Friday, October 26, 2007

Political Agenda Appears to be Behind Attempts to Block Tenure of Palestinian-American Professor

I found this article very interesting and quite disturbing from an academic viewpoint. It sounds to me like a number of people who are attempting to block the tenure of a Palestinian-American Professor at Barnard College are using misquotes and innuendo rather than legitimate criticism to try to derail the tenure process for a scholar who chose a very controversial topic for her dissertation. I thought the tenure process was created to protect such scholarship from political pressure.

"Barnard alumna Paula Stern, who now lives in an Israeli settlement community on the West Bank, acknowledged Tuesday that her petition —signed now by more than 2,500 people — incorrectly quotes from Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book in charging she is grossly ignorant of Jerusalem geography.

Stern also conceded attributing to Abu El-Haj a viewpoint that Abu El-Haj does not voice as her own in her book. The petition does so by taking a quote fragment from a section in which Abu El-Haj describes others as having the opposite viewpoint.

In addition, despite Abu El-Haj’s frequent citation of Hebrew language sources and an acknowledgment on her book’s first page thanking her Hebrew tutor, Stern’s petition asserts, “Abu El Haj does not speak or read Hebrew ... We fail to understand how a scholar can pretend to study the attitudes of a people whose language she does not know.”

Stern's excuse: "“It was written very quickly,” Stern said of her petition, whose signatories include many Barnard and Columbia University alumni. “But there is a clear pattern in her book of attempting to undermine the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land.”

In response to repeated attempts to have Stern support her charges with accurate quotations from the text she replies "“I’ve spoken to many newspapers, no one has done what you’ve [The Jewish Week News] done,” said Stern, presumably displeased with questions asking her to square her charges against the book with its text. [I find this revelation very upsetting - why didn't other newspapers ask for supporting quotations!]

She says the overall “trend” of the book [Facts On The Ground,] is to deny a Jewish connection to the land and that “no matter whether it’s accurate or not, my petition is not on trial here."

Unfortunately, Stern is not alone in attacking the work without substantiated criticism.

"William Dever, a well-known retired professor of Near East archaeology at the University of Arizona, dismissed it as “a piece of shoddy work as historical research. She doesn’t quote a single Israeli archaeologist. She doesn’t show she’s read their work.”

"Aren Maeir, an archaeologist based at Bar Ilan, denounced it as “replete with inaccuracies [and] faulty research.”

Come on people! If you are as scholarly as your titles imply, you should be able to criticize the findings or interpretations in the book with solid references not fall back on vague generalities!

At least her dissertation committee members come to her defense:

"Eric Meyers, a biblical archaeology professor at Duke University and member of her dissertation committee, pointed out that, in fact, Abu El-Haj went deep into the archaeological archives to quote directly from dusty reports and field notes of Israeli archaeologists from the 1950’s and early 1960’s."

Others are actually recommending the book:

"Prof. Rafael Greenberg, senior lecturer in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the work an “eye-opener,” adding, “I recommend it.”