Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Daily covers Kovel event

His book under fire, author speaks at 'U'
Kovel's book started controversy at University Press

By Andy Kroll, Daily Staff Reporter on 11/27/07

Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel spoke at Rackham Amphitheatre last night. Kovel is the author of an anti-Zionist book distributed by the University of Michigan Press that sparked controversy earlier this semester.

Before a capacity crowd at Rackham Amphitheatre last night, Joel Kovel, author of the controversial book published by the University Press "Overcoming Zionism," emphasized the importance of protecting critical voices in discussion involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There is an absolute need for critical voices and not allowing us to succumb to pressures that are trying to stifle open discussion," said Kovel, whose lecture was sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-Palestinian group.

Kovel discussed what he believes is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is also the focus of "Overcoming Zionism", the creation of a single, secular, democratic state.

Although Kovel, who is a professor of social studies at Bard College, said he'd faced significant resistance and intimidation from pro-Israel organizations like Stand With Us regarding his book's message, he told those in attendance that he felt the momentum shifting away from the "oppressive" Zionist groups.

"I think that (Zionist groups) have overreached themselves and got caught up in promoting a hideous war in Iraq and they're paying for it," Kovel said. "The debacle of Iraq may yet prove to be the opening point for a profound reassessment of the Zionist lobby."

The University of Michigan Press currently distributes Kovel's book as part of its distribution contract with the London-based left-wing publisher Pluto Press.

Although the University halted distribution of the book in August, citing "serious questions" raised by "members of the University community," it resumed distribution of the book a month later.

The University Press is currently facing pressure from several pro-Israel groups - including Stand With Us and the Anti-Defamation League - and several members of the University Board of Regents to terminate its distribution contract with Pluto.

Andrew Dalack, co-chair of SAFE, said his organization brought Kovel to speak at the University in order to counter misinformation circulating on campus regarding Kovel's beliefs and the message in "Overcoming Zionism."

"As an organization dedicated to bringing intelligent information on all sides of this conflict to the campus community, we felt his voice was wanted and desired here on campus," Dalack said.

Jonathan Calt Harris, director of the Michigan chapter of Stand With Us, a pro-Israel organization, described Kovel's comments as typical of the anti-Zionist perspective.

Although Kovel received several standing ovations during his lecture, Harris attributed the author's support to an overly sympathetic and anti-Zionist audience.

"I think he got what we all expected, even though there was no real substance in his speech," Harris said. "It was pretty much a rambling narrative - like his book."

Nick Israel, the Midwest campus coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America, said in an e-mail interview that no matter how much support Kovel received at the lecture, the distribution of his book by the University Press directly contradicts the University's commitment to diversity.

"We cannot allow our campus to become a safe haven for what UM Press Director Phil Pachoda characterized as 'hate-speech' when describing Kovel's book," said Israel, who graduated from the University earlier this year.

Naomi Goldberg, a Public Policy School graduate student, said Kovel's lecture was "amazing" and "brave," but she said was disappointed by the actions of some student groups in the audience.

In particular, Goldberg said those University students in attendance wearing "Michigan Zionist" shirts in the University's colors blatantly misrepresents Jewish students at the University who might not be Zionist.

"By wearing these shirts, they're saying you're either on this side with us or you're not," Goldberg said. "They make it appear as if there's no room for discussion."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daily Runs SAFE Statement on Pluto Press

The fight for academic freedom
By: Kamal Abuarquob and Ryah Aqel
Michigan Daily

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality applauds the University of Michigan Press for deciding to maintain its contractual arrangement with Pluto Press. Unfortunately, open academic debate is not valued by all.

The external push against the press by some pro-Israel organizations began with Pluto's publication and the University Press's distribution of Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel's book, "Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine." Though the book proposes a vision for peace, some have unfairly attacked it for the suggestion that Israelis and Palestinians should be treated as equal citizens in a state for both peoples. Kovel will be speaking about his experience in this struggle for open academic debate tonight at 8 p.m. in the 4th floor amphitheater of Rackham Auditorium.

Critical academic debate, which is needed now more than ever, is threatened because institutional supporters of Israel cannot tolerate views critical of Israel's policies and practices. This is antithetical to the mission of the University and its press, which seeks to offer "books that contribute to public understanding and dialogue about contemporary political, social, and cultural issues."

The principles of academic freedom have become increasingly difficult to uphold of late. Nobel Peace Prize-winning former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, leading political science scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as well as Desmond Tutu, the anti-Apartheid legend who also won the Nobel Peace Prize, among others, face baseless accusations of anti-Semitism and bitter criticism and censure for taking positions critical of Israel.

