Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Pluto Press in Trouble Again? & A Critique of Kovel's Book

Last August, this blog broke the story of the Zionist attack on Pluto Press and the suspension of distribution of Joel Kovel's Overcoming Zionism. The hasbara forces directed their wrath at the leaders of the University of Michigan, an ostensibly public institution, who quickly capitulated at the slightest pressure exerted by what Ha'aretz senior columnist Akiva Eldar calls the "Jewish lobby." According to documents obtained as a result of a FOIA request filed last September, the whole campaign was virtually a one-man operation orchestrated by self-described Christian Zionist Jonathan Calt Harris of StandWithUs/Michigan. Don Cohen of the Great Lakes regional office of the B'nai B'rith and others came late to the party.

Within days of the issue coming to the fore and in the wake of an e-mail campaign, the UM backpedalled a bit and resumed distribution of Kovel's book. As I wrote on September 13, 2007, "The good news is that UM Press is once again selling Overcoming Zionism. The bad news is that more than 550 book titles are still in serious danger of losing their only American distributor." Well, Zionists don't give up easily and it appears they may have achieved their goal of censoring the critical, anti-Zionist voice of Pluto Press. In the last two days, I have gotten two anonymous comments (thanks anonymous tipster(s)) with links to Zionist blogs trumpeting the termination of Pluto's distribution contract with the UM (here and here).

I can't yet confirm the triumphalist reports of these racist supporters of the Zionist thought police but let's recap some of what's happened since last September. At the November 15, 2007, UM Regents meeting, three of the eight Regents--Laurence B. Deitch, Andrea Fischer Newman, and Andrew C. Richner--took the unusual step of speaking out during the public commentary period in opposition to a decision of the University of Michigan Press Faculty Executive Board. Pro-Israel shill Newman read a joint letter to the Executive Board, which read, in part:
We are writing to express our grave disappointment over the decision of the Faculty Executive Board of the University of Michigan Press (the "Press") to continue the Distribution Agreement with Pluto Press. We urge reconsideration of that decision prior to the upcoming November 30 deadline for a termination effective June 30, 2008 ... We note that "The Regents of the University of Michigan" are the contracting party on all University contracts.
As a former UM employee, I can tell you the pay checks of the Faculty Executive Board members also come from the "The Regents of the University of Michigan." The letter specifically mentions Kovel's book and discussed the controversy at some length. It concluded with the bosses telling their underlings how to do what they wanted them to do:
Should your Board elect not to end all of its distribution agreements, we urge that you adopt a policy requiring that the Press only enter into distribution agreements with publishers whose standards of review for publication are no less rigorous than that of the Press itself. Moreover, we insist that the Press itself, or an appropriate scholarly peer review panel, review works of potential authors prior to being accepted for publication to ensure the academic quality, integrity, and contribution of an individual's work.

Thank you for considering these views. We will continue to monitor this situation through the office of the Provost.
Immediately thereafter, at the same meeting, "The Regents heard comments by the following individuals, on the topics indicated: Jonathan Harris, director of StandWithUs-Michigan, Donald Cohen, director, Great Lakes Region, B’nai B’rith International, Betsy Kellman, executive director, Anti-Defamation League, and Nick Israel, alumnus, all on the topic of University of Michigan Pluto Press contract." Apparently, advocates of freedom of thought and expression or Palestinian solidarity were missing in action that day. A UM student group valiantly responded with an op-ed in the student newspaper and the Zionist thought police followed up with a letter to the Regents.

An article published in the January 28, 2008, edition of The Record--the official mouthpiece of the Regents--indicates that the bullies of Zion got their way. Here is the entire text with emphases added:
The executive board of the University of Michigan Press (UMP) has developed a new policy to help guide decisions about distribution of publications from external sources.

The Jan. 18 adoption of the guidelines came about following a controversy over the UMP contract with Pluto Press for distribution of the book "Overcoming Zionism," which critics charged is anti-Israel.

The new policy says UMP "may consider entering into distribution and/or marketing arrangements with other scholarly publishers whose mission is aligned with the mission of U-M Press, and who academic standards and processes of peer review are reasonably similar to those of the U-M Press."

Peggy McCracken, chair of the executive board, says the arrangement with Pluto Press most likely will not meet the criteria in the new policy, but a decision on distribution will have to wait for a review of Pluto's mission, academic standards and peer review processes, to be conducted by the UMP executive board. The current renewable six-month contract with Pluto ends May 31.

UMP stopped distribution of the book temporarily last September in response to a variety of concerns about its content from people inside and outside the University community to give the executive board time to consider them. In October the board decided to resume distribution of the book. A statement at that time from the board said: "While the executive board has deep reservations about 'Overcoming Zionism,' it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis."

