I’ve been making some cracks about the Stern Gang behind the campaign against Barnard Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj. It appears to be a loose confederation that includes Campus Watch, Frontpagemagazine and Paula Stern, of course. It also includes such pro-Israel wingnuts as Steven Plaut and no doubt others of that sort. When Stern and Campus Watch both protested that her petition had had nothing to do with Campus Watch, I decided to try to trace back the history of the campaign if I could.
While there were negative (and positive) academic reviews of Facts on the Ground going back to 2001, when it was first published, the earliest non-academic article I could find was Hugh Fitzgerald’s sleazefest, Crisis at Columbia: Nadia Abu El-Haj, published simultaneously by Frontpagemagazine and Campus Watch on October 10, 2005. Fitzgerald’s effort is one of a series of Campus Watch hit pieces on Columbia professors deemed to Islam-friendly by these monitors of pro-Israel academic rectitude. So it must be seen as part of a broader campaign originated by the David Project against Columbia’s Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures program.
I’m interested to learn from readers if there are any earlier sources calling for her to be denied tenure. Stern claims that she first learned about the campaign from a fellow Barnard alum who participates with her in an Israeli “list.” I’d like to know how her friend heard about this and when. No doubt, Fitzgerald’s article played some role in inspiring Stern’s campaign.
What is not in question is that the origins of the anti Abu El-Haj campaign lie with right-wing ultra-Israel organizations with a decidedly political, rather than academic agenda. From the research I’ve published here over the past few days, it’s clear that the evidence adduced by them against Abu El-Haj’s work is an intellectual sham that barely conceals an insidious political agenda.
I wanted to also add that I am a Columbia alum, School of General Studies ’75 and have as much of a personal interest in this matter as she does, as I too care about the academic integrity of my alma mater. I took a wonderful political science course with Professor Dalton at Barnard as well. One of the Hugh Fitzgerald hit pieces I mention above is against my School’s dean, Peter Awn.
As an aside, Stern and her other Barnard co-conspirators have threatened, according to the JTA story, to withhold contributions to Barnard if Abu El-Haj gets tenure. Let’s assume they are large donors, which I’m willing to bet is NOT true. But just for the hell of it let’s assume they are. What is the aim of an alumnus donor? Is it to advance the academic interests of their alma mater? Or is it to advance a political agenda? When Daniel Pipes bragged that Brandeis would lose $5 million in donations if it hosted Jimmy Carter, I was incredulous. What donor who really has the best interests of an educational institution at heart would do such a thing? You’re biting off your nose to spite your face. Because Jimmy Carter speaks on campus or Nadia Abu El-Haj gets tenure, you’re willing to deny a student a scholarship or withhold a gift to build a new library or dormitory? Someone will have to explain the logic of this to me because it’s beyond me. And I say this as a former college fundraiser, which perhaps makes me extra senstitive on this subject.
This is the fourth straight posting you have made on this matter, and only the first elicited much comment from your readers. EVERY DAY rockets are falling on Sederot and the western Negev, destroying the lives of the people in that city, forcing them to live now for YEARS under unbearable tensions, since rockets can strike any time of the day or night. People bought houses there years ago in order to help develop a neglected part of the country yet now, if they want to sell there homes and cash in their equity in their homes, they can’t sell them so many have basically lost their life’s net worth. Sharon and Olmert swore after destroying Gush Katif that there would be peace in the area, and when it was apparent that this was a lie (not just a “miscalculation”) they promised to build bomb shelters in the schools. This has not been done, and the parents are frantic since the new school year will open with the children unpredicted. Olmert said recently it is not his responsibility to build shelters for everyone since it will cost BILLIONS of dollars, thus basically telling everyone to flee.
I would appreciate everyone who cares about Israel making their voices heard on this matter, since I view it as at least as important as the tenure of this anti-Israel professor.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, it is. But I think this is an important issue. I spent 12 years on four campuses studying toward a BA, BHL, MA & PhD (in Comp Lit, which I never completed). So what happens on campus is important to me. Academic freedom is important to me. The dangerous influence of the Jewish right on campus is an important issue to me. And as for whether readers comment on a post, that’s not my benchmark for determining whether a post is legitimately newsworthy. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve written which I thought were very important & were greeted with apparent silence by my blog commentariat.
As for the suffering of Sderot, I’ve written here of my great sympathy for their predicament. I’m especially concerned that the government isn’t doing everything it should to protect civilians esp. children.
But the truth is that the suffering of Sderot could be ended relatively easily by the Israeli government if it entered into final status negotiations with the PA & Abu Mazen. Until it does so, Israelis will continue to suffer and die needlessly I’m afraid.
Finally, if this issue is important to you I urge you to create yr own blog and tell the world what you think Israel’s and the Jewish people’s priorities should be. Your priorities are your own and not necessarily mine. I’m content to have you talk here about yr priorities. But my comment section doesn’t really give you much of a bully pulpit.
Paula Stern says
Richard, you continue to show your ignorance – most especially about the Middle East and the situation in Sderot.
If the government were to enter into peace talks with Abu Mazen, you write…gee, since Abu Mazen has NO power in Gaza (Hamas does…see they won “democratic” elections that propelled the terrorist organization into power), negotiating with Abu Mazen would be as much folly as…as…ah yes, as unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip has proven to be.
If you are a man of your word – which I’m seriously doubting here…I’d like to see pictures of you eating two hats – that is what you said you would do…more leftist lies, I expect.
How did my friend hear about the issue with Nadia Abu El Haj…getting closer here, folks. Her daughter is a student at Barnard and is in a related field. She had personal contact with El Haj, read her book, heard about the tenure process and went to her mother…who posted on an Israeli list…not sure why you have to put that in quotes (you might want to go back to college English courses because the quotes was misplaced).
I am not in league with FrontPage Magazine…they published some of my articles a few years back, but generally ignore me and my articles more than anything else. I am not in league with Campus Watch…I didn’t even know they existed until AFTER I’d helped start this campaign to deny El Haj tenure.