For too long, pro-Israel activists have accused those who recognize Palestinian suffering and question Israel's system of discrimination of "hate speech" or anti-Semitism. The goal is clear: to make criticism of Israel's policies taboo. Nothing could be worse in the academic arena than taboos, especially with regard to important political conflicts and issues central to American foreign policy.

In light of the controversy surrounding Kovel's book, three members of the University Board of Regents - Andrea Fischer Newman (R-Ann Arbor), Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) and Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park) - wrote a letter to the University Press calling on it to drop all distribution deals with non-University affiliated publishers. Such an irresponsible action is appalling. The letter indicates that damage to the University's reputation should be the primary criterion for a decision. However, the regents must be careful not to ignore the true mission of the University in favor of business and public relations.

The decision by the University Press to maintain its contract with Pluto Press is an important one given all the pressure it has faced. It bolsters the principle of open debate against those who oppose it and seek to present Israel as a state beyond critique. The latest offensive by those unwilling to stand by the University Press's decision should be discarded as counterproductive to the University's mission and the responsibilities of the press.

Several pro-Israel organizations - The Anti-Defamation League, Zionist Organization of America and B'nai B'rith International - spoke at a recent regents meeting and urged the board to take action against the University's partnership with Pluto Press. They did not cite directly from Kovel's book, and there is no proof they had even read it.

Instead, the groups critical of the University Press focused on the specter of anti-Semitism. For example, the ADL's regional director cited her organization's study on anti-Semitic attitudes in America. Yet she did not even try to show how Kovel's book is anti-Semitic.

To be sure, anti-Semitism is a problem - as all prejudice is. However, it is being used to broadly attack a book and a publisher who clearly stand for equality. Kovel's book proposes a vision of peace in Israel/Palestine in which Jews and Palestinians are equal. Deeming those sentiments hateful is as disingenuous as calling Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr. anti-White bigots for daring to demand equality in oppressive societies.

Because the statements and letters in the pressure campaign do not substantiate the claim of anti-Semitism with actual analysis, it is safe to conclude that this is a politically motivated campaign aimed at shielding Israel from criticism. The Board of Regents should protect the academic organs of this institution from baseless, political attacks. Otherwise, academic freedom loses.

Kamal Abuarquob is an LSA senior. Ryah Aqel is an LSA sophomore. They are members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ACADEMIC FREEDOM on CAMPUS: Joel Kovel to Speak at UM


An evening with the scholar supporters of Israel sought to silence.

Joel Kovel
Author of "Overcoming Zionism"

8 PM
November 26, 2007

4th floor Auditorium
Rackham Auditorium
University of Michigan

JOEL KOVEL's most recent book was at the center of a controversy involving the University of Michigan. Distribution of his book 'Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic Sate in Israel/Palestine' was temporarily halted after pro-Israel supporters pressured the University of Michigan Press. UM Press than considered ending its deal with the book's publisher, Pluto Press, because of pro-Israel pressure. The UM Press made the right decision in the end, but wavered in its defense of academic debate.

Professor Kovel will discuss the challenges he faced in writing his book and the
political pressure to silence a debate we need more than ever.


For More Information:

The Michigan Daily Editorial supporting Academic Debate

Joel Kovel's website

SPONSORED by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE)

Pro-Israeli Organizations Pushing UM to Drop Progressive Publisher

The UM Press made the right decision to protect academic debate when they resisted Pro-Israel pressure to drop its distribution deal with Pluto Press, a progressive British publisher.

However, pro-Israeli organizations are taking their pressure campaign to the top, to the UM Board of Regents. Three members of the Board of Regentsissued a statement calling on UM Press to cancel its deal with Pluto Press because of the public pressure.

SAFE believes that the University should stand by its values and protect open academic debate, regardless of which states are given critical treatment. If the University backs down to pressure from agenda-driven outsiders, it will be a major loss for the state of academic debate, especially since Pluto Press puts out many books by progressive Palestinian, Israeli, and other voices that do not get heard through the media in this country. Open debate about a critical issue -- Israel's occupation of the Palestinians -- is badly needed.

The following organizations issues letters to the Board of Regents. While their statements focus on the threat of anti-Semitism, they fail to show how Pluto Press furthers it. This is clearly a politically-motivated campaign to silence dissent.

Anti-Defamation League

Zionist Organization of America

Stand With Us

B'nai B'rith International (BBI)

Oped in Ann Arbor News

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Viewpoint by Ilana Weaver: Racism Lives in Ann Arbor

By Ilana Weaver on 11/16/07

Late Saturday night, I was walking up to the ATM on Church Street and South University Avenue, when a SUV full of drunk men yelled at me, "Fuck you, Afghanistan bitch!" I kept walking, ignoring this eloquent comment. They targeted me because I was wearing my keffiyeh, a checkered Palestine solidarity scarf, which is not in any way related to Afghanistan. I'm white and Jewish, yet I still experienced anti-Muslim racism.

