Recently, I waded into the Campus Watch campaign against Nadia Abu El-Haj, who is seeking tenure at Barnard College. Since 2005, pro-Israel academics, Campus Watch and Frontpagemagazine have been calling for her head. I was helped in my research into the Jewish neocon campaign by several academics who found the tactics of Abu El-Haj’s opponents to be odious. Scott MacEachern, in particular, made me aware that Alexander Joffe wrote the first bitterly negative academic review in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, which was published in 2005. MacEachern pointed out that at the time of publication Joffe was the director of Campus Watch. I asked in my blog why neither the Journal nor Joffe saw fit to mention this affiliation, which created a clear conflict of interest considering Campus Watch’s harsh, ideological campaign against her tenure.
Today, Joffe replied to my charges and apparently he’s oblivious to any ethical issue:
I wrote and submitted the review in question in 2003, and began working for MEF [Middle East Forum–a Daniel Pipes group related to Campus Watch] a year later. It appeared in the journal in 2005.
My assessment of the book has nothing whatsoever to do with politics and everything to do with scholarship. This should be evident to those who have actually read the review.
The issue is not institutional affiliation, identity, or demanding that editors change lines in pieces that have gone to press. it is the content and coherent of the critique.
So his answer is essentially, I wrote the review before working for Campus Watch, therefore I’m home free. The fact that he was working for Campus Watch WHEN it was first published doesn’t faze him in the least. And the fact that Campus Watch’s campaign against Abu El-Haj was anything but “scholarly” also doesn’t phase him. In his world, you can lead a bifurcated existence as director of an ideologically driven propaganda outfit while also being a dispassionate scholar.
I replied thus to this e mail:
You were intellectually & politically dishonest in not reporting yr affiliation to the publication & asking them to note it so that readers could put into context your vested interest in trashing her work.
And by the way, how did Campus Watch come to be interested in trashing her work to begin with? Through your own interest in her possibly? And who is the real Hugh Fitzgerald, whose hatchet job on Abu El Haj in Campus Watch & Frontpagemagazine published around the same time your review was published & while you were director?
And any time you ever write about any academic subject on which Campus Watch has campaigned (including attacks on Arab researchers) I will expect you to note your former affiliation and if you do not I will do my best to ensure it is noted for you. I will also circulate this information in the archaeology field among your peers who will have more opportunity than I to monitor your publications.
I didn’t expect Joffe would like reply and he didn’t disappoint:
Fortunately I do not have to satisfy your expectations in any sphere of endeavor, nor append my life history to everything that I write. Writing and analyses stand on their own merits, something which you evidently cannot comprehend– rather than on the presumed politics, identity or motives of the writer. Sadly, academia operates almost exclusively on your principles, and this is another reason I am glad to no longer be wasting my time in that area.
I have some sympathy for those who’ve left academia without fulfilling their ambitions as I’m one of those people myself. But to blame one’s failures or dissatisfaction on the alleged political machinations or vendettas of other scholars seems downright bitter and just plain sad. You’ll also note that Joffe condemns my allegedly poisoned political principles while denying that he has any such principles that might be relevant to what he writes on this subject.
And this, it seems to me, is precisely the subject of Abu El-Haj’s book: that archaeologists like Joffe do their work in a vacuum that ignores the political, national, and historical assumptions they bring to that work. And these assumptions often unconsciously inform their judgments and decisions. But I wouldn’t expect someone as obtuse as Joffe to begin to understand this.
I also note that Joffe did his doctoral disseration under William Dever who, it should be noted, is another one of the archaeologists to call for Barnard to deny Abu El Haj tenure. And where did Prof. Dever make his views known? In the pages of the neocon New York Sun, which served as a willing media conduit for the charges of Campus Watch. Do I detect a unifying theme here?
A commenter notes below that Joffe currently serves as director of research for the David Project, a Jewish ultra-Israel group which also monitors campuses for alleged Islamist hate. The David Project spearheaded the attack on Columbia Arab studies professors like Joseph Massad and Rashid Khalidi. The attacks against Abu El-Haj (who teaches at Columbia-affiliated Barnard College) fit in nicely with the David Project/Campus Watch MO.
She held fellowships at Harvard University’s Academy for International and Area Studies, the University of Pennsylvania Mellon Program, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She is, in addition, a former Fulbright Fellow and a recipient of awards from the SSRC-McArthur Grant in International Peace and Security, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the National Endowment for the Humanities among others. Professor Abu El-Haj has lectured widely at the New York Academy of Sciences, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, the University of Cambridge, the London School of Economics (LSE), and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London