Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Michigan Daily Editors Defend Pluto Press Distribution Deal

Start the presses
University Press's wavering is inexplicable and inexcusable


The University of Michigan Press is supposed to be devoted to publishing books that "contribute to public understanding and dialogue about contemporary political, social, and cultural issues." Sometimes that means defending controversial books, and it doesn't get much more controversial than the Israeli-Palestinian debate.

Unfortunately, in deciding whether to continue distributing Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel's book, "Overcoming Zionism" and whether or not to renew its contract with the book's publisher, Pluto Press, the University Press undermined all of its supposed values. Although the University Press made the right decisions in the end, along the way it wavered on its commitment to protecting academic debate and cowered behind decisions that lacked any transparency.
Editorial Board Members: Emad Ansari, Kevin Bunkley, Ben Caleca, Milly Dick, Mike Eber, Gary Graca, Emmarie Huetteman, Theresa Kennelly, Emily Michels, Robert Soave, Gavin Stern, Jennifer Sussex, Neil Tambe, Matt Trecha, Radhika Upadhyaya, Rachel Wagner, Patrick Zabawa

Not everyone will or should agree with Kovel's book. Printed by Pluto Press, a Leftist independent publisher based in Britain, "Overcoming Zionism" argues that the ideology of Zionism amounts to "state-sponsored racism," which is incompatible with democracy. The book goes further to say that in order to achieve peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zionism must be rejected in favor of a secular, single-state, democratic solution.

As criticisms of the book surfaced, the University Press balked at defending its reasoning for distributing the book. Instead, last August, the press's director, Phil Pochoda, decided to halt distribution, simply citing "serious questions raised by several members of the University community about the book." In other words, some people objected to a controversial book, and the press, rather than defending the principles it exists to serve, simply backed down.

There is no doubt that some people will have objections to Kovel's contentions, but is there any reason besides complacency and cowardice that those contentions should not be presented into the debate? The book has received its fair share of support, too - from historian Howard Zinn, for example. While people may not agree with the content of the book, it does add to the debate, and it is exactly the type of book the University Press should print.

A month after stopping distribution of the book, the University Press's executive board actually reviewed the book and decided to resume distribution. However, the controversy surrounding this particular book continued and the University Press considered whether it should continue to distribute books printed by Pluto in the future. While the University Press did ultimately announce its decision to renew its contract with Pluto late last week, it waited several days before releasing its decision, continuing to hide from the controversy

The University Press should have never stopped the distribution of Kovel's book in the first place, and the decision to continue distributing Pluto Press's books should have never been questioned. For all the high-minded defense of academic debate, the true test is what we do under pressure, and the University Press proved unable to live up to its ideal.

When criticisms of this book emerged, the University needed to visibly defend the author's right to make a well-informed but controversial argument. If the University Press feels that a certain book is so hateful that it must be censored, such a decision still should only be made after a careful review like the one in September - not simply by the knee-jerk reaction of any one person. Pochoda should never have been allowed to stop distribution without a reasonable explanation. Why should he be able to work against the values of our institution as a whole? His brash decision may have been a mistake, and it damages our University's reputation as a staunch champion of free and open debate.

If the University Press hopes to uphold its own values and those of the institution it is named for, it will often have to defend controversial books. It can't choose to selectively duck that responsibility.

Editorial Board Members: Emad Ansari, Kevin Bunkley, Ben Caleca, Milly Dick, Mike Eber, Gary Graca, Emmarie Huetteman, Theresa Kennelly, Emily Michels, Robert Soave, Gavin Stern, Jennifer Sussex, Neil Tambe, Matt Trecha, Radhika Upadhyaya, Rachel Wagner, Patrick Zabawa

Thursday, October 25, 2007

SAFE Issues in Michigan Daily

Michigan Daily runs two good letters to the editor on SAFE issue.