And, I will try one more time – see if you can keep up here – I am against El Haj’s personal politics. I find them abhorent, based on hatred and ignorance…BUT…the reason I believe I am justified is not because she is an anti-Semite, not because she hates Israel and will do all in her power to obliterate my country…the reason is because she does not, on the basis of ONE book that was poorly researched, inaccurately documented, and whimsical in its claims and conclusions…deserve tenure at a university such as Barnard/Columbia.
Simple – she wants to play in the big leagues…she has to have the proper credentials. She doesn’t. I couldn’t stand Edward Said’s politics or the way he abused Jewish students in class and the university let him get away with it (much as Joseph Massad does today)…but one could not argue that he was competent. Abu El Haj makes this easy because she isn’t competent. She dismissed proper researching techniques and requirements.
A proper anthropologist will study the facts on the ground, the history, the culture, the archeology…and draw conclusions and write a dissertation. Abu El Haj had a conclusion…and twisted and lied and ignored facts on the ground…to write her highly incompetent Facts on the Ground. For that, she should be denied tenure.
The fact that she would destroy my country and hates my people…for that she deserves my disgust. For her lack of academic standards…she deserves all efforts to get her tenure application denied.
Paula Stern says
And one more comment – the commonly used phrase remains as true today as always…
If the Palestinians lay down their weapons and stop attacking Israel…there would be peace in the Middle East.
If Israel lays down its weapons and stops attacking Palestinians (which it does to prevent further rocket attacks and, unlike most Palestinian attacks are not aimed at civilian populations)…there would be…no Israel in the Middle East.
And one last comment…those who are interested are welcome to visit my blogs. I agree, this blog is not where I would want to spend my time expressing my views – so you are welcome to visit me at:
[ed., links removed, hey Paula, this site isn’t yr personal PR machine. Go promote yrself elsewhere.]
Nice work Paula. I admit I know little about anthropology and less about the tenure process at Universities, but I trust that the committee will make the right decision based on her academic work and not petitions. But it’s good that they know that people are aware of the decisions they make and if she really is not competent it will reflect poorly on their institution if she is given tenure. Unfortunately if she is denied tenure, leftists will try to paint it as them knuckling under to outside pressure (the all-powerful Jewish lobby), like they are trying to do with the horrendous Finklestein.
Richard Silverstein says
If after 4 posts pointing out the intellectual chicanery and mendacity of Stern’s petition you could still make a comment like this then all I can say is you are pathetic. Though we always disagree, I thought you had higher standards than this.
We don’t always disagree. And you’ve done a good job countering some of the criticism against el-Haj’s work. I do not place myself as a judge over el-Haj since I am not qualified to do so nor have I read her book. I haven’t signed either petition and I didn’t attend Columbia university nor am I an anthropologist or an archeologist. I’m sure if el Haj truly deserves tenure, she’ll get it. BUT I congratulate Paula on the work she is doing because I believe that due to her efforts el-Haj’s work will be closely scrutinized and if she doesn’t deserve tenure or her case is borderline, there will be one less person in academia dedicated to delegitimizing me and the home I, and millions of other Jews, have made for ourselves in the land of Israel.
And, I must admit, I don’t understand why you think it’s important if campus watch or frontpage is involved. these are not criminal organiztions.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for explaining yr position. Now, I understand it better.
Campus Watch and Frontpagemagazine are not criminal organizations. But they are unethical, scurrilous and poisonous organizations which are a blight on our intellectual life. Neither Stern nor these groups understand what facts or truth mean. For them, these are merely weapons to be exploited and manipulated in the ongoing battle to against Islam, the enemy of the Jewish people.
As I’ve written here, like you and Stern, I’m neither an anthropologist nor archaelogist (though I have studied & read quite a bit in the field). None of us are qualified to make well-informed judgments about her academic work. But the diff. bet. you and me is that Stern has arrogated that right unto herself. She hasn’t characterized Abu El Haj’s record accurately a single time in her diatribes against her work, yet she feels she has the right to see that tenure is denied. This is chutzpah personified.
Norman Levitt says
First of all, I don’t see in your posting any refutation of the substantive allegations that have been made against el Haj’s book. On the basis of extensive quotations that I have seen, it seems to me that these allegations are irrefutable. Perhaps, as a one-time grad student in Comp Lit, you are more tolerant than I of the postmodern doctrine on which el Haj relies to extenuate her reluctance to deal with hard evidence. For my own part, some of her philosophical mainstays–“postmodern” sociology of scientific knowledge and its champions such as Bloor (and the Edinburgh Strong Programme) and Latour–are old foes of mine, about whom I and friends like Alan Sokal have written frequently and, I’d like to think, effectively. Even were her obsessions of no particular political significance, on this basis alone it would be justified to regard her proposed promotion with horror.
Expanding on this point, postmodernism is both symbol and symptom of an academic world gone somewhat haywire. It is this, rather than right-wing rants, that has induced so many thoughtful and intelligent people to become critics of the univrsity system that, twenty years ago, they would have defended to the death. In too many discip9lines at too many institutions, “scholarship” has become a narrow ideological monoculture, insulated against pertinent criticism by its own conceit and replicating itself endlessly through, among other things, the tenure process, with its craft-guild exclusivity. I have been in academic life for forty years and have observed, with some horror, the growing doctrinal puritanism that afflicts the humanities especially. I am not a conservative in any political sense, and the organizations that you find repellent–Front Page, for instance–are no favorites of mine. I haven’t one good word to say about conservative causes. My politics are those of my grandpa, who became a good Debsian socialist after being chased out of the Ukraine, where he was a loyal member of the Yiddish-language section of the Social Democratic (that is, Bolshevik) party. But the critiques of the academic world trumpeted by David Horowitz and his allies exploit a real debility in the campus left, an inclination to foolish gullibility that blinds the supposed left-wing professoriate to some hard realities governing a hard world. Thus we have the Ward Churchill debacle folowed by the Finkelstein debacle and now by the el Haj debacle (a debacle whether she wins or loses the tenure battle). Why does the left reflexively defend such foolish and knavish people, who are, above all, great raw material for an iconology of left-wing dimwittedness and moral iconsistency? Historically, this may make it easier to understand how Stalin, for instance, was able to command the loyalty of so many well-intentioned American progressives for so long. But it’s no comfort to learn that the same habits of thought, of smug rectitude and impenetrable self-righteousness, are still so well entrenched, if only in defense of the relatively trivial sins of some dismal would-be academics.
