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December 6, 2017 12:53 pm

Why Did Duke University Press Publish Jasbir Puar’s Fraudulent Anti-Israel Book?

avatar by Peter Reitzes

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The Duke University campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In November, Duke University Press (DUP) published The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, by Jasbir Puar.

In the book, Puar makes the grotesque claims, “Israel covertly enacts the right to maim through promoting itself as attempting to avoid civilian casualties,” and, “Debilitation is extremely profitable economically and ideologically for Israel’s settler colonial regime.”

She states that children are a “prime target” of Israel, and summarizes Max Blumenthal, a prominent anti-Zionist: “rebuilding [Gaza] envisions a future of sweatshops producing zippers and buttons for Israeli fashion houses.”

Puar is updating antisemitic blood libels and stereotypes that Jews specifically target children, and are greedy, profit-seeking monsters.

Puar states that, “The ultimate purpose of this analysis is to labor in the service of a Free Palestine.” I would prefer that she labor in service of the truth — and good scholarship. Unfortunately, Puar is short on both. Here are just a few examples.

Puar creatively quotes the study “Prevalence of PTSD Among Palestinian Children in Gaza Strip” from the Arabpsynet Journal: “Palestinian children have become laboratories for the study of the relationship between trauma and violence, conflict, and children’s well-being during war.”

But compare this to the actual quote from the report: “It is tragic fact that Israeli and Palestinian children have become laboratories for the study of the relationship between trauma and violence, conflict, and children’s well-being during war. Wars and battles have been fought without interruption in the region for fifty years. None of these wars, however, have brought a solution to the conflict between Jews and Arabs.”

Did the peer-review process fail to note that Puar edited the quotation, completely distorting the conclusions in her source material? And is this a careless omission — or a strategic deception to further Puar’s agenda of demonizing Israel?

Puar quotes the opinion of a professor from Al Jazeera America, not from a peer-reviewed research study, when she writes that “Palestinian children in Gaza are exposed to more violence in their lifetime than any other people, any other children, anywhere in the world.” She attempts to support this quote by referencing a study from the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal titled, “Effect of Trauma on the Mental Health of Palestinian Children and Mothers in the Gaza Strip.”

But when I obtained and read the study, it concluded the opposite: “Compared to other types of conflict in war zones, events [in Gaza] were not as acute.” A proper peer review worthy of a great university should have easily caught these issues.

Puar is on the Advisory Board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). The USACBI has written on Facebook such vulgarities as “Israel-Nazi collaboration today echoes Zionist-Nazi collaboration in the 1930s-1940,” and that Israel has turned Gaza into an “extermination camp” and “a concentration camp.”

At least six members of DUP’s Editorial Advisory Board are signatories on initiatives related to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Two of them, Tsitsi Jaji and Frances Hasso, are endorsers of the USACBI. How can Duke professors, or professors anywhere, associate with an organization that peddles in such hateful, antisemitic speech?

Priscilla Wald, the chair of DUP’s Editorial Advisory Board, is a signatory to a letter “calling on the [Modern Language] association to pass a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” Ara Wilson is a signatory on “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.” Leo Ching and Anne Allison are both signatories to DukeDivest, which calls “on Duke University to divest from all companies with military ties to Israel.” Mark Anthony Neal shared a petition on Twitter that supported BDS and the USACBI.

Ken Wissoker, DUP’s editorial director, is identified online as a donor to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). The Anti-Defamation League refers to JVP as “the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States.” The staff page of DUP’s Books Acquisitions Group lists two staff members who publicly support the boycott movement against Israel. Editorial Associate Sandra Korn celebrates on Twitter “our NEW BDS campaign in Durham !!!!!” Korn is also a member of JVP. Associate Editor Elizabeth Ault has tweeted that, “ASA [American Studies Association] boycott passes!! … Congratulations and thanks to those who’ve worked so hard for this.”

The DUP Twitter account is responsible for more than 20 Tweets that include “#BDS.” DUP and Duke University are clearly home to many anti-Israel and BDS activists, which may explain how a book like The Right to Maim can get published.

In addition to the The Right to Maim’s appalling antisemitic overtones, the book is filled with obtuse, academic gibberish.

For example, Puar writes:

There is a temporal shift within the asphixatory control society from a Virilian narrative of increasing speed to other forms of algorithmic, parallel, distributed, and networked time, working through suspension between states and slow attenuation, in direct contrast to the always connected idea…Accelerationist logics map speed, movement, and their withholding as an assemblage of racial ontologies. Disciplinary enclosure consorts with micromodulations of bodily becomings to ensure a population laden with affective reactivity. A politically regulated and controlled affective logic projected and interpreted as cultural and civilizational reactivity reinforces Orientalist projections of racial difference. Sensation racializes.

I wonder whether anyone, even the author, can explain exactly what this means?

This is all reminiscent of the 1996 Sokal affair, in which physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article deliberately crafted of pseudo-academic nonsense to a prestigious journal of post-modern studies, and found it accepted without a hitch. On the day of publication, Sokal revealed that the article was a hoax, designed to test the standards of the journal. The journal was Social Text, published by Duke University Press. (If Ms. Puar’s work is a similar hoax, it is certainly in poor taste.)

Does DUP have conflict of interest policies, and are staff and personnel trained on such policies? Has DUP become a rubber stamp for virulently anti-Israel, pseudo-scholarship? An unbiased peer review process may have discovered that Puar is more an antsemitic cheerleader than a scholar.

It is time for Duke University to conduct a full review of Duke University Press.

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