Commentary Magazine

Anti-Semitism, Duke University Press-Approved

AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File

I have written before about Jasbir Puar, professor of women and gender studies at Rutgers University. Puar has lent her scholarly credibility, such as it is, to the claim that Israelis mine the organs of Palestinians for scientific research. In addition, she argues that the Jewish state refrains from slaughtering the Palestinian population because maiming them is crueler, because one can’t exploit dead Palestinians, and because Israelis wish to hog the victim status conferred by genocide for themselves.

In other words, the Jewish State would love to commit genocide, but it is too greedy, cruel, and duplicitous to follow through. This is not so much the blood libel, as the blood libel plus, and it should have earned Puar opprobrium. But instead, many of Puar’s sophistical colleagues defended her, and Duke University Press recently rewarded her by publishing a book that–although it does not, as far as I know, include the explosive organ harvesting claim–otherwise paints Israel as a vampiric regime in the same way Puar has in the past.

The imprimatur of Duke University Press is a help to Puar and the hatred she dispenses. Indeed, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, speaking at a town hall, evidently felt no need to address the Puar’s anti-Semitic assertions in large part because her book “was reviewed independently by scholars around the country. It was then accepted for publication by the Duke University Press, which is a very prominent scholarly press.”

Dr. Barchi should read an op-ed recently published by Peter Reitzes in Durham, North Carolina’s Herald Sun. In it, Reitzes reminds us of Duke University Press’s recent history. Between 2012 and 2015, the press’s official twitter account posted material supporting the academic boycott of Israel using the #bds (boycott, divestment, sanction) hashtag. Some of these tweets can be explained by Duke’s eagerness to publicize the work of pro-BDS author Sarah Schulman, famous for explaining Israel’s gay-friendly policy as a devious plot to burnish its image. Duke has published her work, too, along with that of BDSers like Judith Butler, Fred Moten, and Bruce Robbins. As I noted in 2013, the keepers of the Duke University Press twitter account literally circulated a petition in favor of boycotting Israel.

Although tweets under the #bds hashtag stopped late in 2015, that the press would allow its official account to be used to boost BDS over a period of years lends credence to Reitzes’ case that at least some of the staff members there are anti-Israel partisans. Staff members at publishing houses can have whatever politics they’d like, but they compromise the integrity of their employer when they use its official communications apparatus to push their agendas. They also raise questions about their own professional integrity, a serious matter in a field in which one editor, by carefully choosing external reviewers for a manuscript, can dramatically increase its odds of being published.

Like universities themselves, university presses preserve their credibility by applying, without bias, high standards of scholarship to the texts they publish. As far as I know, Duke has never looked into the Press’s foray into radical anti-Israel politics via its official twitter account. It should. In the meantime, university administrators like Robert Barchi ought to think twice before they hide behind the reputation of a press that has thus far neglected to assure the reading public that it is not—at least in some aspects of its work—a propaganda arm of the BDS movement.

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