Scott MacEachern says
I’m both an archaeologist and an anthropologist (although not a Middle Eastern specialist), so am perhaps semi-qualified to speak to questions of qualifications. Contra Ms. Stern, _Facts on the ground_ has actually been pretty well-received in the anthropological and archaeological community – as one can verify by looking at the reviews of the book in journals within the discipline and by the comments that prominent anthropologists and archaeologists have made about it. Indeed, there’s a notable contingent of archaeologists and anthropologists represented on the on-line petition decrying political interference in Dr. Abu El-Haj’s tenure case.
It’s also notable that she has a publication record beyond that one book, and that she’s developing her work in new directions. One of the most distasteful aspects of this whole controversy has been the attempt to cast her as some sort of raving anti-semite because of her work on genetics and Jewish identity. At this point, genetic analyses are being applied helter-skelter to populations across the globe, often with little understanding of the constitution and boundaries of such populations. Many of these papers have examined Jewish populations and (unsurprisingly given Jewish history over the last three millennia) the genetics of Jewish populations tends to be quite complicated and is sometimes politically fraught- so I fail to see why Dr. Abu El-Haj’s work is being singled out for such abuse. Her paper at the Montreal SAAs a few years ago – which I was present for – included some examination of the Lemba case (where, after all, the genetic complex that is claimed to associate them with Jewish populations is called the ‘Cohen modal haplotype’), and was a really interesting piece of work.
I think that Ms. Stern and her supporters would be far better off by ending this campaign of abuse and vilification, and allowing Barnard to make a decision on Dr. Abu El-Haj’s tenure case on its merits.
Certainly Dr. MacEachern is much more qualified than myself to judge el-Haj’s work. I’m wondering though, has Dr. MacEachern read her book?
Scott MacEachern says
Yes, I have, quite a while before this controversy erupted.
Richard Silverstein says
Jesse Walker, managing editor of Reason Magazine and I have discredited many of those supposedly extensive quotations as either fabrications or wrenched out of context. You ought to take a few minutes & find my posts or read Jesse’s post at Reason before you decide what is refutable. Perhaps it is you who has been hoodwinked by ideologues posing as academic specialists.
And you are, I suppose an archaeologist or anthropologist with some special knowledge of the subject that affords you the august perch fr. which to make such a judgment??
Which explains yr hatred of “postmodernism.”
You have done a disservice to Finkelstein & Abu El-Haj (please note that this is her full last name) in yoking them with Ward Churchill.
You sound like an otherwise astute & intelligent person. But I’m afraid it is you who have been hoodwinked by the knaves at Frontpagemagazine and Campus Watch who began this campaign in purely political mode with no regard for any academic or scholarly considerations. Have you read the post I wrote yesterday night in which I showed that two of the earliest and most scathing so-called academic reviews of Abu El Haj were written by either employees or allies of Campus Watch who NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED their affiliations in the articles themselves?
Norman Levitt says
I have been aware of el Haj and her work for several years; it doesn’t surprise me that a catfight has flared up over her tenure bid. As for the involvement of various right-wing organizations in the campaign to deny her tenure: if you give people ammunition, can you blame them if they use it?
As to my making a judgment about work that draws its authority from”science studies” of the kind carried out by Bloor, Latour, Collins, Pinch, Jasanof and Fuller, amongst less celebrated figures: Yes, there I do speak with some authority, I think, having been a close student of this kind of would-be scholarship. I might cite my books “Higher Superstition” (with P.R. Gross, 1994), “Prometheus Bedeviled” (1999) and “The Flight from Science and Reason” (ed., with P.R. Gross and M.W. Lewis, as well as a long list of articles in such publications as Skeptic, Free Inquiry, Chronicle of Higher Ed., Academe, and so forth. It is el Haj’s embrace of such work, rather than any particular point about archaeology, that was at the core of my statement. I might also cite my chapter in G. Fagan, “Archaeological Fantasies” (N. Levitt; “The colonization of the past and the pedagogy of the future”) as especially relevant.
Of course, el Haj’s commitment to a rejection of “positivism” is one of the points at issue. First of all, it should be pointed out that, in common with most humanist academics, el Haj seems to have little idea what “positivism” means in the context of 20th century philosophy of science. One should take a look at Mach, Carnap, Schlick, Ayer and Poincare, as well as the debates that arose in the wake of Heisenberg/Schrodinger quantum mechanics, before slinging around this term loosely and usually pejoratively. Most social scientists on the left use it (quite wrongly) to mean a realist metaphysics along with an endorsement of empirical investigations to establish and legitimize theories that usually have an ontological aspect. Despite this erroneous ascription, let’s use the term in the latter sense. Getting down to textual minutiae, defenders of el Haj point out that her remarks about “rejecting positivism” and embracing a laundry list of postmodern critical modalities occur in a description (true or not) of what some contemporary archaeologists are allegedly up to in their theoretical discussions, not a precis of her own philosophy. But the tone of this passage leaves little doubt that she largely approves the stance of these unnamed archaeologists. This is also apparent in her rather sllighting remarks about “empiricism”, which seem congruent with the antipositivism just described. So your correction, while of some interest, doesn’t really get el Haj off the hook. Likewise, her remark that alleged archaeological “facts” are not shaped, in toto, by politics (which seems a non-sequitur in the cited paragraph) doesn’t obliterate the strong possibility that she does believe that such facts are commonly and routinely shaped by political commitments; she seems merely to be offering a minor qualification of the latter view.
