Superimposed over each Duke student's face was a clown face. Some who have seen the post have been shaken.
Responding to an inquiry from Duke's Office of Student Conduct on this matter, Abdelhy publicly tweeted on December 2, 2019: "So I'm going to repeat myself again, f**k DIPAC and every Zionist on campus."
Two days later, on December 18, Abdelhy tweeted another picture of a woman pointing a gun, writing, "Now I have to go present ... evidence that I'm not a terrorist." On the next day, she tweeted, "For now I'm good since no action will be taken against me," strongly implying that Duke decided to do nothing about her activities.
In a January 22, 2020 tweet, Abdelhy brazenly bragged about bullying pro-Israel students on campus, perhaps demonstrating confidence in her belief that "no action will be taken" against her by Duke administrators.
While speech is certainly protected, these public postings have made students feel targeted, threatened, and afraid. Duke University — by appearing to take no action — is making a statement: that perceived threats are within the scope of what is permissible on campus. Duke needs to reverse its institutionally-driven demonization of Israel and ensure the safety of all students on campus.
Peter Reitzes is a speech-language pathologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who holds an MA degree in his field. Peter is known for advocacy in his field and on topics related to Israel.