PRINCETON, NJ — A New Jersey Congressman has written to Princeton University asking them to drop a book from the curriculum that he says is antisemitic.
In response, the University has defended its decision on grounds of academic freedom.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) wrote to Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber about the book "The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability," by Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers professor.
The book is included among reading materials for a humanities course called "The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South," taught by Satyel Larson, an Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies (NES).
In his letter, Gottheimer accuses the book of being "offensive, antisemitic blood libel."
"Puar argues that the Israel Defense Forces, in efforts to oppress and control Palestinians, deliberately creates injury, keeping Palestinian populations debilitated. This claim of Israeli control over Palestinians to maintain dominance is egregiously false. The author repeatedly casts the IDF and Israelis as the sole antagonist in a conflict defined by complexity and decades of strife," Gottheimer said.
The Democratic Congressman said Professors like Larson and authors like Puar fail to acknowledge "deadly terrorist attacks from the West Bank and Gaza that have threatened Israel for decades."
He wrote that assertions made by the book allow "professors to inappropriately engage in political activism at the expense of the safety of Jewish students."
"The University has publicized its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and must not misinterpret that mission to exclude Jewish students. Princeton should please reconsider allowing the work of an author like Jasbir Puar, who is known to traffic in vile antisemitic tropes, to appear on school-sanctioned reading lists," Gottheimer said.
To read the full text of Gottheimer's letter to Princeton, click here.
In response to Gottheimer's letter, University president Eisgruber defended the inclusion of the book, saying Princeton University was committed to "free speech and academic freedom."
"Like Princeton's commitment to free speech, the principle of academic freedom sweeps broadly, encompassing even books that may be deemed "offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong‑headed" by students, faculty, the University administration, or others, including elected office holders," Eisgruber told Gottheimer in an open letter.
"Those who disagree with a book, or a syllabus, are free to criticize it but not to censor it. Such arguments are the lifeblood of a great university, where controversies must be addressed through deliberation and debate, not administrative fiat."
Eisgruber also noted that he was "Princeton's second Jewish president" and the "son of a Holocaust refugee."
In response to Gottheimer's claim that the book's inclusion could make Jewish students feel unsafe on campus, Eisgruber said the assertion misunderstands the role of a university, and that Princeton will work vigorously to ensure that all students can thrive, but not by censoring curriculum.
"Your assertion also underestimates the strength and resilience of Princeton students. Indeed, many of our students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have spoken up for the importance of academic freedom and defended the right of Professor Larson to assign Dr. Puar's book," Eisgruber said.
"I have no doubt that they have the intelligence and independence to interrogate, challenge, and learn from texts with which they disagree. This University will continue to foster those discussions inside and outside the classroom, and we will adhere steadfastly to the principles of free speech and academic freedom that are essential to our mission."
To read the full contents of Eisgruber's letter, click here.
The Democratic lawmaker isn't the first person to condemn the University for including the book in its reading material.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf '91 of the University's Center for Jewish Life expressed his concern over the book's inclusion and had asked the NES department to reconsider its use.
Israeli Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli also sent a letter to the University asking them to remove the book from its curriculum.
Published in 2017 by Duke University Press, the book was written by Puar a professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University.
The publisher describes the book as an exploration of how states use "debility, disability, and capacity" to control populations. It also includes an analysis of "Israel's policies toward Palestine."