White supremacist has no place at MSU

To the Daily:

Nick Griffin, head of the British National Party, will speak today at Michigan State University, upon invitation from the Young Americans for Freedom. The BNP is a white supremacist party known to be racist against all non-white communities in Britain and to have a homophobic and anti Semitic history. In line with its xenophobia, the BNP has become explicitly anti-Muslim in recent years.

The BNP plays into the fears of white British people, pushing for an end to immigration, incentives for immigrants "to return home," denial of housing to immigrant families and denial of refuge to asylum seekers, among other racist agendas. The BNP is a succession of the National Front, which was infamous for inciting riots and hatred in the 1970s and '80s in Great Britain.

As a Muslim woman from Britain who recently spent nine months living and studying in East London (an area that the BNP and National Front have explicitly targeted because of its large Bangladeshi population), I am astonished that the head of the BNP, a leading British hate figure, will be speaking at MSU.

Griffin has a deplorable history of inciting hatred against immigrants in Great Britain. He envisions the country as a racially pure, white country. As history has shown, this is a very dangerous belief.
The British government convicted him in 1998 of inciting racial hatred. He is a well-known Holocaust-denier and a homophobe. He claims to have cleaned up his act, but his words are now just more misleading. The underlying message is the same: Britain is for white Christians. What can he possibly teach MSU students?

Hena Ashraf
LSA senior


Why such a focus on silencing certain speakers?

To the Daily:

Thank you for running an important viewpoint about the University Press's decision to temporarily halt distribution of Joel Kovel's book (Undermining the academic debate, 10/24/2007). People do not understand how far aggressive opponents of academic freedom go to silence any criticism of Israel. Any discussion of the most important foreign policy questions requires real debate.

In the past year alone, people who refuse to tolerate dissenting views have protested in order to silence reputable scholars and world figures, including Prof. John Mearsheimer of Harvard, Prof. Stephen Walt of the University of Chicago, New York University Prof. Tony Judt and even South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu.

They have also attacked Middle East experts and pressured universities to deny them tenure or even to fire them. Enemies of academic freedom successfully pressured DePaul University to deny Norman Finkelstein tenure. They are waging a similar war on Nadia Abu El Haj at Barnard College. Now they want the University of Michigan Press to stop carrying controversial books as well.

With all this pressure to silence critics, one must ask what exactly they are trying to hide.

Ryah Aqel
LSA sophomore


Statement By Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE)

SAFE applauds the University of Michigan Press for deciding to maintain its arrangement with Pluto Press.

Had Pro-Israel pressuring convinced UM Press to drop the contract, critical academic
debate -- which is needed now more than ever -- would have suffered.

UM Press stuck by the best principles of academic freedom, which is increasingly
difficult to uphold in this political climate. An ex-President, leading Political
Science scholars, and even anti-Apartheid legend and Nobel Peace Prize Winner are being attacked for taking positions critical of Israel. All of them -- Jimmy Carter, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and Desmond Tutu -- face smear campaigns and concerted efforts to cancel their speaking engagements, some of which have been canceled.

For too long, recognizing Palestinian suffering and questioning Israel's foundational discrimination were falsely characterized as "hate speech" or, mysteriously, racist against Jews.

The decision by UM Press is an important one given this context. It bolsters the
principle of open debate against those who oppose it, and seek to present Israel, the number one recipient of American aid, as a state beyond critique.

Daily: UM Press Keeps Deal With Pluto Press

'U' Press keeps Pluto contract
Distribution deal was in question because of controversy over British publisher's anti-Israel book

By Andy Kroll, Daily Staff Reporter on 10/25/07

The University of Michigan Press executive committee announced yesterday that it will continue its distribution contract with left-wing British publisher Pluto Press.

A statement released by University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the board unanimously agreed to maintain its contract with the London-based publisher under existing contract terms.

The board plans to develop guidelines for its distribution contracts, keeping in mind "the principle of freedom of expression," the statement said.

Sales of Pluto Press books represented 16 percent -$918,000 - of the University Press's total revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Cunningham said.

