STATEMENT OF JOEL KOVEL REGARDING HIS TERMINATION BY BARD COLLEGE
In January, 1988, I was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social
Studies at Bard College. As this was a Presidential appointment outside
the tenure system, I have served under a series of contracts. The last
of these was half-time (one semester on, one off, with half salary and
full benefits year-round), effective from July 1, 2004, to June 30,
2009. On February 7 I received a letter from Michèle Dominy, Dean of the
College, informing me that my contract would not be renewed this July 1
and that I would be moved to emeritus status as of that day. She wrote
that this decision was made by President Botstein, Executive
Vice-President Papadimitriou and herself, in consultation with members
of the Faculty Senate.
This document argues that this termination of service is prejudicial and
motivated neither by intellectual nor pedagogic considerations, but by
political values, principally stemming from differences between myself
and the Bard administration on the issue of Zionism. There is of course
much more to my years at Bard than this, including another controversial
subject, my work on ecosocialism (/The Enemy of Nature/). However, the
evidence shows a pattern of conflict over Zionism only too reminiscent
of innumerable instances in this country in which critics of Israel have
been made to pay, often with their careers, for speaking out. In this
instance the process culminated in a deeply flawed evaluation process
which was used to justify my termination from the faculty.
_A brief chronology_
• 2002. This was the first year I spoke out nationally about Zionism. In
October, my article, “Zionism’s Bad Conscience,” appeared in /Tikkun/.
Three or four weeks later, I was called into President Leon Botstein’s
office, to be told my Hiss Chair was being taken away. Botstein said
that he had nothing to do with the decision, then gratuitously added
that it had not been made because of what I had just published about
Zionism, and hastened to tell me that his views were diametrically
opposed to mine.
• 2003. In January I published a second article in /Tikkun/,
“’Left-Anti-Semitism’ and the Special Status of Israel,” which argued
for a One-State solution to the dilemmas posed by Zionism. A few weeks
later, I received a phone call at home from Dean Dominy, who suggested,
on behalf of Executive Vice-President Dimitri Papadimitriou, that
perhaps it was time for me to retire from Bard. I declined. The result
of this was an evaluation of my work and the inception, in 2004, of the
current half-time contract as “Distinguished Professor.”
• 2006. I finished a draft of /Overcoming Zionism/. In January, while I
was on a Fellowship in South Africa, President Botstein conducted a
concert on campus of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, which he has
directed since 2003. In a stunning departure from traditional concert
practice, this began with the playing of the national anthems of the
United States and Israel, after each of which the audience rose. Except
for a handful of protestors, the event went unnoticed. I regarded it,
however, as paradigmatic of the "special relationship" between the
United States and Israel, one that has conduced to war in Iraq and
massive human rights violations in Israel/Palestine. In December, I
organized a public lecture at Bard (with Mazin Qumsiyeh) to call
attention to this problem. Only one faculty person attended; the rest
were students and community people; and the issue was never taken up on
• 2007. /Overcoming Zionism/ was now on the market, arguing for a
One-State solution (and sharply criticizing, among others, Martin Peretz
for a scurrilous op-ed piece against Rachel Corrie in the /Los Angeles
Times/. Peretz is an official in AIPAC’s foreign policy think-tank, and
at the time a Bard Trustee—though this latter fact was not pointed out
in the book). In August, /Overcoming Zionism/ was attacked by a watchdog
Zionist group, StandWithUs/Michigan, which succeeded in pressuring the
book’s United States distributor, the University of Michigan Press, to
remove it from circulation. An extraordinary outpouring of support (650
letters to U of M) succeeded in reversing this frank episode of
book-burning. I was disturbed, however, by the fact that, with the
exception of two non-tenure track faculty, there was no support from
Bard in response to this egregious violation of the speech rights of a
professor. When I asked President Botstein in an email why this was so,
he replied that he felt I was doing quite well at taking care of myself.
This was irrelevant to the obligation of a college to protect its
faculty from violation of their rights of free expression—all the more
so, a college such as Bard with a carefully honed reputation as a
bastion of academic freedom, and which indeed defines such freedom in
its Faculty Handbook as a "right . . . to search for truth and
understanding without interference and to disseminate his [sic] findings
• 2008. Despite some reservations by the faculty, I was able to teach a
course on Zionism. In my view, and that of most of the students, it was
carried off successfully. Concurrently with this, another evaluation
of my work at Bard was underway. Unlike previous evaluations, in 1996
and 2003, this was unenthusiastic. It was cited by Dean Dominy as
instrumental in the decision to let me go.