But whatever the case with any of this, it doesn’t mitigate el Haj’s carelessness about facts and her willingness to sling slanderous remarks at archaeologists without really checking her facts. The “bulldozer” controversy clearly leaves her in the wrong. So does her endorsement of what amounts to systematic wholesale destruction of valuable archaeological material by Palestinian authorities, a sin far worse than anything she even alleges of Israeli archaeologists. Nor does it compensate for her loose use of unverifiable anecdotes and her avoidance of precise citation. Nor her apparent careless translation of Hebrew. The total picture is one of tendentious and single-minded political motivation running roughshod over scholarly caution. It is not surprising that cultural anthropoligists are eager to cheer her on–their field is now chock-full of similar misdeeds–but archaeologists seem to be far less enthusiastic about her motives and her methods.
On a more general level, there is something very sad about the left’s ill-considered commitment to a whole body of academic folderol. I should have thought that the Sokal Affair made this pretty clear, but the left has a long record of refusing to acknowledge its many lapses of judgment. Even more than the Bourbons, they forget nothing and learn nothing.
Scott MacEachern says
Dr. Levitt has become one of the professional witch-finders of modern North American academia: he sniffs for post-modernism, and when he thinks he detects it he demands that the unfortunate perpetrators be punished. In this case, apparently, this expertise means that he doesn’t actually have to read the work in question, but can depend upon the word of others for assurance that an academic’s work is such that they should be denied tenure. If Dr. Levitt wants to make such claims stick, he should – in the cause of the academic rigour he so strongly upholds – be able to give specific examples from the work that she has done, and not depend quite so blatantly on Patricia Stern (whose chief complaint at this point seems to be that a Palestinian woman dares to critique Israeli archaeology) and the rest of the folks who have attacked Dr. Abu El-Haj.
As an archaeologist, I’m less than impressed by Dr. Levitt’s claim of expertise on the basis of a single chapter in _Archaeological fantasies_: having read that book, it’s striking just how little archaeological background is actually on display in his chapter. As for archaeologists who are supporting Dr. Abu El-Haj, a quick look at the petition in her favour shows people like Sian Jones, Sven Ouzman, Joan Gero, Michael Dietler, Yannis Hamilakis, Joanathan Haas, Bettina Arnold (who had quite a substantial chapter in _Archaeological fantasies_), Carole Crumley… a pretty impressive list of prominent archaeologists, and that only on quick examination. As I’ve noted elsewhere, her book was reasonably well-received in archaeological journals.
It might be a good idea to note that, on the _Chronicle_ web site, Dr. Levitt has dismissed Dr. Abu El-Haj as ‘this baggage’, hopefully to be ‘sent packing’ by Barnard and Columbia. I think that that sneering description (see the OED for ‘baggage’, ‘A worthless good-for nothing woman; a woman of disreputable or immoral life, a strumpet’) is a good a measure of the academic contents of his objections as any.
Richard Silverstein says
You are veering away from the violence done to Abu El Haj by her detractors who claim that that a desciption she writes of the scholarly principles of school of archaelogy is the same as her own perspective. First, I know for a direct personal fact that Abu El Haj does not fully ascribe to this archaelogical school of thought. Second, she is not an archaeologist, therefore attributing views to her which she attributes to archaeologists enters into the realm of intellectual fraud. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to understand the importance of the distinction but I wager you would if someone pulled the same trick on you & mischaracterized your own views on an academic subject.
Apparently, you are one of the few academics working with informants who has never had the problem of wanting to protect the identity of your source from retribution or other repurcussions. I have this problem regularly at this blog & I often shield people’s identity & I completely understand Abu El Haj’s need to do this. BTW, if I were the Univ. of Chicago Press I would’ve made her provide those sources to me & checked out the veracity of the anecdotes just to protect myself. But I’m afraid other academics disagree w. Levitt’s views on this as do I.
You’re just aping Paula Stern and you should be ashamed of yourself since you are far more intelligent & well-schooled than she. You do not get the right to throw around unsubstantiated accusations w/o authenticating them which you have not done here. I have read of but a single Hebrew mistake in her text. Find more before you go slinging around such an accusation.
This coming from someone who regales us with his leftist credentials and red diaper babyhood. Seems you’ve strayed pretty far from the reservation, no?
Norman Levitt says
To MacEachern: To be a professional witch finder means, presumably, getting paid–which, by and large, I haven’t been. I don’t cite my piece in Fagan’s book as evidence of archaeological expertise, of which I have next to none, but for its comments on the manipulation of history as a general practice that takes in all sorts of political factions. I’m aware of Paula Stern’s involvement, but I haven’t done more than glance at her posting, which I only dimly recall. As to her competence i Hebrew, I rely on the comments of some native-speakers who find rather more than one error. More important, however, is el Haj’s inability to distinguish a bulldozer from a backhoe, or to recognize that use of the latter is standard proceedure in modern archaeology, as I am assured by a citation to a textbook on field methods.
As to her ideological and doctrinal commitments: I stand by my contention that el Haj’s citation of supposed preference of some (unnamed and unreferenced) archaeologists (not that this preference has an innate special connection with archaeology) for a laundry list of postmodern and quasi-Marxist dogmas is, in its tone, a favorable citation of this preference–certainly it is not hostile–and tells us a log about her own preferences. On a similar note, in the passage published on the U. of Chicago website, there is a bit of obvious flaunting of Kuhnian jargon (though Kuhn is for some reason uncited) which, again, is not without certain ideological implication (though Kuhn certainly rejected these). As an aside, I also note that in my opinion, the excerpt in question is a prime example of the kind of pseudo-scholarly discourse that demonstrates nothing and goes nowhere in any logical sense, but does throw around lots of catchphrases. Why, for instance, should we regard Israeli archaeology pre-1948 as “pre-paradigmatic” whereas in the 50’s, it becomes “normal science”? Even allowing that these Kuhnian terms of art mean something, no argument is really offered; indeed the case being discused–that of a Yadin/Aharoni debate on dating–shows, if anything, a reluctance to become fully scientific in attitude, in that both debaters accept a priori that the Scriptures are at least roughly correct as a chronicle of history in the 2nd millenium BCE (something that present day Israeli archaeologists scornfully reject).
