The long, arduous journey of Nadia Abu El-Haj, Barnard professor of anthropology, to tenure is finally over. The Columbia administration has approved Barnard’s recommendation and she will become tenured faculty on approval of both institutions’ boards of trustees. Thanks to Sol Salbe for noting the JTA report on this from earlier today. However, a Jewish journalist friend of mine has pointed out a typical JTA error in the copy for the story:
El-Haj is the author of “Facts on the Ground,” a book that attacks the Israeli archaeological establishment for fabricating material used to legitimize Israeli policies.
My friend called this sentence:
a complete and utter distortion of the book, which, of course, the journalist, whoever he/she might be, has not read. What he/she has read is Paula Stern’s petition or Gabrielle Berkner’s New York Sun story. On deadline, people [just] WRITE STUFF. It’s a pity The Sun gets to set the template.
It would have been much more precise to say that Abu El Haj’s book attacks the Israeli archaeological establishment for fabricating ideas used to legitimate Israel’s national identity. She has never accused Israeli archaeologists of fabricating materials or evidence.
I should add that even the notorious neocon NY Sun got the story basically right this time (though of course they refused to include an interview with anyone defending Abu El Haj’s views). They call her:
A Barnard College professor who argues in her scholarly work that archeological evidence has been manipulated to justify the existence of a modern Jewish state…
In the book, Ms. Abu El-Haj, who is a Palestinian Arab, writes that Israeli archaeologists use their research to further an origin myth about the homeland of the Jewish people.
There are two issues here. First, the academic issue: Columbia, in granting her tenure has reaffirmed its commitment to considering tenure and advancement decisions based on a scholar’s academic record and free from political interference. In this regard, the decision arrived at was the only one Columbia could’ve made if it wanted its academic reputation to be intact.
Second, is the political issue. Campus Watch, Frontpagemagazine, the David Project and their allies among Barnard alumni who campaigned against Abu El-Haj have lost this round. I say round because to them this clearly is a never-ending ideological war. No doubt they will be back when the Barnard professor publishes her next research into Jewish genetics and genealogy. No doubt they will be trolling for the next Abu El Haj to whom they can take an ax. But the good news is that they have been stopped here. Academia finally said to them: here and no farther.
JTA describes Columbia’s statement:
[It] said El-Haj had passed the college’s “rigorous” tenure process and expressed confidence in her ability to contribute to scholarship and learning at Barnard.
“Tenure, together with the norms of academic freedom that pertain to all faculty, gives scholars the liberty to advance ideas, regardless of their political impact, so that their work may be openly debated and play a critical role in shaping knowledge in the scholar’s academic field,” the statement said.
There will be a temptation by the Foxmans of the Jewish world to pile on Columbia. I hope they resist the inclination. But if they don’t we will be there to call them for their cynical manipulations of issues like academic freedom and anti-Semitism.
It’s both instructive and entertaining to read Paula Stern’s delusional ramblings on the defeat of her campaign against the Barnard anthropologist. Poor Nadia is likened to those who have hung nooses and swastikas lately on the doors of other Columbia professors:
This is a warning to Jewish students at Barnard and Columbia – you will now have one more professor to avoid, one more purveyor of hate in your ranks. Already the lowest forms of life are crawling out amid the ivy. A swastika was painted on a door of a Jewish professor at Columbia, a noose on the door of a black professor, more swastikas in other places – think you that there is no connection?
Barnard president Judith Shapiro comes in for her share of opprobrium:
Shapiro can have little doubt that many will remember her for the seeds she planted long after she is gone from Barnard. These are the seeds of hatred and racism.
Here Stern acknowledges that she took a Columbia course from one of the great Zionist teachers of the 20th century:
While at Columbia, I took an amazing class, the History of Zionism, with Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. It was an enlightening class by a brilliant man. He put forth the idea that you should not fight a battle unless you know you can win. To lose, he told us, is to damage yourself more. Better not to fight at all.
I disagreed then, and I disagree now. You fight evil. You fight injustice. Even knowing you will likely lose – you fight it so that the next time, the fight will be easier and perhaps in the next battle, those who fought against evil will triumph.
She of course distorts Hertzberg’s views as she has distorted Abu El Haj’s. Hertzberg was one of the great fighters against evil and injustice. In fact, he was one of the most principled and vociferous Zionist doves regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict precisely because he understood the injustice done to Palestinians in creating the Jewish state. He would doubtless stand aghast at the views and behavior of his former student, if not disown her.
Here Stern lumps together those of us who supported Abu El Haj’s tenure bid with the big bad anti-Semit’n:
The anti-Semites think they have won – and they are painting their glory across the campus with swastikas. This too is a sign that Columbia has lost its way.
Should anyone need proof that Stern has taken leave of her senses, read this:
Though our hearts are heavy, victory goes to those who fought a good fight, a clean fight, an honest one.
Sure, if you leave out the lies, distortions and fabrications it was one helluva good, clean, honest fight.
Here is more of Stern’s ‘clean, honest’ lies:
As for El Haj, let her be warned – the fight will continue to be waged. She can deny Israel’s right to exist all that she wishes and attempt to rewrite Israel’s history
Stern never provided a single example during her entire campaign of Abu El Haj “denying Israel’s right to exist.”
Finally, I would add that for those who disagree with Abu El Haj in a principled way there is the time-honored tradition of academic debate in the world of ideas. I urge them to follow her work; critique it; argue with it; don’t accept it at face value. But do so while remaining true to the standards of evidence and debate. Read her work. Quote it properly. Marshal counter-evidence. Publicize your findings. But do not smear; do not lie; do not use intellectual short cuts.
There will no doubt be calls to boycott Columbia’s fundraising program by alumni. I urge Columbia alumni (like myself) to contribute to Columbia and Barnard even more than you have in the past. Show the Daniel Pipes, Paula Sterns and Diana Muirs of the world that for every chnyuk who boycotts Columbia another one of us will step forward to take their place.