Thursday, October 18, 2007

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

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