On a more general note: I certainly do bellieve that the constellation of doctrines and practices best designated, if somewhat reductively, “postmodernism” has diminished the quality of academic thought and, even worse, sabotaged the supposed political aims of the people committed to it. Fashion notwithstanding, I think that gullibility in this regard is good reason for taking a dubious attitude toward a putative scholar’s work. El Haj seems, for instance, to have fallen hard for Bruno Latour, one of the more egregious practitioners of postmodern hocus-pocus, and a terrible guide to the study of the practices of scientists.
To Silverstein: True, in my own work, protecting the anonymity of sources is not a question that arises; differentiable manifolds don’t really give a damn if anyone names them as counterexamples. But el Haj’s practice is much looser than the occassional disguise of a reluctant informant. It depends on the use of casual, overheard remarks that are untraceable. If you’re concerned with ethics, you might ponder the fact that el Haj is not reluctant to name people she wants to attack, but retreats into the vaguest description of the sources who supposedly back her up. In the case of Usserman’s dig, for instance, it shouldn’t have been all that hard to come up with someone who would publicly support her story–but she demurs on this. No problem with naming Usserman, however. I daresay that if you found someone in the National Review, say, using this methodology to attack Hugo Chavez, you would be properly scornful, despite the fact that Chavaez, unlike any archaeologist, wields state power.
I don’t think I’ve strayed that far from the reservation (isn’t that a racist metaphor?) I don’t take any pleasure in the self-inflicted wounds of the left. But one should ask why, despite all the boasting about the power and ultrasophistication of its theories and methodologies, the campus left has been so impotent to prevent bastards like Rove and Delay and Cheney from imposing their agenda on this country. The colleagues you reflexively defend have done little other than to provide convenient targets for the right. They certainly haven’t persuaded many students to turn left; increasingly, those students are bound, hell for leather, to business and management programs, notwithstanding all the Foucault the humanists impose on them.
Scott MacEachern says
Pulling out my copy of _Facts on the ground_, I see a very large number of references that are in Hebrew. If in fact Dr. Abu El-Haj had written this work without knowing Hebrew, it would be entirely obvious and picked up by every reviewer of the book. Perhaps there is ‘more than one’ mistranslation – I would still want to see specifics – but those can occur in any case where one is working on a topic with a background literature in different languages. I would like to know which authors Dr. Levitt can suggest who would be able to work in a literature in English, French, Hebrew and Arabic (at least) without the possibility of any translation errors. I have some sympathy for people confronted with this issue, as the archaeological literature in the area I work in is in English, French and – my greatest difficulty – German. I wonder how many American scholars do archaeology in this area without knowing any Arabic or Hebrew at all – I’ll bet that quite a few of them don’t.
Bulldozers and backhoes are indeed used archaeologically: I’ve worked on site where they have been used myself. They are quite useful in, for example, clearing sterile soils on top of buried cultural horizons. However, their mere use is not what Dr. Abu El-Haj is criticising: on pp. 148-150 of the book, where the topic comes up, she criticises the use of bulldozers _in order to clear post-Roman cultural levels from sites_. This is indeed a far more contentious practice, and would not be tolerated in cases where the over-lying cultural levels were in any way significant (as they certainly are in this case).
One can certainly have varying opinions on the use of different theories in archaeological research. However, if you want to publicly demand that tenure be denied a scholar for intellectual reasons, you have a primary duty to _read_ their work – not short excerpts of it, no dependence on what other people tell you about it. You need to read their work, and you haven’t done so.
On a more general basis – ‘convenient targets for the right’, perhaps. But how should people distinguish your comments on Dr. Abu El-Haj from such right-wing attacks? Were they more informed? More temperate? And we are hardly seeing a desertion of archaeology, at any rate, for business and management programmes: if anything, our challenge is rather the opposite, giving realistic advice to students who want to do archaeology on what they can do with those degrees later on. Whether we’re turning students to the left or not is I think difficult to say – more likely that Biush, Cheney et al are doing that for us..
Norman Levitt says
On bulldozers and backhoes: The work in question used a backhoe to dig an exploratory trench. The idea that it simply cleared away everything above the “Israelite” occupation level is refuted by the fact that the investigators published some finds of a much more recent date from higher levels of this site.
On the other hand, the Waqf certainly did use heavy earth-movers to dig out a space for an underground extension to Al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount, and, in the process, they wrecked quite a bit of archaeologically significant material, dumping it as spoil in an empty lot somewhere and in some cases deliberately breaking it up first. It is moreover well-documented that in PA controlled areas, ancient Judaic sites have been repeatedly destroyed by Palestinian nationalists. El Haj doesn’t seem to find this objectionable.
A backhoe is a hell of a lot different from a bulldozer; if a contractor asked you to supply a backhoe and you turned up with a bulldozer, you’d never hear the end of it. Believe me, i know; I just wasted half an hour watching backhoes at work across the street while trying to flag a cab in a remote corner of NYC.
As for students: the one’s I knew best weren’t all that happy having to sit through calculus an hour and a half at a go–but they really resented the kind of freshman compl class that shoved pseudopolitical horseshit at them all the damn time.
As to who is “right wing” and who is not: not so easy to answer that as you think. For instance, my collaborator Paul Gross, certainly more “conservative” than I, is also co-author with B. Forest of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of ‘Intelligent Design'”, which was the key document in defeating the Christian Right at the Dover, PA ID trial. On the other hand, the social-constructivist science studies guru Steve Fuller, who disdains Kuhn and Latour for not being far enough to the left, turned up at the same trial to testify on behalf of the creationists (not that he succeeded in anything except to shoot them and himself in the foot). Anecdotal evidence–but worth pondering, especially at a time when Palestinian nationalism is dominated by deeply reactionary ideologies while nevertheless being cheered on rather mindlessly by the western left.