Anne Beech, managing director of Pluto Press, praised the University Press for continuing its contract with Pluto, describing the decision as "brave."

"The University itself was quite resolute, and we admire them for that," Beech said. "They really stuck to their guns in this debate."

The debate surrounding the press's contract with Pluto involves its distribution of the book "Overcoming Zionism," written by Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel.

"Overcoming Zionism" argues that Zionism has created an apartheid-like racist state in Israel and that a single, secular, democratic state is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an August newsletter, the Michigan chapter of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us attacked the book and urged members to contact the University Press and question its distribution of the book.

The group described the book as a "collection of anti-Israel propaganda, misquotes and discredited news stories" and a "rambling negation of every aspect of Israeli society."

The University announced in August that the University Press would immediately suspend distribution of the book, stating that "members of the University community" had asked "serious questions" about the book.

In September, the University released a statement saying distribution of the book would resume.

Despite having "deep reservations" about the book, the members of the executive board said that not distributing "Overcoming Zionism" raised both First Amendment and censorship concerns.

At the same time, the board said it would reconsider whether it would renew its existing contract with Pluto when it came up for review in October.

The American Movement for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group, said in a statement that it was "appalled" by the university press's decision to continue its distribution agreement with Pluto.

The statement said that it is unacceptable the University has chosen to associate itself with a book "which attacks the very existence of the State of Israel" and rejects a two-state solution.

"By distributing a factually inaccurate and hateful piece of propaganda, the University of Michigan has discredited its reputation and dishonored its commitment as an honest and intellectual establishment," the statement said.

In an open letter to the public, author and historian Howard Zinn criticized the University for initially withdrawing the book from distribution.

Writing on behalf of the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, Zinn said the University's threat to cancel its contract with Pluto would be a "serious blow to the principles of pluralism, academic freedom and free speech."

He added that the book is a "serious, well researched work" and also a "valuable addition to the growing debate" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kovel said the board's decision to continue the Pluto contract was a "victory" for people concerned about the state of democratic debate in our society. "It's a victory against the efforts of Stand With Us Michigan and, more generally, against the Zionist lobby, to suppress open debate on questions of Israel and Palestine," Kovel said.

Jonathan Calt Harris, director of the Michigan chapter of Stand With Us, could not be reached for comment last night.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Words and Images of Resistance

8 PM
November 7th, 2007
Hussey Room Michigan League


Filmmaker and artist, Jackie Salloum

with special guest, Detroit-based MC, Invincible

Showcasing Palestinian Media-making and Art

Watch exclusive clips from 'SlingShot HipHop,' Salloum's highly-anticipated upcoming feature-length documentary

From jsalloum.org:
Jackie Salloum is a multimedia artist and filmmaker who draws inspiration from the humble perseverance of her family’s struggle in their homeland, Palestine, and as immigrants in the US. Her work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally in art galleries, museums and film festivals.

Things weren’t always this way, though. Born and raised in suburban Michigan, Salloum
learned English in school, speaking only Arabic at home. Feeling forever the foreigner, and with the constant exposure to only negative images of Arabs in the news and Hollywood films, she grew up feeling ashamed of being an Arab. But her feelings soon reversed in her teens...with a twist of candy-coated vengeance.

Salloum began her current project, Slingshot Hip Hop, a feature-length documentary
chronicling the lives of Palestinian rappers in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, in the summer of 2003. During this same period, she completed Planet of the Arabs, a video art critique of Hollywood’s representation of Arabs and Muslims that went on to garner her the "Best Editor" award at the Cinematexas film festival and a 2005 Sundance Film Festival official selection. The anxiously anticipated Slingshot Hip Hop, now in post-production, has already brought the voices of her young subjects to concert audiences in Amsterdam, Ireland, New York City, and San Francisco and to the tens of thousands of people who have watched the trailer on-line.