_Irregularities in the Evaluation Process_
The evaluation committee included Professor Bruce Chilton, along with
Professors Mark Lambert and Kyle Gann. Professor Chilton is a member of
the Social Studies division, a distinguished theologian, and the campus’
Protestant chaplain. He is also active in Zionist circles, as chair of
the Episcopal–Jewish Relations Committee in the Episcopal Diocese of New
York, and a member of the Executive Committee of Christians for Fair
Witness on the Middle East. In this capacity he campaigns vigorously
against Protestant efforts to promote divestment and sanctions against
the State of Israel. Professor Chilton is particularly antagonistic to
the Palestinian liberation theology movement, Sabeel, and its leader,
Rev. Naim Ateek, also an Episcopal. This places him on the other side of
the divide from myself, who attended a Sabeel Conference in Birmingham,
MI, in October, 2008, as an invited speaker, where I met Rev. Ateek, and
expressed admiration for his position. It should also be observed that
Professor Chilton was active this past January in supporting Israeli
aggression in Gaza. He may be heard on a national radio program on WABC,
“Religion on the Line,” (January 11, 2009) arguing from the Doctrine of
Just War and claiming that it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for
human rights violations—this despite the fact that large numbers of Jews
have been in the forefront of protesting Israeli crimes in Gaza.
Of course, Professor Chilton has the right to his opinion as an academic
and a citizen. Nonetheless, the presence of such a voice on the
committee whose conclusion was instrumental in the decision to remove me
from the Bard faculty is highly dubious. Most definitely, Professor
Chilton should have recused himself from this position. His failure to
do so, combined with the fact that the decision as a whole was made in
context of adversity between myself and the Bard administration, renders
the process of my termination invalid as an instance of what the
College’s Faculty Handbook calls a procedure “designed to evaluate each
faculty member fairly and in good faith.”
I still strove to make my future at Bard the subject of reasonable
negotiation. However, my efforts in this direction were rudely denied by
Dean Dominy’s curt and dismissive letter (at the urging, according to
her, of Vice-President Papadimitriou), which plainly asserted that there
was nothing to talk over and that I was being handed a /fait accompli/.
In view of this I considered myself left with no other option than the
release of this document.
_On the responsibililty of intellectuals_
Bard has effectively crafted for itself an image as a bastion of
progressive thought. Its efforts were crowned with being anointed in
2005 by the /Princeton Review /as the second-most progressive college in
the United States, the journal adding that Bard "puts the 'liberal' in
'liberal arts.'" But “liberal” thought evidently has its limits; and my
work against Zionism has encountered these.
A fundamental principle of mine is that the educator must criticize the
injustices of the world, whether or not this involves him or her in
conflict with the powers that be. The systematic failure of the academy
to do so plays no small role in the perpetuation of injustice and state
violence. In no sphere of political action does this principle apply
more vigorously than with the question of Zionism; and in no country is
this issue more strategically important than in the United States, given
the fact that United States support is necessary for Israel’s behavior.
The worse this behavior, the more strenuous must be the suppression of
criticism. I take the view, then, that Israeli human rights abuses are
deeply engrained in a culture of impunity granted chiefly, though not
exclusively, in the United States—which culture arises from suppression
of debate and open inquiry within those institutions, such as colleges,
whose social role it is to enlighten the public. Therefore, if the world
stands outraged at Israeli aggression in Gaza, it should also be
outraged at institutions in the United States that grant Israel
impunity. In my view, Bard College is one such institution. It has
suppressed critical engagement with Israel and Zionism, and therefore
has enabled abuses such as have occurred and are occurring in Gaza. This
notion is of course, not just descriptive of a place like Bard. It is
also the context within which the critic of such a place and the Zionist
ideology it enables becomes marginalized, and then removed.
For further information: www.codz.org; Joel Kovel, “Overcoming
Impunity,” /The Link/ Jan-March 2009 (www.ameu.org).
To write the Bard administration:
President Leon Botstein <email@example.com.