Richard Silverstein says
Dear Professor Vitt: I have already corrected this mistake once yet you either didn’t bother to read what I wrote or didn’t care. I guess since Abu El-Haj (her proper last name btw) is merely “baggage” it isn’t worth yr effort to name her properly. Therefore you shall remain Professor Vitt here until you can be bothered to respect people w. their proper name.
Scott MacEachern says
Given that, as you say and as Dr. Abu El-Haj notes as well, the activity in question involved earthmoving equipment in a specific area of the excavations at Jezreel, the publication of post-Roman artefacts from other areas of the site isn’t really relevant. To some degree, this is an argument of semantics – which again seems like a bad reason to deny someone tenure. Bulldozers and backhoes can both be legitimately used, or illegitimately misused, for archaeological excavation in different circumstances. Dr. Ussishkin, in his commentary on the site, says that he used a ‘JCB’ – excavators that can be fitted with backhoes and bulldozer blades, often simultaneously – but that a backhoe was used in the particular excavation in question, and that bulldozers had been used in the same area before excavations commenced. You might note as well that this is connected tof a larger discussion in the book about conflicts between different national teams over excavation techniques in use at this site, and that Dr. Abu el-Haj also talks about the use of bulldozers in construction work in Jerusalem and their effects on antiquities there – a pretty classic cultural heritage management issue.
Overall, allegations that she misused the term ‘bulldozer’ is pretty thin gruel for a denial of tenure. So is a claim that in a book on israeli archaeology she necessarily must cover Palestinian archaeology as well.
Your students may well not like the politics of some of their introductory classes in the humanities (or, for that matter, they might be trying to ingratiate themselves with you – it’s been known to happen)… but that’s not what you were originally talking about. There’s no evidence that I know of that students are abandoning these disciplines for the joys of business or marketing degrees: if anything, people seem to be concerned these days that the social sciences and humanities are _too_ popular with students.
In many cases in the culture wars, trying to infer people’s political stances from their on-line pronouncements can be misleading. My observation wasn’t that you were right-wing, but that your attacks on Nadia Abu El-Haj were similarly intemperate. In any case, here’s another example. Even as the leftie I am, I’m not a fan of identity politics in the academy – perhaps in part because I am a Canadian working in Africanist archaeology. But your last comment brings up another issue: in large part, the animus against Dr. Abu El-Haj seems to involve the fact that a Arab academic – and a woman at that – is daring to critically examine Israeli archaeological practise. Thus Paula Stern, originator of the petition against Dr. Abu El-Haj that you signed: “…if only someone in the Barnard administration would have thought to wonder why a Palestinian woman would write her dissertation on Israeli archeology…” What’s your opinion on identity politics in the academy? Do you think that Palestinian academics should be able to examine Israeli archaeology, or is that something that should be left to Israelis themselves?
Norman Levitt says
My apologies for misconstruing Ms. Abu el Haj’s surname.
I agree that the “bulldozer” controversy is a minor matter. But claiming to do philosophy of science and doing it badly is rather another matter. Not having “Facts on the Ground” at hand, I have resorted to the generosity of amazon.com to check into Abu el Haj’s sources on this difficult subject via her index and a look at relevant multi-page excerpts.
First of all, as I suspected, she does thoroughly misunderstand the term “positivism” as used in 20th century philosophy of science (see Abu el Haj, pp. 127-130). She takes it to mean exactly the opposite of what it does mean. Specifically, she identifies “positivism” with a robustly realist ontology (i.e., that science enables us to discover what things really exist, to picture them precisely, and to verify that existence), whereas positivism, especially in its uncompromising operationalist formulation, asserts that science ought to avoid ontological commitments (to such things as electrons, for instance) and that the distinction between the formalism of a science and its observational proceedures should be vigilantly maintained, the constructs of the former not being directly verifiable as “real” by the latter. On this view, science is phenomenological, not metaphysical or ontological. But this gets by Abu el Haj. Then again, it gets by pretty much all the folks who try to do sociology of science in its contemporary form, and indeed, evades lots of scholars who have no formal connection with the study of science but like to throw “positivist” around as a general term of opprobrium. So it’s hard to reprove Abu el Haj specifically for that (or for the parallel sin of failing to recognize that positivism has largely fallen from favor amongst philosophers and scientists alike). But it is highly consistent with the further fact that her entire schooling in “philosophy of science” comes from rather dubious sources. According to her index (and some textual references that escaped the index for some reason), she derives her philosophial insights such as they are, from the folowing laundry list of familiar characters:
D. Bloor, M. Callon, L. Daston, D. Haraway, F. Jameson, B. Latour, T. Lenoir, A. Pickering, H. Collins, S. Schaffer, S. Shapin, S. Traweek
(in other words, from hard-core social constructivists). She also references Kuhn, of course, but one must assume that her understanding of Kuhn is refracted by heavy social constructivist bias. For the most part, flaunting these names won’t by you much respect in a good philosophy department, especially amongst the guys who do hard-core philosophy of science.
For my money (and, via one son and one daughter, I’ve forked over quite a bit of the stuff to Barnard and Columbia), “scholarship” done on this basis is pretty strong evidence of mediocrity and worse, quite independent of whatever political proclivities are on display. Supposedly first-rate institutions like Columbia should not be indulging this fourth-rate stuff (although, sadly, it has in recent years done far worse things, in both hiring and firing, than the prospective tenuring of Abu el Haj).
Scott MacEachern says
Norman Levitt: OK, but note how far you’ve now moved in your charges against Dr. Abu El-Haj: instead of academic misconduct, you’re now saying that she (and a lot of other scholars) misunderstand the term ‘positivism’. Well, fair enough: you are much better qualified to speak to that issue than I am. But this is de facto a charge against a school of academic thought that you disagree with, not against Dr. Abu El-Haj as an individual, and I must wonder why the vehemence of your objection in this particular case. Or do you try to give every up-and-coming social constructivist fired? You should note as well that that question is not even the central one in the three-page section you noted, and the references to the other researchers you mention are pretty brief – Latour and the lab, for example, are noted on p. 12 and then we move directly into a consideration of the practise of excavation.