From myspace.com/invincilana

Invincible is considered a dangerous lyrical warrior whose verses are steeped in
defiance. It is rumored her lab in the microgalaxy known as Detroit, MI, has been the
headquarters for historic metamorphosis with conspirators including her crew Anomolies, Waajeed of bling47/PPP, Wordsworth, the Beatminerz, Lab Techs, Buff1, and Finale. Invincible's latest evolution, and long awaited solo debut: "Shapeshifters", promises to be even more rebelliously appealing to the masses than her previous work.

SPONSORED BY Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE)

Anti-fascist press statement


UM Student Group Alarmed by Hate Speech Promoter’s Invitation

ANN ARBOR, MI – A leading hate figure in Great Britain is invited to speak at Michigan State University. British National Party (BNP) head Nick Griffin will speak at MSU at an event hosted by the student group Young Americans for Freedom, which claims to be a Conservative group, this Friday.

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality are shocked that such a speaker – one heavily protested by anti-fascist groups in Europe – would receive an invitation to speak in this state.

The British National Party is a succession group of the National Front, a fascist group infamous for inciting riots, hatred, and promoting institutionalized racism against all non-whites in Great Britain. Griffin, the current head of the BNP, has a deplorable history of hatred against immigrants in Great Britain.

Andrew Dalack, SAFE’s co-chair, said “the BNP stands in opposition to the values in the fabric of our society. It is xenophobic, explicitly racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic.”

The BBC describes Griffin as such: “He has a controversial past, which includes a 1998 conviction for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust.”

Griffin and his party are quite clear about pushing the vision of Great Britain as a country for straight whites. They propose paying large grants to immigrants to leave Great Britain. They also want to deny many asylum-seekers from seeking refuge there despite the clearly humanitarian necessity.

Michigan Daily Runs Pluto Press Piece

Undermining the academic debate

By Will Youmans on 10/24/07

Just a few years after graduating from the University in 2000, I was sitting in a sunny café typing away madly at what would become my first publication. The editor of an anthology about the state of civil rights for Arabs and Muslims had invited me to contribute a chapter.

After rushing to make my first real deadline, going through the tedious exchange of drafts with editors and reviewing the careful dissection of my footnotes, I reviewed the final proof with relief. In 2004, my first published writing came out in a book titled "Civil Rights in Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims."

Over the years, I've heard from professors and students around the country who say that the book was a valuable and timely resource about an understudied subject. It was the first book to analyze critically the post-Sept. 11 climate for Arab Americans. Graduate students at Georgetown University read the book for a class on Arabs and Muslims in America. Hearing from some of them was very gratifying.

I am proud that the University of Michigan made this book possible - in more ways than one. My University education and the late-night cramming at the UGLi gave me the ability to research and write long papers quickly. More important, the book was published by Pluto Press and distributed nationally by the University of Michigan Press.

The reason I write about this is not just to tell you about one of my proudest moments. It is to share with you the importance of Pluto Press and its current arrangement with the University of Michigan Press.

For the past four years, the University press has distributed Pluto's books, which tend to be critical, current and thought provoking. Many of the books argue viewpoints excluded from the mainstream debate in this country. As the invasion of Iraq illustrates, the result of these lopsided debates is disastrous policy.

Pluto's publications fit perfectly with the University Press's mission to distribute "books that contribute to public understanding and dialogue about contemporary political, social, and cultural issues." The book I wrote a chapter in is a perfect example.

Pluto, an independent publisher based in the United Kingdom, is now under fire for publishing a book suggesting that legalized equality between Palestinians and Israelis is necessary for peace. The book, "Overcoming Zionism," by Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, has caused a backlash because it questions the moral basis for Israel's status as a Jewish state, and because it questions Zionism, the nationalistic movement that defines it as a state for one people.

Supporters of Israel are outraged at Kovel's suggestion that the Jewish state practices "state-sponsored racism," which unjustly prioritizes Israeli Jews over Palestinians. He suggests that a one-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians as equal citizens under the law is the only workable one.