During the fall announcement, the board said it would continue to deliberate the matter, including establishing guidelines for distribution agreements that not only would address the Pluto Press contract but others as well. At present, the press distributes works from five outside publishers.
It appears the Executive Board followed the recipe handed to them by Newman et al. to a tee. I've looked at the contract, also obtained last fall via FOIA, and it was to "continue in force ... from year to year unless terminated ... [by] Notice of intent ... given no later than six (6) months prior to the end of the selling season ... (i.e., ... by November 30 for a May 31 termination)". So, if the Record's report is correct then it appears that notice was given shortly after the November Regents meeting. And the Board adopted a policy with which Pluto presumably could not abide. As of this writing, the UM Press, CODZ, and Pluto Press web sites are all silent on the status of the contract.

If Pluto's contract has, in fact, been terminated as outlined above then it would appear that University officials have conspired to violate Article 1, Section 5 of the Michigan Constitution and the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution, in spirit if not in letter. But, hey, if we can invade Iraq for the Jewish state then we can certainly cancel a distribution agreement with a small Lefty, British publisher--this is America after all.

By all appearances, Pluto Press was doing okay with the UM until it published Kovel's book. The bitter irony of all the trouble Pluto has encountered is that Kovel's book--Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine--is itself a Judeocentric, if not Jewish supremacist, tome. I am not prepared to condemn Judeocentrism or any other form of ethnocentrism per se, but in the context of a book about Zionism and Palestine I do think Kovel's Judeocentrism is problemmatic.

For instance, nowhere in its almost 300 pages does one find any acknowledgement that Palestinians began advocating for a single, democratic state in Palestine decades before the Nakba. Nor does Kovel deign to acknowledge the more recent books (pre-dating Kovel) on the one-state solution by Palestinians Mazin Qumsiyeh or Ali Abunimah. The reader is left to marvel at how the one-state solution sprang Kali-like out of the head of Joel Kovel, a very Jewish "non-Jewish Jew" (8).

Actually, Kovel does write of a revival of the one-state solution but he misattributes the idea to the "early, utopian phase of Zionism" (219). I say "misattributes" not merely because he neglects the Palestinian origins of the idea but because I think that Norman Finkelstein, in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, has convincingly shown that the vision of the "utopian phase of Zionism" did not comport with democracy but was always one of Jewish domination of the indigenous Arab people of Palestine. (I have no doubt that Arab authors have said as much and earlier than Finkelstein but American discourse on the subject is, unfortunately, dominated by Jewish voices. In any case, if this were a book rather than a blog post I would make greater effort to find Arab sources.)

Kovel even has the gall to assert that "Jesus was authentically Jewish" (23). At least two Arab friends--one Christian and one Muslim--agreed that they never heard of such a thing until they left the Middle East for the West. Another Arab friend, who was born in the US, says her father taught her Jesus was a practitioner of the Syriani religion. According to Susannah Heschel (no anti-Zionist she), the Western idea that Jesus, an Aramaic-speaking Galilean, was Jewish can be attributed, in part, to another Judeocentric Jew of the 19th century, a German rabbi named Abraham Geiger. But I digress, I'll close with just three more points about the latent Judeocentrism of Joel Kovel's book.

First, Kovel frames his main discussion of the Palestinian right of return in terms of Zionism and Jewish ideology. Al-Awda, the Palestinian right of return coalition, talks about the "fundamental, inalienable, individual and collective rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in Palestine from which they were expelled." By contrast, Dr. Kovel tells us "The Palestinian Right of Return (ROR) is an actively pursued and predictably suppressed strategy with the essential quality that it does not seek to 'smash' Zionism, but overcomes it by dissolving the logic of Jewish exceptionalism and particularity" (236). I'm sorry, but I don't see any of this bit about "Zionism" or "Jewish exceptionalism and particularity" as the "essential quality" of the Palestinian right of return.

Ah, the Marxist says, but what about the dialectic, can't you see it? The post-Marxist replies: Hasn't your poisonous, messianic Marxist ideology done enough harm in the world without you also reducing the very basic Palestinian yearning to go home to a mere foil for the poisonous, messianic ideology of Zionism? Doesn't it evince a kind of Jewish collective egotism to constantly try to define things in terms of what Jews want, do, or think? Let us allow Palestinians to tell us about the "essential quality" of their struggle.

Second, Kovel asserts "The real history [there he goes again with that essentialism] of Zionism has been a working out of the 'invisible hand' that has shaped history toward the end of accumulation and has placed the Anglo-Americans at its helm, their Israeli junior partner by their side, attacking here, spying there, doing the dirty work as needed" (245). By this, Kovel means to shift a lion's share of the guilt for the crimes of Zionism and the Jewish state away from Zionism and Jews. This seems little more than another manifestation of the notion of eternal, innocent Jewish victimhood (to be fair, though, Kovel elsewhere generously makes some allowance for "actual ... wrongdoing by Jews"(24)). It's the imperialist/capitalist/fill-in-the blank devil that made us do it, according to Kovel. His remark on the same page as his invocation of the Smithian "invisible hand" about "the so-called Israel, or Zionist lobby. Not a Jewish lobby as antisemites would have it" is telling and contra Akiva Eldar above.