Executive Vice-President Dimitri Papadimitriou <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Tue, Jan 22, Joel Kovel will discuss his book
Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in
Israel/Palestine-- Coolidge Corner Theater, Boston @7pm
Sponsored by Bostonians for One Democratic State in Israel-Palestine
Prof. Kovel will be introduced by Brookline's own Alice Rothschild, the author of
"Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian
Trauma and Resilience" and cochair of Jewish Voice for Peace
Following his talk there will be a question and answer session for community discussion,
followed by a book signing and, for those of you who would like to
continue the conversation, dinner at Fugaku, 1280 Beacon St at 9pm.
Joel spoke on John Grebe's "Sounds of Dissent" on Saturday, and on
Sherif Fam's "This Week in Palestine", and on David Goodman's "Radio with
a View" yesterday-- and by all accounts I've heard, people appreciated
hearing his ideas--
Joel takes a gentle but firm stance, calling for Justice for the Palestinian
people and a good conscience for those that support Israel. His book discusses
the history of Zionism, and ends with a call for a new state that represents
all of its citizens, with equal rights for all, independant of ethnic background.
For book reviews see www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Zionism
JOEL KOVEL COMES TO BROOKLINE Dennis Fox Column for the Brookline TAB:
Here in Brookline we love controversy. From Town Meeting to the weekly TAB to school classrooms, we disagree publicly, and usually respectfully enough, about issues large and small -- parking rules and sidewalk snow, high-stakes testing and racial profiling, presidential power and the war in Iraq. Next Tuesday, though, the town's tolerance will be tested when Joel Kovel challenges conventional thinking about Brookline's one undebatable topic: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kovel, a former psychiatrist, is both an academic and an activist. A Bard College professor of social studies, he was the New York Green Party's senatorial candidate in 1998 and lost his bid to be the Greens' 2000 presidential candidate to Ralph Nader. He writes frequently in journals that Brookline's liberal and left-of-liberal residents are likely to read. During his Boston visit he'll speak elsewhere about topics such as ecosocialism.
It's Kovel's new book, however, that's aroused the pro-Israel forces' ire. In Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, Kovel explores in dizzying detail a broad array of themes certain to discomfort Israel's supporters. His appearance will likely raise the same tired objections facing Mazin Qumsiyeh, who spoke at Brookline High School last September despite frantic efforts to pressure school officials to ban him.
Kovel's critics did briefly persuade the University of Michigan Press to stop distributing his book, which is published by Pluto Press, a small publisher in the United Kingdom. Michigan soon backed down and resumed distribution, but Kovel's critics have not given up. One of the things I learned during the years I wrote a regular TAB column was the lengths to which some of Israel's supporters will go to keep the public ignorant about Middle East realities.
I like to think I was a bit more open-minded when I was a teenage Zionist myself. According to the left-humanist Zionism I had internalized, Israel's manifestly unjust policies toward its own Arab citizens, obvious even before the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, would someday give way to a humanist, socialist society in which Jews and Arabs would live as equals. At least that's what I thought when I moved to Israel for what I intended to be the rest of my life.
When I returned to the US in 1973 I was no longer a Zionist. Some combination of growing political awareness, nagging logical questions, and personal transformation had turned me away from what had been the primary focus of my life. But actively rejecting the very rationale for a Jewish state was just too big a leap.
In 2002, my TAB column addressed the questionable arrest a year earlier of Amer Jubran during a Coolidge Corner protest against Israel Independence Day. For a while I tread cautiously and somewhat inconsistently. I tried to spark discussion in Brookline while catching up on the political landscape and then, in two visits to Israel and the West Bank, the physical and personal landscape. My explorations, which included re-connecting with old friends and meeting Israeli and Palestinian students, professors, activists, and others, confirmed my long-time suspicion that Israel's identity as a Jewish state -- at Palestinian expense -- fails the test of justice.
Despite its sharp clarity, Joel Kovel's book was not an easy read. His careful critique of just about everything the Zionist movement taught me four decades ago was painfully direct. Although neither Brookline Booksmith nor the Brookline Public Library carries the book despite the attention it's received, several essays on his website provide a good sense of Kovel's position (www.joelkovel.com <http://www.joelkovel.com/> ). Kovel will talk about the book on January 22 at 7 pm, unless his critics pressure the Coolidge Corner Theatre to cancel.
Kovel addresses the dilemma of liberal and left Zionists who still imagine, as I no longer can, that a Jewish-but-democratic state is possible. Along the way he enumerates universal principles of justice to support his thesis that Zionism's logic could only lead to a state built on inequality and expulsion. Dropping my own Zionist identity meant rejecting the position that what matters most is what's good for the Jews. Along with Kovel and a growing number of other Jewish Americans willing to rethink long-held assumptions, it seems clear to me today that justice is the appropriate bottom line.