For proposing an imaginative, principled solution aimed at a lasting peace, the attacks against Kovel have been awfully personal and hyperbolic. One blogger called the book "racist hate speech," as if equal coexistence is a hateful concept. The pro-Israel organization that initiated the campaign against Pluto Press implied that Kovel was a self-hating Jew, selectively interpreting his words to show "he is apologetic to his readers for his own Jewishness."

In response to this outside pressure, the University Press's executive board developed "deep reservations" about the book and briefly halted its distribution. Later, the board decided to continue distributing the book, affirming its commitment "to academic freedom and open debate among differing views."

However, now the University press is re-evaluating its 4-year-old contract with Pluto because of the politically motivated backlash against Kovel's book. The press has reached its decision but has yet to reveal it.

Among the supporters of Kovel and his book is the noted historian Howard Zinn. Zinn also supports the publisher: "Pluto is a valuable and unique intellectual resource, publishing progressive books of a consistently high quality." He warned that ending the agreement with Pluto "would be a serious blow to the principles of pluralism, academic freedom and free speech."

These principles are especially important for those with unpopular or marginalized views. The University Press should continue to help the public have access to these views so they can be considered and debated. Sound public policy, as the debacle in Iraq now shows, requires the airing of a broad range of critical views.

Will Youmans is a doctoral student in communications.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SAFE op-ed


The continued Israeli military occupation of the sovereign Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank has brought much despair to the territories’ civilian population over the last 40 years. Although the Gaza Strip and West Bank were technically ruled by Egypt and Jordan respectively prior to 1967, since Israel’s military victory during the Six-Day War, the Palestinians have been the silenced victims of Israeli military violence, social inequality, and apartheid-like practices. More specifically, the Israeli occupation has had devastating effects on Palestinian schoolchildren, adolescents, and college-bound young adults yearning to live a normal life.

On October 3rd, 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Khaled al-Mudallal’s petition to be allowed to leave occupied Gaza in order to return to Britain’s Bradford University. Al-Mudallal, a third-year student at Bradford, had returned to Gaza in June to visit his wife Duaa and was prevented from leaving after fighting broke out between Fatah and Hamas. Because al-Mudallal has been stripped of his right to return to Britain, he will lose his place at Bradford University and will be unable to further pursue his degree. Unfortunately, al-Mudallal’s experience is not unique. No buses have left Gaza since September 6th and nearly 5,000 Palestinians with legitimate work and study visas remain trapped (Independent, October 3rd, 2007).

Israel’s military occupation has had even worse effects on the education of Palestinian children within the territory. Unemployment, rampant poverty, disparity, and the constant threat of violence have set up students from all grades up for failure. UNRWA figures illustrate that in their schools, which cater to Gaza’s 1.1 million person refugee population, the exam failure rate for students in grades fourth through ninth range from 34.9 percent at grade 4 to 61.1 percent at grade 8 (Independent, October 6th, 2007). The failure rate for mathematics is even worse. More than 65 percent of the population between fourth and ninth grades fail math, with a 90 percent failure rate amongst sixth graders (Independent, October 6th, 2007).

As students at an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to protect peoples’ fundamental right to education wherever it is challenged. No matter how one feels about the current situation in the Middle East, there are innocent parties suffering, unable to enjoy the basic rights and liberties that we take for granted. Inadequate education within the territories, specifically Gaza, is only one of the consequences of Israel’s military occupation. Gaza has literally become a 1.4 million person prison, completely cut off from the rest of the Middle East, let alone the world, and completely under Israeli domination. In Gaza, more than 75 percent of the population lives in decrepit refugee camps with inconsistent electricity, gas, and running water. Palestinian politicians are constantly subject to assassination and incarceration, no matter what political party they are affiliated with.

In the West Bank, the situation is further complicated by the presence of nearly 187,000 Israeli settlers. In order to protect and expand established settlements, Israel has placed more than 500 checkpoints throughout the territory that are manned by soldiers with the ability to arbitrarily halt Palestinian movement. In addition, the presence and continued construction of a concrete “separation barrier” throughout Bethlehem and Jerusalem cuts right through privately owned Palestinian land, segregating an impoverished population from a thriving “democracy.”