When I reached the ATM, I felt something hit my shoulder, possibly a plastic bottle. I turned around to respond and was only met with more belligerent yelling. As I went to write down the car's license plate number, I noticed a police car right behind them. The cops either failed to notice what happened or simply ignored the incident. The SUV full of boys turned off the road, and the police drove off like nothing happened.

Ironically, I had just left an uplifting workshop at the Trotter House called the Arab Community Summit, which was sponsored by Multi Ethnic Student Affairs. The session foretold my experience with the group of drunk men: It was about the prevalence of anti-Arab racism at the University.

In the workshop, a Palestinian student told the story of being silenced and called an extremist in her classes, regardless of the subject, after pro-Israel students realized her heritage and ganged up on her. Another Arab student described sitting in class behind two non-Arab students while they discussed how Israel should kill all Palestinians to make more room for Israel's economy.

Make no mistake: Anti-Arab racism is alive and well in Ann Arbor.

The day after the incident at the ATM, I told a friend about it. In turn, she relayed a story of a friend on campus, a black woman, who was called the n-word while walking down an Ann Arbor street last month.

I am a hip-hop artist and community activist based in Detroit, but I was raised in Ann Arbor. I know from growing up here that this undercurrent of racism is deep, and it goes well beyond anti-Arab hatred.

Beneath Ann Arbor's facade as a liberal safe haven, the police disproportionately criminalize communities of color and poor people. There's a landfill on Ellsworth located across the street from low-income housing. And who can forget the historic moments in 1996 and 1998 when the city allowed the Ku Klux Klan to demonstrate on the roof of City Hall.

So how can these problems be addressed? The following are some of the solutions that were put forward by Arab Summit participants on Nov. 10, as well as students of race-related organizations throughout Ann Arbor:

First, we must speak out. These are only isolated incidents if we let them go undocumented. Second, student organizations should address hate crimes through programs and action. Third, change the race and ethnicity requirement at the University to an anti-oppression requirement. Such a requirement would educate students on how being privileged or harmed by systems of oppression can influence their mentality. This requirement would also support students in figuring out their role in ending racial oppression.

Beyond changes on campus, we must establish truth and reconciliation commissions, modeled after South Africa's post-apartheid resolution process - a process that is now being applied across America in communities that are no longer willing to sweep ongoing injustices under the carpet. Without addressing past wrongs, power dynamics will continue to be asymmetric, and the racial hierarchy will remain unchanged.

Ilana Weaver is an Ann Arbor-raised, Detroit-based emcee and activist.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Daily: 3 regents call on 'U' press to drop distribution deals

Agreement with British publisher under attack over anti-Zionist book

By Andy Kroll, Daily Staff Reporter on 11/16/07

In a letter delivered yesterday to the University of Michigan Press executive committee, three members of the University Board of Regents urged the press to end all distribution agreements with third-party publishers, including London-based publisher Pluto Press.

The University Press's contract with Pluto has been under fire for its distribution of "Overcoming Zionism," a book written by Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel. Some on campus, including the Michigan chapter of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us, claimed the book was anti-Semitic propaganda.

Pluto was originally founded as a socialist press. It publishes dozens of left-wing titles.

University Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R-Ann Arbor) read the letter aloud at yesterday's Board of Regents meeting in the University's Alumni Center.

"We simply assert that the money which the Press receives from distributing Pluto press books is outweighed by the reputational damage to the University from publishing books over which the University faculty or staff has no editorial control," the letter said.

The letter - co-signed by Fischer Newman, Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) and Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park) - responds to the University Press executive committee's decision last month to continue its distribution deal with Pluto.

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

The University Press halted distribution of the book in August, citing "serious questions" raised by "members of the University community," only to resume distribution a month later.

Although copies of Pluto's books distributed by the University Press do not bear the University's logo, the three regents argued in the letter that the University is endangering its reputation by continuing the agreement.

According to the letter, Pluto's revenues made up between 4 and 5 percent of the University's Press's total revenues in the fiscal years 2005, 2006 and 2007 - not enough to warrant the "potential for profound reputational damage."

Although the Board of Regents has the power to terminate all University contracts, the letter states that it chose not to do so out of respect for the University Press's executive board. To terminate a contract, a majority vote on the eight-member board is needed. Only three regents signed the letter.

In an interview after the regents' meeting, Deitch said the rationale for terminating the Pluto contract focuses solely on the University Press's lack of review authority and has nothing to do with issues of free speech.

"The University Press, through its relationship with Pluto Press, has elected to profit from books over which it has no editorial control and which press officials have said that it would never publish based on its own editorial standings," Deitch said. "That being the case, I simply don't think we ought to be in that business."

Several representatives of groups opposed to the University Press' contract with Pluto also voiced their concerns during the public comments of the meeting yesterday about the University's continued relationship with Pluto.