From my point of view, archaeological theory has to be particularly concerned with how structures of understanding of the past are constructed, both generally (given for example the central role of modern analogies in virtually all archaeological interpretation) and in the specific modern contexts where the acceptance of a particular view of the past can have all kinds of political and social consequences. If the construction of a past was ever going to be fought over, it would be in Israel and Palestine. That doesn’t make that past entirely constructed and artificial, in my opinion (and in Abu El-Haj’s), but it does mean that this kind of examination of the cultural politics of archaeology is important.
Norman Levitt says
Sorry to puncture the balloon, but I don’t think archaeology has that much cultural influence. To put it another way, von Daniken and the Atlantis nuts probably have a helluva lot more than any serious archaeologists.
I do have serious questions about ethical standards, but concentrated in my last post on her scholarly standards, especially with respect to philosophical and methodological issues. Take a look at her index and references; can you find among them anyone who is NOT, within a broad but reasonably well-justified meaning of the term, postmodernist?
My feeling about the question of who should be hired/tenured is based on the obvious fact that for every social constructivist who gets a job, there are a dozen other more sensible people who are out in the cold. The academy has a nasty way of protecting and advancing little cults that manage to get a foothold. Appeals to the solidarity of the left pop up when some adherent gets into hot water; given the degeneracy of the current left, its people turn into cheerleaders on cue. So: yes, I would like to see some more rigorous intellectual policing of the whole hiring/tenuring process, even if it gets peoples backs up. That’s the way the Institute for Advanced Study, for instance, was saved from disaster on a couple of occassions, despite the fact that Clifford Geertz howled in outrage.
Might I ask what you had to say about witch-hunts when Napoleon Chagnon was being hounded? Or when E.O. Wilson was getting it in the neck for having the temerity to write “Human Sociobiology’? Or when Elizabeth Loftus was effectively chased from U. of Washington (though she landed on her feet at UCSD–she’s too good and too important a figure not to be sanpped up by someone.). And what do you think about the B.J. Bailey case that’s recently erupted? And, as I have previously alluded to, I know of one case at Columbia where an extremely good and productive scholar in a largely apolitical field was denied tenure at the last minute precisely bercause he was apolitical whereas Columbia’s head honcho in a closely-related field (essentially the same area of research under a diffferent deparmental aegis) was determined to politicize everything in sight and couldn’t abide the cadidates lack of enthusiasm for this project. Sorry if I don’t give names, dates, and sources for this–but then, I’m essentially adopting Abu el Haj’s methodology here, frankly deferring to the fact that the scholar in question never wanted to make a fuss about the way he was screwed.
I’m merely pointing out that the left is very selective in defending “academic freedom” (as is the right).
All of these are cases where the “left”, in some inclusive sense, conducted a vendetta against a well-reputed scholar whose ideas it resented.
I don’t think academic freedom is at stake in the Abu el Haj case, not nearly so much as the issue of scholarly merit as against political fashion. That’s why I bring up the question of “positivism” so obsessively. What would you think of a Chem department that hired someone who didn’t know what an ionic bond is? Or a math dept. that hired someone who taught differential calculus on the basis of ratios of infinitesimals, a la Leibniz (without using Conway’s Surreal Numbers or anything like that)? So how can you tenure a scholar who cites as her central concern the epistemoloogy of a twentieth-century scientific field when she has no idea what “positivism” means?
Scott MacEachern says
You’re not really qualified to talk about the cultural influence of archaeology: best to leave that to the experts. This and other such cases illustrate the significance that people place on interpretations of the past, in large part because of what that means for the present. You managed to notice the Kennewick case in _Archaeological fantasies_, as just one example, although characteristically you treated that case simply as an example of the misguided nature of Indian views about the past. You completely missed the whole looniness about ‘Caucasoid settlement’ associated with that discovery… which allowed some cracks about multiculturalism and kept the pseudoarchaeology safely focused on those deluded women and minorities.
I was in high school when Wilson published _Sociobiology_, so wasn’t really in a position to comment at the time, but did support Chagnon during that controversy, both online and in teaching, although I don’t have much use for his work. Same with Philippe Rushton, for example, of whom (you may remember from some years ago) I think far less than Chagnon. But just why exactly would you think yourself in any position to judge me on that issue, given your contempt for tenure and for academic freedom under conditions of controversy? You’re the one, after all, trying to get Dr. Abu El-Haj fired. You want to have people of your own views running things, so that you won’t be bothered by utterances you disagree with – presumably with Daniel Pipes providing local oversight for Middle Eastern Studies.
If you can identify to me this vast majority of ‘more sensible people’ left out in the cold (presumably in anthropology and archaeology) because people like Nadia Abu el-Haj gets tenure, I’d be grateful as well. Who are they, exactly? What views do they espouse, and how do those views rebound against them in the tenure search? You’re the positivist here: specificity shouldn’t be too difficult. I entirely accept your account of an individual who got stiffed by a political academic – but you’ll agree that a single anecdote is a poor basis for generalisation for all of the social sciences. I appreciate that you’ve come quite a distance from merely dismissing Dr. Abu el-Haj as ‘baggag’e, but it’s hardly that she has ‘no idea what positivism is’: she may be defining it in ways that you think erroneous, but your own posts indicate that similar definitions are quite widespread.
In general, as an archaeologist I would tread carefully in telling chemistry or math departments who they should hire, and what their applicants should believe. I’m really not an expert in those fields, you see – as you are not in anthropology or archaeology. That wouldn’t prevent me from commenting on the topic, but it would make me think twice about clamouring for a denial of tenure without familiarising myself with the applicant in question’s work, or relying on the inaccurate testimony of bigots and reactionaries.
Richard Silverstein says
“Degeneracy?” That’s a tad too strong a word, don’t you think? Is this a moral battle for you or an intellectual one? I’d like to keep moralism out of the debate if possible since it always muddies the waters. No one here’s calling you degenerate so I’d prefer you return the favor.