As the situation continues to worsen throughout the Occupied Territories, one has to wonder: when will the occupation end? When will we acknowledge that military occupation of a largely civilian population is just plain wrong? When will we as a scholarly community condemn Israel’s conduct within the territories? When will today’s Palestinian youth, who have known nothing but violence and death, be freed from the hell that has become their world? For the sake of Khaled al-Mudallal and the rest of the occupied Palestinian population, that time better be soon.

Andrew Dalack
Hena Ashraf

Pluto Press: From the Commissioning Editor

Free speech threat over critical book on Israel
by David Castle
October 11, 2007

A controversy in the United States over a new book from a British publisher has raised questions over free speech on contentious political subjects. Progressive publisher Pluto Press has been attacked by a pro-Israel lobby group, Stand With Us (SWU), by whom it has been described as publishing “anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda”. In particular, SWU have targeted a new book by Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine (OZ), which it claims is “a polemic against Israel” and “laced with contempt for Judaism”.

Pluto Press is distributed in the United States by the University of Michigan Press (UMP), and SWU have claimed that Kovel’s book, and much of Pluto’s list, is of no scholarly merit and therefore unsuitable for distribution by an academic press. SWU and numerous supporters have been pressurising the university to cease their relationship with Pluto, and for a brief period UMP suspended distribution of OZ. UMP are currently re-examining their relationship with Pluto in the wake of SWU’s attack.

Pluto vehemently refutes the accusations made by Stand With Us. Pluto publishes from within many traditions of radical scholarship – Marxist, anarchist, feminist, green, and others – which while often marginalised within the academy, represent vital, critical strands of academic debate. Although their loss might satisfy some on the political right, it would certainly narrow the terms of academic discourse, and weaken intellectual endeavour as a whole. Many prestigious scholars have published with Pluto; Joel Kovel himself is a widely respected radical thinker, author of a classic text of eco-Marxism, The Enemy of Nature, and editor-in-chief of the eminent journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism.

Overcoming Zionism itself is certainly partisan in the sense that it argues that the present Zionist Israeli state is illegitimate and should be replaced by a new, secular democratic state for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Kovel argues his case through a well-documented critique of the history of Zionism and the modern Israeli state. Of course, many will disagree with Kovel’s argument. The question is, is it unscholarly? Kovel argues forcefully for a particular point, and takes a stance in a political conflict – should this be out of bounds for academic writing? The fact is that many academic texts argue unreservedly for certain principles – the benefits of the free market (in Economics), or for flexible working practices (in Management) or for international law based on principles on human rights (in Law). But within today’s political climate, these principles are so widely accepted as to be utterly uncontentious. Kovel’s sin is to argue for something that is not only unpopular, but regarded by many as beyond acceptable discourse.

The reason that Kovel’s argument is so controversial is not for any scholarly reason – the reason is purely political. The pro-Israel lobby is an extremely powerful force in US politics – highly organised, very well funded, with influence in the heart of government – and through persuasion, chastisement and not a little bullying, the lobby has managed to establish in many people’s minds that criticism of Israel and Zionism is no less than anti-Semitism – that is to say, that criticism of the actions of a state and a political ideology is equivalent to an attack and denigration of a whole people. It is a dangerous line of argument, because if extended to any state and people it would mean that criticism of any state other than one’s own should be considered a racist attack. Indeed, in the case of Israel, being Jewish does not seem to give you any more right to be critical of the state that claims to be your homeland, as Kovel himself has found out.

