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February 13, 2020 6:01 am

Hateful Anti-Zionism at Duke University Press

avatar by Peter Reitzes


Perkins Library at Duke University in Durham, NC. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Duke University Press has a long history of promoting antisemitic views masquerading as academic scholarship. Their authors have compared Israelis to Nazis, and have updated antisemitic blood libels by alleging that Israel specifically targets Palestinian children to maim them and then profits from their incurred disabilities.

As I previously wrote in 2018, seven members of Duke University Press (DUP)’s Editorial Advisory Board signed initiatives related to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and a number of Duke University Press editors publicly support the BDS movement. Duke University Press is recognized by some as the “publisher of choice” for those who support boycotting Israel.

Now, in early 2020, Duke University Press is signaling once again its commitment to targeting Israel by promoting an editor who is a self declared anti-Zionist, and who publicly uses language that many find offensive, antagonistic, and hateful.

In late January, Joshua Gutterman Tranen became Assistant Editor, and will be directly assisting Ken Wissoker, who is the Editorial Director. With this promotion, Tranen reports that he is now responsible for acquiring books for publication. The day before Tranen announced his promotion, his Twitter profile prominently stated he is an “anti-Zionist” working at “@dukepress.” The same day Tranen announced his promotion at Duke, he changed his Twitter profile by removing “anti-Zionist.” He did not, however, clean up his past tweets.

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Tranen publicly supports BDS, and in 2019, he encouraged a boycott of the Eurovision song contest because it was being held in Israel. While many view the arts as a way to bring people together across cultures, Tranen views such cultural interactions as a reason to boycott Israel.

Tranen’s Twitter feed also demonstrates insensitivity to Christians. In 2019, Tranen tweeted, “Jesus, the original bad Jewish bitch.” In 2017, he tweeted, “I can report that white men are still trash!” and “ban straight white Yale men.” Tranen is certainly allowed to hold such views, but in doing so he has demonstrated extraordinary immaturity and a proclivity towards dismissing entire groups of people out of hand. Will Tranen’s publicly stated prejudices impact his ability to fairly consider prospective authors who are Christian, white, straight, or pro-Israel?

Oddly enough, while Tranen has a long history of tweets using hateful and distasteful language, he publicly embraces “cancel culture,” which is an attempt to shame someone or hurt their career because of offensive language they have used. Tranen went after the well-known, moderate author Bari Weiss by letting Weiss know that he had taken a screenshot of a tweet she made that he found objectionable. Just last month, Tranen retweeted a poem that stated, “Cancel someone everyday. Accept the cancelling of bad tweets, the book badly written. The art of cancelling isn’t hard to master.”

One would think that Tranen — an advocate of cancel culture — would be more careful with the language he uses.

In January, Tranen tweeted, “In 2020 we are going after Tablet [magazine]. The Forward is too easy of a target.” With this single tweet, Tranen attacked two respected Jewish publications. In 2019, demonstrating little self-awareness about his own social media presence, he tweeted about The Forward, “your publication continuously brings embarrassment to the Jewish people.” In 2017, Tranen tweeted, “The Forward is absolute trash and you can quote me on that.” It strikes me as bad form for an employee of a university publisher to attack two well respected Jewish publications in this manner.

In December 2019, shortly before being promoted, Tranen tweeted, “Right now is a good time for scholarly publishing to encourage, promote, and publish work on Palestine and the Occupation.” Now, as an Assistant Editor, Tranen will acquiring books for publication. The questions I have are: Why does Duke University Press view Tranen as a leader and someone to be trusted with such a huge responsibility? Will Duke University Press allow someone who proudly calls himself an anti-Zionist to acquire books on Israel?

Tranen’s worldview is shallow and crass at best, and lacks complexity. These are inappropriate character traits for the editor of a university press.

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.

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