To be sure, imperialism and capitalism are founts of evil but to discuss the disproportionate role of Jews in the development of the imperialism and capitalism (can you say Rothschild, Schiff, Sassoon, or Disraeli? see e.g. The Jews and Modern Capitalism by Werner Sombart) or, for that matter, communism would, of course, undermine Kovel's premise. And heaven forbid that one should mention that the Soviet bloc uniformly supported the 1947 UN partition resolution, the Soviet Union nearly beat the US in the race to be the first state to officially recognize the Jewish state in 1948, and that the Zionist victory in 1948 was sealed with Czech communist weapons and bullets.

Finally, the most disturbing display of apparent Judeocentrism is Kovel's uncritical affirmation of South Africa as a model for a future unitary state in Palestine. There are twenty-two pages referring to South Africa in the book. Kovel quotes approvingly another Jew: "... the South African Communist leader Joe Slovo insisted on a 'sunset clause' for the new state in which no civil servant (needless to say, white) was to be fired when the ANC took over" (243). On the same page, Kovel continues, "Further, there is no expectation that the authorities of the new state will be exclusively or even predominantly Palestinian." In short, Kovel seems to be advocating the maintenance of the Jewish apartheid bureaucracy and leadership that has oppressed Palestinians for so many decades now.

Some Marxist that Joel Kovel. He doesn't want a thoroughgoing revolution in Palestine, he envisions maintaining key elements of the apartheid status quo. Further, it is inconceivable that Kovel does not know that Whites have maintained a death-dealing stranglehold on the economy of his model--South Africa. Naomi Klein devoted a whole chapter, called "Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa's Constricted Freedom," to the subject in The Shock Doctrine. Now, Klein's book came out in the same year as Kovel's but she is by no means the first or only person to write on this subject yet Kovel has little or nothing to say about the matter. Why is that?

In closing, I don't mean that Overcoming Zionism should not have been published or that Kovel has nothing useful to say but I do think the book was greatly overrated and overhyped. I can see why Zionists went nuts over the book but, frankly, judging a book by how racists respond to it is setting the bar pretty low. Further, I think non-Jewish Palestinian solidarity activists in the US should be much more vigilant about the unhealthy way in which Jews, inadvertently or otherwise, tend to dominate the discourse and set the parameters of discussion about Palestine. There is something perverse about the prominence in the US Palestinian solidarity movement of so many people who identify with the oppressor class, especially when one considers that Jews comprise less than two percent of the US population. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.

Update: Revisiting Pluto & Kovel

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You are linked in this article about Mich. cutting ties to Pluto Press:

VFPDissident is consumed by hate. We do have the tendency to accept lies because they are published. Yet Kovel's book, Carter's Apartheid book are neither fair, balanced, inaccurate, loaded with lies too many to count. Freedom of speech does no mean that one can spread lies. You expect Pluto to weed lies but they promote them. Why? Does it promote peace, coexistence dolution to a bloody conflict? NO, it does not. It promotes anti Semitism. VFPDissident has one plan, a Nazi plan, a Radical Muslim plan, Kill the Jews. There were always Judas like Kovel. They are paid well.
I confess, I. Barr, I hate injustice and dishonesty and I hate it when thugs of the Left, Right, or whatever use state power to censor ideas they dislike and to promote the ideas they do like but I don't think it consumes me.

You clearly don't understand freedom of speech. Setting aside perjury, fraud, etc., which are different matters, American law recognizes defamation as the only type of actionable "lies" and even then "prior restraint" is prohibited.

In any case, the Pluto Press matter is not your typical case of government censorship but it is censorship nonetheless. Will it be actionable I hope so but I doubt it.

As for my "plan," it always amazes me how you Zionists think you can read other people's minds. What you appear to be doing is projecting your own murderous tendencies on to others.

And it is beautifully ironic that you would refer to Joel Kovel, of all people, as a "Judas". I would guess that you are of a Christian background.

I doubt very much that tiny Pluto Press paid Kovel very much although I'm sure that the Zionist-fueled controversy has helped book sales.
Wow, I feel bad for whomever took the time to write this diatribe. Not much of a life for sure. As a supporter of the University of Michigan, I applaud them for breaking ties with the Pluto Press. Hail to the Victors and Hail to those pesky Zionists! haa haa.
this is what i commented at the site:



Ivanhoe writes:

This was a clear example of taxpayers in a democracy saying “we do not want to subsidize one side of a political debate” and taking action to stop it. Nothing more and nothing less.

why is presenting alternative views always called "one side of a political debate"?

how many times do we in this country get bombarded with the pro-zionist slant? AIPAC shoving its hostile propaganda down our throats is fair game, but opposing this policy of turning washington dc into zionist occupied territory is one sided?

Jews need to suppress disent simply because they are afraid to argue the merits. they resort to verbal abuse and intimidation, tools of cowards.

but thanks to the internet, John Q Public is waking up to their deceit and weakness:

As a graduate of the University of Michigan and now a publisher of highly controversial books, I would like to express my disappointment that a great institution with high standards of journalism should yield to pressure from groups that try to block the public from having an opportunity to become aware of sides of an issue. Censorship, especially when related to publications and their distribution, does not belong in any public institution of higher learning--especially one as highly esteemed as the U of Michigan.

Carol Adler, President/CEO
Dandelion Books, LLC
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