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January 10, 2018 1:26 pm

In 2018, Duke University Press Doubles Down on Anti-Israel Bias

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avatar by Peter Reitzes


The Duke University campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

I have recently written a series of articles documenting anti-Israel bias, antisemitism and misleading “scholarship” at Duke University Press (DUP).

At the end of 2017, DUP published The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, by Jasbir Puar. In that book, Puar makes the grotesque claims that, “Israel covertly enacts the right to maim through promoting itself as attempting to avoid civilian casualties,” and that, “Debilitation is extremely profitable economically and ideologically for Israel’s settler colonial regime.”

She writes that Israel is “Targeting youth not for death, but for stunting, for physical, psychological, and cognitive injuries.” Puar 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 has updated antisemitic blood libels and stereotypes that Jews specifically target children, and are greedy, profit-seeking monsters.

As I reported in 2017, seven members of DUP’s Editorial Advisory Board, charged with granting “final approval” to manuscripts, have signed initiatives related to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. An eighth member of this board promoted BDS on social media. In other words, a majority of DUP’s Editorial Advisory Board supports BDS related initiatives against Israel. In addition, at least three DUP staff members are anti-Israel activists.

Related coverage

December 14, 2017 10:04 am

Duke University and the Problem of Antisemitism

Recently, I expressed deep concern in The Algemeiner about Duke University Press (DUP)’s publication of The Right to Maim: Debility,...

At the start of 2018, DUP doubled down on its anti-Israel bias by adding Associate Editor Elizabeth Ault as new Acquisitions Editor. Ault has celebrated the boycott of Israel on Twitter: “ASA [American Studies Association] boycott passes!! … Congratulations and thanks to those who’ve worked so hard for this.” Ault tweeted, “So happy about ASA’s decision to endorse boycott.” 

DUP just announced that in her new role as an Acquisitions Editor, Ault “plans to acquire titles in African studies, urban studies, Middle East studies … disability studies, trans studies.” Many might expect that Ault’s history of public anti-Israel bias, as detailed in this piece, should disqualify her from acquiring books about the Middle East for an academic press.

In addition, some may not know that The Right to Maim is a publication from the disciplines of disability and “queer” studies. Puar and others rationalize this in ways such as alleging that Israel is disabling Palestinians. Sadly, Puar is just using disability and “queer” studies to spread hate of Israel. Considering that Ault is interested in acquiring books from multiple disciplines that often focus on Israel, such as Middle East studies, disability studies and trans studies, some may wonder if Ault should be working at DUP at all. 

Ault has quoted or paraphrased Fred Moten on Twitter: “boycott of Israel [is the] least we who care about decolonization can do.” Moten has been repeatedly published by DUP, is a former Duke professor and a member of the Organizing Collective of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). The USACBI has repeatedly stated on social media: “All Israel is occupied Palestine.” In other words, Israel must cease to exist.

The USACBI often compares Israel — and by extension Jews — to Nazis, such as stating on social media: “Israel-Nazi collaboration today echoes Zionist-Nazi collaboration in the 1930s-1940s.” Puar, also an editor at DUP, is on the USACBI’s advisory board.

Ault has repeatedly and positively tweeted about Steven Salaita and BDS, such as writing in 2015: “@stevesalaita is an optimist. #bds.” Salaita is a member of the Organizing Collective of the USACBI. The Algemeiner explained: 

[Salatia is a] discredited scholar who celebrated the June 2014 Hamas kidnapping of three Israeli teens who were later found murdered…

In a string of social media posts made during the summer of 2014 — when a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas erupted in the aftermath of the discovery of the teens’ bodies — Salaita denounced anyone who supported Israel as an “awful human being” and “hopelessly brainwashed,” and wrote, “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.#Gaza #FreePalestine.”

On June 19, 2014, referencing news of the kidnapping, which took place in Gush Etzion, Salaita tweeted, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f***ing West Bank settlers would go missing.”

In her 15 supportive tweets about Salaita, Ault never speaks out against his antisemitism, preferring to dismiss it. In 2015, Ault tweeted: “@stevesalaita now spends time explaining he’s not antisemitic rather than critiquing US/Israeli violence: accusation as a diversion.” One would have hoped that a newly appointed Acquisitions Editor at a major academic press would be able to identify antisemitism rather than embrace one of its sources.

Ault has also written on Twitter that, “Effect of #bds on discourse surrounding Israel: putting zionists on the defensive.” Many may wonder if Ault, and other staff members, view DUP as a vehicle to put “Zionists on the defensive,” and to promote anti-Zionism through an academic publisher. 

Ken Wissoker, DUP’s editorial director in the Books Acquisitions Group, is listed online as a donor to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). The Anti-Defamation League describes JVP as “the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States.” 

DUP Editorial Associate Sandra Korn is member of JVP and a BDS activist, having celebrated on Twitter “our NEW BDS campaign in Durham !!!!!” In 2017 on Twitter, Korn called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “white supremacist.” In 2015 Korn tweeted that Netanyahu is “an Israeli war criminal.” In 2015 Korn tweeted: “i feel like #charlestonshooting is just 1 more manifestation of a white supremacist war on black americans, ALL white people are implicated.”

In January 2018, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs announced that it had banned JVP and a variety of other BDS related organizations from entering the country. Korn tweeted that Israel’s security decision is a “new fascist dictate by Israel.” It is regrettable, to say the least, that Korn expressed her frustration by describing Israel with a term often reserved for Nazis. In addition to working at DUP, Korn teaches at a Jewish religious school and is on the board of a Durham, North Carolina synagogue. Many would expect a person in her position to choose less inflammatory language to describe Israel, a Jewish majority country, and its leader.

Considering DUP’s staff and advisors, it is not surprising that DUP would publish antisemitic, pseudo scholarship, such as The Right to Maim. 

DUP’s problems are not new. DUP has repeatedly been used to promote academic antisemitism masquerading as “scholarship.” For example, in a 2008 special edition of DUP’s South Atlantic Quarterly journal, edited by two signatories to the USACBI, English professor Matthew Abraham stated: “It is one of the tragic ironies of history that Israel’s settler colonial project has done to another people, the Palestinians, what Hitler’s Lebensraum project sought to do to the Jews: to use separation, expulsion, ethnic cleansing … and state terror to erase the existence of a people. … If there is a threat of another Holocaust, it exists within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Will the DUP Editorial Advisory Board, stacked with eight faculty members who publicly support BDS related initiatives, be allowed to approve additional anti-Israel and antisemitic publications? Will Ault and other anti-Israel staff members be permitted or expected to solicit, edit and review anti-Israel manuscripts? Does DUP have any conflict of interest policies at all, and if so, do they follow them.

In October 2017, Vincent E. Price began his new role as Duke’s 10th president, and he cannot be blamed for problems he inherited at DUP. But moving forward, will Price allow DUP to continue to be an anti-Israel and antisemitic rogue publisher? Or will Price step in to make DUP worthy of a great university? 

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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