The controversy surrounding Overcoming Zionism is only one example of what happens when an academic crosses the line of acceptable discourse set by the Israeli lobby. Campus Watch, another lobby organisation, is in the business of identifying scholars who are critical of Israel and attempting to discredit them. It is widely accepted that Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, lost his permanent position at De Paul University as a result of pressure from the lobby. There is currently a similar dispute over tenure for Nadia Abu El-Haj, an anthropologist at Barnard College, Columbia University, who has written a book about how archaeology is deployed to support political ends – specifically, to demonstrate the veracity of Israel’s supposed origins in a Biblical past, a claim at the heart of Zionism.

Israel is at the heart of today’s conflicts in the Middle East. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians enrages fellow Muslims across the world, and incites animosity towards both Israel and its main sponsor, the US. If it is not possible to discuss Israel freely within the US, how can the US come to develop a considered and just policy in the Middle East?

In the face of the controversy surrounding Overcoming Zionism, a group of scholars, campaigners and lawyers have established the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, which aims to defend the principle of free speech on debate over Israel. The Committee asks for your support - you can find them at www.codz.org.

Finally, for all that is currently being said about the book, both in favour and against, it is clear that few people have actually read it. I would encourage you to do so, and make up your own mind on what constitutes racism, propaganda and reasoned critique.

David Castle, Commissioning Editor, Pluto Press

Pluto Press: Letter from Will Youmans to UM administration


Students Allied for Freedom and Equality is deeply concerned with recent concerted efforts to limit debate on Israel-Palestine. Some supporters of Israel are trying to limit the venues and forums for critical examination of the situation.

Nationally, this has taken the form of campaigns against the tenure of professors whose scholarship challenges Israel's official claims. Professor Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University. Currently, outside organizations and ideologically-driven faculty are seeking to prevent Nadia Abu El Haj from attaining tenure at Barnard College. Debates and speeches by luminaries such as NYU intellectual Tony Judt, esteemed political science professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, as well as a San Diego concert by the world class Lebanese musician Marcel Khalife, have all faced cancellation due to pressure by those seeking to silence dissent.

Most outrageously a small university in Minnesota briefly canceled a talk by anti-Apartheid hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu because he compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. The school's administrators quickly saw the error of their ways and re-invited him.

It has come to our attention that the University of Michigan Press is now re-considering its distribution deal with Pluto Press, the small, independent publisher of critical scholarship. The precise reason is that those who seek to silence criticism of Israel are deeply opposed to the message of one book, Prof. Joel Kovel's, 'Overcoming Zionism.'

Their response to this book is rooted in a political difference. They see Israel as morally righteous and generally correct in its claims. Kovel argues that the principle of a state for one people forcefully imposed on a land of many people is the essential cause for the conflict. He describes the result as "state-sponsored racism," a view widely felt by Palestinians and many in the world, including prominent South Africans who liken it to apartheid.

The point is that scholars can reach different conclusions about this. Just because one passionate group is unhappy with Kovel's conclusion, it does not mean there is no value to it. If anything, Kovel contributes an alternative framework for peace, the one-state solution. This is a vision increasingly gaining currency among Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

It is exactly views like these that need to enter public discourse. As history has shown, the dominant frameworks Israel supporters prefer have failed to produce anything but more suffering and conflict. Pluto Press is an important resource for new thinking about old problems.

This "controversy" and the effort to limit public access to Pluto Press's catalog is entirely antithetical to the notion of open debate. These pro-Israel advocacy groups should not seek to end this arrangement, they should confront the book's arguments with their own.

Instead of debating, they prefer silencing. It will be a tragic blow to the University's ideals if UM Press bows to this pressure.

Professor Peggy McCracken
Executive Board Chair
University of Michigan Press
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

President Mary Sue Coleman
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Janet A. Weiss Dean of the Rackham Graduate School and Vice Provost
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1070

Teresa A. Sullivan Provost and Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs
3074 Fleming Building
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340

Pluto Press: Michael Smith and Howard Zinn ask you to please help....

Dear Friends,

My friend Joel Kovel's just published book Overcoming Zionism may be suppressed. Indeed, his publisher, Pluto Press, may lose its distribution contract with the University of Michigan Press. Please read the details below and write the University of Michigan people encouraging them to stand up for the free discussion of ideas and not knuckle under to the Israel lobby. Thank you.

