A book being used by an assistant professor in the Department Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University accusing Israel of settler colonialism and of having a policy of deliberately maiming and injuring Palestinians has sparked widespread condemnation and demands it be removed from the course syllabus.
The 2017 book, "The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, and Disability," was written by Jasbir Puar, a professor of women's and gender studies at Rutgers University, where it had also generated outrage both there and at other universities during a book tour after its publication.
Its current inclusion in the course "The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South," taught by Satyel Larson has drawn broad criticism and calls for its removal from Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, the executive director of the Center for Jewish Life/Princeton Hillel (CJL); Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Dist. 5); Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Amichai Chikli; and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, among others. Neither Larson nor the university returned messages left by The Jewish Link for comment.
Steinlauf wrote to both Larson and the department chair Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi requesting they reconsider the impact of the book and look for alternate ways to teach the course "without including an author whose rhetoric and writings have deeply hurt many in the Jewish community."
In an email to the CJL community, Steinlauf criticized Puar's "unsubstantiated and harmful accusation that Israel aims to physically disable Palestinians as a means of control." He also noted that Puar "has previously and falsely accused the Israeli military of intentionally harming Palestinian children, harvesting Palestinians' organs, and other crimes reminiscent of classic antisemitic tropes stemming from the blood libel of the Middle Ages."
Puar's "damaging and unproven views" have led to fear among Jewish and Israeli students for their safety and well-being and the effect it may have on campus discourse, read the email. "As the central address for Jewish life on campus, one of CJL/Princeton Hillel's essential roles is to communicate insights about why this issue is such a concern to many in the Princeton Jewish community, and to ensure those concerns are conveyed in the spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue," wrote Steinlauf in an email to The Jewish Link. "We take very seriously our role as being a part of the campus community of students, faculty and administration and pursue a supportive and constructive relationship with all elements of the campus ecosystem. We also believe deeply in supporting the robust culture of free speech on our campus, and the right of any professor to include what she deems appropriate on any course syllabus."
Yet, he said, with "the rise of antisemitism and so many other forms of social hatred and division in our country and around the world, we believe that creating a culture of understanding and sensitivity between our Jewish community and others is more important than ever," and added CJL is continuing its efforts "to work closely and constructively" with the university's administration and faculty to address the issue.
Gottheimer wrote Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and University of Pennsylvania (UP) President M. Elisabeth Magill asking they remove "antisemitic, anti-Israel speakers and review curriculum." UP, which is Gottheimer's alma mater, recently decided to host singer Roger Waters and former news commentator Marc Lamont Hill at a university-sponsored Palestinian literature and culture festival this month.
Gottheimer pointed out in a statement that Waters' actions have been "so egregious" that the State Department in June called out the former Pink Floyd member for his "long track record of using antisemitic tropes." Hill was terminated by CNN as a commentator for his "unacceptable" statements denying Israel's right to exist and calling for its destruction.
"Princeton University must protect all students, including Jewish students made to feel unsafe by curricula that incites violence and signals tolerance for Jewish hate and anti-Israel rhetoric," Gottheimer wrote Eisgruber. "Given New Jersey's strict anti-BDS laws and Princeton's own anti-discrimination policies, the University is not only reminded, but obligated, to safeguard its students."
Chikli also wrote to Eisgruber as well as Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett to express his "profound condemnation" of a book promoting "antisemitic blood libel" and stating, "Antisemitism has no place at Princeton or any other institution." Additional criticism and a call for the book's removal from the course also came from the Israel-based nonprofit International Legal Forum, which sent letters to Eisgruber and Ghamari-Tabrizi stating the book contains "a number of very serious and defamatory accusations."
Lauder in a tweet accused the university of "not only sanctioning hate speech, but establishing fertile ground for a new generation of antisemitic thought leaders," adding, "I am calling on Princeton University to cancel the course in question immediately, fire its professor, Satyel Larson, and issue a public apology to its students, the global Israeli community, and Jews all over the world."
However, there has also been some pushback from students aligned with the Alliance for Jewish Progressives on campus who sent an open letter to Larson, published in the campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, criticizing the "right-wing Zionist attacks" attempting to "censor" her.
It called out critics by name but pointed most of its denunciation at CJL.
"The actions taken by the CJL, the state of Israel, and World Jewish Congress are all the more disturbing in the context of the current wave of book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and ongoing efforts to silence marginalized voices, especially those of queer and BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Color) communities," it stated. "The CJL's choice to employ these right-wing, book-banning strategies demonstrates where its true solidarity lies."
Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.