Beyond Zionism Book Tour Itinerary:
16-20 APRIL SCOTTISH PSC TOUR
Accommodation: David Miller
15th April Depart Heathrow: 15.15
Arrive Glasgow: 16.40
BMI Flight No: BD8 Reference No: 2U369H
16th April Stirling Event
17th April Glasgow Event
18th April Edinburgh Event
19th April Afternoon: Strathclyde
20th April Depart Glasgow: 13.25
Arrive Heathrow: 14.45
BMI Flight No: BD7 Reference No: 2U369H
21-22 April Weekend in London.
23-26 APRIL IRISH PSC TOUR
Accommodation: James Bowen
23rd April Depart Heathrow: 14.15
Arrive Cork: 15.30
Aer Lingus Flight No: E1715 Reference: 24RS3B
26th April Dublin Event
27th April Depart Dublin: 09.05
Arrive Heathrow: 10.25
BMI Flight No BD122 Reference: 2U8LXO
28th April London
29 APRIL JEWS AGAINST ZIONISM DAY SCHOOL
Lucas Arms, Grays Inn Road WC1
30 APRIL – 2 MAY NORTH WEST PSC TOUR
30th April Liverpool PSC Meeting - tbc
1st May Chester PSC Meeting - tbc
2nd May Halifax PSC Meeting - tbc
3-7 MAY LONDON EVENTS
3rd May Bookmarks Launch
6th May Leave for Denmark
Reflections on September 11
The grim shadow over our future cast on September 11, 2001 occurred between the composition of The Enemy of Nature and its release, and could not be incorporated into its argument. Yet its significance is such as to call for some brief observations: First, because much of this book was written during a period of rampant economic growth, its main theme, of the relentless expansive pressure of capital, might seem less important given the current brutal downturn of the world economic system. However, the same basic principles hold. For the pressure itself is what counts, whether or not it succeeds in imposing growth. Capital is a crisis-ridden system, and although there is never any clean correlation between crises in the economy and those of ecology, the integrity of ecosystems is sacrificed at either end of the economic cycle. When the economy grows, sheer quantity becomes the dominating factor; while when, as now, it heads downwards, the diminution in growth acts as a signal causing environmental safeguards to be loosened in order to restore accumulation. Second, the crisis posed by fundamentalist terror and that of global ecological decay share certain basic features. As we will see in the following pages, the ecological crisis is like a nightmare in which the demons released in the progressive domination of nature on a world scale come back to haunt the master. But something of the same holds for terrorism. Fundamentalismís rebellion is often seen as against modernity, but this only begins to matter in the context of imperialism, that is, the progressive domination of humanity on a world scale. In the species of imperialism known as globalization, the dissolution of all the old ways of being is part and parcel of forcibly imposed ìfree trade.î Fundamentalisms arise within disintegrating peripheral societies as ways of restoring the integrity of ravaged communities. The project becomes irrational because of the hatred induced by powerlessness, and as it does, turns toward a pattern of terror and counterterror in a cycle of vengeance. The dialectics of terror and ecological disintegration are joined in the regime of oil. This constitutes, on the one hand, the chief material dynamic of the ecological crisis, and on the other, the organizing principle for imperial domination of those lands where the conflict is being fought out. Petroleum fuels industrial society; and the growth of the West is necessarily a growth in the exploitation and control of those lands where it is most strategically located. As these happen to be largely Islamic, so is the stage set for the great struggle now unfolding. This is not the place to take up the conduct of this struggle except to say that it needs to be joined at the root of its causes. From this perspective, resolving the ecological crisis and freeing humanity from terroróincluding, to be sure, the terror inflicted by the superpower on its victims--are two aspects of the same process. Both require the overcoming of empire, which requires the the undoing of what generates imperialism over nature and humanity. It is an illusion to think that this can be achieved without a profound restructuring of our industrial system, and by implication, our whole way of being. The grip of imperialism, whether of oil or otherwise, cannot be broken within the terms of the current order. Hence what is required to overcome global warming and the other aspects of the ecological crisis goes also for terror. A world must be built that does not need the fossil fuel economy, a world, as is argued in what follows, beyond capital.