Norman Levitt says
Just who the hell is supposed to be an “expert” in the cultural influence of archaeology? Surely you don’t mean to suggest that archaeologists automatically have that status? The first people I would ask, frankly, are the antiquities dealers and the tombaroli, although they’re obviously dealing with a narrow spectrum of the culture, i.e., people with a lot of dough.
As to K-man, “caucasoid” is a technical term in physical anthropology used by the first expert to take a look at the skeleton, Jim Chatters, who observed that the skull was more caucasoid than was consistent with identification as “native American.” So far as I know, nothing contradicts this assessment, although more extensive examination of this and other very ancient N. American remains suggests that the closest modern affiliate population is the Ainu aborigines of northern Japan. This also suggests that the most likely origin for this ancient population was Southeast Asia, rather than Siberia–which raises very interesting questions. Of course, it has recently been plausibly, if not convincingly, suggested that the “Clovis” people actually derived from Solutrean Europe–but that’s another question, so far as is known. In sum, there was nothing in the least “loony” about the original “caucasoid” assessment; the fact that some white-spremicist idiots took it up withut understanding it in the least is simply not relevant. Then again, neither is the opinion school of thought by the tribal chauvinists who tried to claim the K-Man remains (or, sad to say, that of the PC ethnologists who egged them on.)
I’m glad you defend the free-speech rights of both Chagnon and Rushton, though your mention of both in the same breath suggests that the former is an ideological clone of the latter, which seems near-libelous to me. It would be more interesting to compare Chagnon with Abu el Haj, simply in terms of the hard work and outright hardship necessary to produce their respective work. In my opinion, the latter invested no more effort than the average journalist reporting from the region–that is, not negligible, but hardly Herculean.
The people I mentioned as being out in the cold are experts in philosophy and history of science and related epistemological questions. They are either unemployed or at provincial institutions where they’re stuck with four-course loads and the like. Certainly not the kind of folks “columbia” would suddenly decide to take under its wing. But they haven’t Abu el Haj’s double barreled advantage of being both theoretically and politically fashionable, as such things appear to a Cult. Anth. dept. in the current lamentable state of academic culture.
I won’t name these people because they have enough problems as it is.
The fact that definitions of positivism “similar to abu el Haj’s” are widespread within a certain segment of the academic community is, of course, a damning fact about universities and intellectual fashion, and probably taints the people who want to give the woman tenure. I published an article that touches somewhat on the origins of this confusion in “Free Inquiry” some years ago; basically, my thesis is that it is rooted in the bitter quarrel between the Wienerkreis logical positivists (Carnap, Schlick, etc.) and mostly German social philosophers of a Marxist bent (Adorno, the Frankfurt School, et al.) Be that as it may, nobody has the slightest right to call him or herself an expert on the epistemology of science without grasping something that is made quite plain to any freshman in an introductory survey of philosophy course. (In my pre-freshman summer, I had to read “Language, Truth, and Logic” along with all the other entering freshmen; I hope the spirit of those times returns, but I am not optimistic.)
I think we can agree (for once) that Daniel Pipes belongs in a loony bin. I subscribe to his list merely for the grim sadistic pleasure of watching him rant. But he is shrewd enough to exploit a fact of which you seem unaware: Whenever the dust settles on one of these fractious academic disputes about the Israel/Palestine problem, and one looks around to see who has benefitted concretely, it always turns out, irrespective of who “wins” or “loses” the issue itself, that the sole real beneficiary is the Israeli right–the settlers, the blackhats, the Greater Israel irredentists, and so forth. It’s never the Palestinians, whose problems are much to deep to be touched by these frivolities, still less the Israeli left, which once more is put on the defensive with the argument the “the goyim are out to get us, no matter what we do”. I only wish leftists in this country would try a little “cui bono?” gedankenexperiment before they plunge into these brouhahas. But then (pace Silverstein), that would require a “nondegenerate” left.
Richard Silverstein says
I may not be able to argue with you on critical theory & other scholarly issues unique to your fields, but in talking about the subject above I am in my element. You are entirely wrong in yr assessment. The reason this blog exists, the reason progressive Jews are pressing issues like Nadia Abu El Haj, or Debbie Almontaser, or Joseph Massad, or Rashid Khalidi, or Walt-Mearsheimer is that opening up debate on these issues is a good thing that benefits everyone including the Palestinians. The pro Israel loony right must be fought tooth and nail on every point if we are ever to truly open debate in the Amer. Jewish community about how to attain I-P peace.
I care not a whit when I hear Israeli apologists say “the goyim are out to get us no matter what we do.” These statements are excuses anyway allowing them to retreat to moral or political choices they would make anyway even if there were no goyim at all in the world who could get us.
If you think that Nadia Abu El Haj getting tenure means Campus Watch or Daniel Pipes or extremist settlers win anything (except points among their own narrow band of followers), you are sorely mistaken. Pipes is a toxin running through our Jewish system. When we fight against him & he loses it drains a bit of the toxin out of the system. If we fight against him & he wins or if we refuse to acknowledge he is a toxin and do not fight him then the toxin will rise & eventually overwhelm us.
Norman Levitt says
I have fallen into the habit of reading Ha’aretz online daily, including the various op-ed pieces and voluminous responses thereto. It persuades me that I am right on this issue far more than your argument persuades me that I’m wrong. Sorry to say it, but in this context, the left has been a godsend to the right.
With that, I withdraw from this forum.
Richard Silverstein says
I too read Haaretz online daily. Perhaps you’ve been reading too much of the hate in the Talkback sections of Haaretz, Jpost, etc. If you let those determine what you view as political reality I can see how you’d come up w. the twisted perspective you have on this subject.
Norman Levitt says
I apologize for showing up again, having given notice that I intnded to get off your backs with respect to this thread. But I can’t resist pointing out that one of my hypotheses expouned briefly above–viz,, that the pathological silliness of the American academic left over the past couple of decades is due, in some measure, to the influence of the Frankfurt School–also occurs in William Gibson’s new novel, “Spook Country”, where it issues from the mouth of the character Brown (pp. 126-127). You will be happy to note that Brown is clearly a bad guy.
What can I say?