The University is supposed to make its decision on October l9th. I am sending you the addresses of the four (4) relevant U Mich people. This is a critical fight since Pluto Press is one of the main progressive publishers in the world (ie. they publish Chomsky) and if they lose their distribution arrangement with U Mich it would be devastating, to them, and to the movement. We can win this one. Please send Howard Zinn's letter out to your lists as well.


Michael Smith

A Message from Howard Zinn on behalf of the Committee for an Open
Discussion of Zionism

Dear Friend:

As you may have heard, in late August of this year, The University of Michigan Press, after receiving a series of complaining and threatening emails and letters from an ultra-Zionist group called StandWithUs, an offshoot of Campus Watch, withdrew from distribution Prof. Joel Kovel?s book Overcoming Zionism, published by Pluto Press in London, United Kingdom. Since then, following numerous protests by fellow academics and scholars, The U. of M. Press Executive Board has restored the book to its distribution listings. But, ominously, the Board has indicated its intention to reconsider its contract with Pluto Press in mid October.

Overcoming Zionism is a serious, well researched work espousing a humanistic resolution. It is a valuable addition to the growing debate, in and out of American academia, that is re-examining long held assumptions about the sources of conflict in the Middle East. It should be discussed - supported or refuted but not suppressed.

But even more serious is the University's threat to cancel its distribution contract with Pluto Press. Pluto is a valuable and unique intellectual resource, publishing progressive books of a consistently high quality. It provides an alternative viewpoint essential to discussion and debate of important social issues, such as those concerning Israel/Palestine and the Middle East. The cancellation of Pluto?s contract with the University would be a serious blow to the principles of pluralism, academic freedom and free speech.

We urge you to add your voice to those of the many professors and authors that have vigorously protested these actions. We ask that you send a letter or, better yet, an email to U. of M. Press Executive Board Chair Peggy McCracken with copies to University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, Dean Janet A Weiss; and Provost Teresa Sullivan, demanding that the University of Michigan Press continue its contract with Pluto Press. Further, we ask that you forward this request for support and suggested support letter to those on any list that you may maintain or have access to.

We attach a sample letter, below, along with email and postal addressees, for your convenience. Please send this immediately, or feel free to compose your own. Time is of the essence so please act quickly.

Thank you for your kind support.

Sincerely, Howard Zinn For the Committee for an Open Discussion of Zionism www.CODZ.org

Please send your letters and emails to:

Professor Peggy McCracken Executive Board Chair University of Michigan Press
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

President Susan Coleman
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Janet A. Weiss Dean of the Rackham Graduate School and Vice Provost
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1070

Teresa A. Sullivan Provost and Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs
3074 Fleming Building
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340


Dear Professor McCracken:

It has come to my attention that The University of Michigan Press has recently withdrawn its distribution of Prof. Joel Kovel's book, Overcoming Zionism and has indicated its intention to review, and perhaps cancel, its distribution contract with the publisher of Prof. Kovel's book, Pluto Press. It is my understanding that these steps were taken immediately following a barrage of complaints from a group called StandWithUs Michigan, an offshoot of the notorious Campus Watch censorship organization. I have heard that distribution of Prof.Kovel's book has been resumed but that the Pluto Press contract remains under a cloud.

Pluto is a valuable intellectual resource, publishing critical and progressive books of consistently high quality. It is a highly respected alternative academic press. Its discontinuation by the U.of M. Press would directly inhibit people?s access to non-mainstream material and would impede critical thought, discussion and debate on important issues, especially those concerning Israel/Palestine and the Middle East.

Further, the University's suspension of its distribution contract with Pluto Press under these circumstances would constitute a flagrant violation of the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech. I strongly protest against any such move. My high regard for the University of Michigan would be seriously diminished if such a suspension took place and it would affect any future relationship I might have with the University.