Donald Cohen, the director of the Great Lakes Region of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish service group, said the University Press should reevaluate its contract with Pluto because of the "strong political overtones" of the University's relationship with Pluto.

Cohen cited a July 2004 University Press release that described Pluto as a renowned independent publisher "known for some of the best in critical writing across the social sciences and humanities, with a spotlight on Middle East politics and terrorism."

Betsy Kellman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, said the University was condoning anti-Semitism by continuing to distribute Pluto's books and called for the termination of the Pluto contract.

"You are in a unique position to promote diversity and prevent the furtherance of anti-Semitism and all kinds of bias, rather than further these awful hate-filled references," Kellman said.

Representatives of Pluto Press and the University Press could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

PALESTINE through ART a success

The event last night with Invincible and Jackie Salloum was a resounding success. We filled the room with 110-120 attendees. The event featured live hip-hop music from Israel-American MC, Invincible and Big A, a Lebanese rapper from Dearborn. We witnessed the work of Jackie Salloum, including clips from her upcoming documentary on Palestinian hip-hop.

Here are some pictures from the event:

SAFE members pose with Jackie Salloum and Invincible.

Jackie Salloum and Invincible after the event.

Items for sale to benefit Palestinian women; and Free the P, a hip-hop CD supporting Jackie's documentary.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Event Preview in Michigan Daily - Palestine Through Art

Through hip hop, a different Palestine
Filmmaker Jackie Salloum goes outside of mainstream news to portray Palestine

By Michele Yankson, Daily Arts Writer on 11/7/07

No one, it seems, can really claim hip hop. There is the story of urban malaise: African-American rap artists using the realities of inner-city strife to create lyrics that resonate and inspire, provoke and challenge. But with these elements - that is, the translation of a bleak reality into powerful art - hip hop has the capacity to reach past the boundaries of a single race, culture or country.

In efforts to familiarize the student community with a different perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Students Allies for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) will present "Palestine through Art" at the Michigan League Hussey Room tonight at 8 p.m. The event will showcase art, film and a little-know genre of music, Palestinian hip hop, as a way to enter and expand the minds of its audience.

"We want to show the facts about what's going on in Palestine from a Palestinian perspective, "said Hena Ashraf, a SAFE member and LSA senior. "It goes into essence of what hip hop is about, representing your life and struggles how they really are."

Detroit-based rapper Invincible will appear at the event. Her lyrics, delivered in a bold tenor, are influenced by her experience as a Palestinian living in America. Her music, over tracks that infuse steady hip-hop beats with Arabic vocals and instruments, is a testament to hip hop's increasing universality.

The event's centerpiece is a preview by the filmmaker and multimedia artist Jackie Salloum of excerpts from her upcoming documentary "SlingShot HipHop." The film focuses on the music, lives and sentiments of several Palestinian hip-hop artists living in Palestine.

Much of the West's relationship with Palestine ostensibly comes through dense news coverage and political debate. Salloum, a Farmington Hills native of Palestinian descent, seeks to challenge these purported truths with those untouched by the media's often-distorting lens.

"What triggered my work on Palestine was the killings in Jenin," Salloum said. "I heard a Palestinian rap song (about the killings) on a radio station in New York and realized the strength of hip hop as a way to cross boundaries and inform, as everyone can understand it."

Subjects like Jenin - a refugee camp which, in 2002, was the site of a disputed number of Palestinian deaths - are potentially dangerous territory to align one's art with. Salloum, however, isn't detracted by possible dissent.

"When I first showed my art in class, (my peers) said it was too politically charged and biased," said Salloum, who attended New York University for her graduate studies. "I would always say, 'It's art. It's supposed to be biased!' "

Salloum focuses much of her work on politicized topics with an unconventional approach. Her website (jsalloum.org) showcases many of her multimedia pieces, including her "toys," creations that juxtapose the kitschy with the intense. "Gumball Machine" holds tiny figurines of "Palestinian refugees" with the mantra "Collect All 5 million!" Her "Cateropillar" is a tiny bulldozer in a yellow plastic package that warns "Harmful to Palestinian life" in the lower left corner.

Whatever Salloum's bias, there is much to be said for the tenacity of the hip-hop artists she features in her film. Musicians who went from virtually having no production resources - for example, having to download tracks from the Internet to rap over - to performing to crowds of thousands in Jordan

"I see their music as a powerful form of resistance," Salloum said.

"Palestine through Art" was conceived with the hope to transform Palestinian hip hop from a little-known genre to a lasting art with an indelible message. At its core is the using of one's voice to alter an attitude, expand a mind. In that right, the only claim belongs to the one with the mic.
Palestine Through Art Today at 8 p.m. At the Hussey Room in the Michigan League Free