More anti-Semitism in academia: under pressure, Jewish students at Yale Law School pull out of supporting a talk by a centrist Israeli politician

April 23, 2023 • 9:30 am

Does anybody really doubt that American and British college campuses are become increasingly anti-Semitic? You can say, as some do, that opposition to Israel comes mainly from Netanyahu’s right-0wing government, and isn’t directed at Jews themselves, but that won’t wash. The recurrent cries that Israel is an apartheid state (implying that Palestinians are oppressed people of color and that Palestine isn’t the real apartheid state), combined with the trope “Zionists” (an anti-Semitic euphemism for “Jews”), leave little doubt that there’s a palpable resurgence of anti-Semitism both on campus and on the progressive Left. It’s the Jews (“Zionists”) and the existence of Israel, not Netanyahu, who are the targets.

Would an apartheid state allow a member of the Muslim Brotherhood—a terrorist-associated organization banned in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAR—become an Israeli minister (equivalent to a U.S. Cabinet member), while several members of that same organization sat in the Israeli parliament? Of course not, but this was the case in Israel, at least in the recent past. I doubt that the Palestinian Authority or Hamas would allow an Israeli Jew to play a substantial role in their government! If anyone claims that Israel is an apartheid state, you can immediately write them off as both ignorant and anti-Semitic.

You can see the fulminating anti-Semitism clearly in the article below (yes, it’s from the right-wing site Free Beacon, but if you ignore the report because of that, you’re an ostrich).  It recounts how Jewish students at Yale Law School (a hotbed of wokery) invited a moderate former member of the Knesset (the Jewish parliament), and a vocal opponent of Netanyahu, to address them on the topic of anti-Semitism. The speaker was Michal Cotler-Wunsch, a former member of the moderate Blue and White Alliance, a unity group in  the Knesset that was critical of Netanyahu and more pro-Palestinian and pro-gay-rights than other Israeli parties. As the article below notes,

The behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the event demonstrates the extent to which pro-Israel speakers—even those who criticize the Jewish State’s government—are increasingly unwelcome at America’s top law school.

A former member of the Israeli Knesset, Cotler-Wunsh is part of the Blue and White alliance that briefly unseated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020. The centrist party has promoted same-sex unions, opposed bans on public transit during Shabbat, and signaled an openness to peace talks—albeit not to land concessions—with the Palestinians, stances that have endeared it to secular Israelis while angering the country’s ultra-Orthodox bloc.

“If I’m controversial, I don’t know who isn’t,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

The topic of her talk was “Defining and combating Anti-Semitism“. How controversial can you get?  But apparently that raised some hackles. And had not a deputy dean of the Law School stepped in at the last moment, offering to host the event personally, Cotler-Wunsch’s talk would have been canceled.

Click the screenshot to read:

From the article:

A Jewish student group at Yale Law School pulled out of an event with a centrist Israeli politician, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, after deciding the talk would be too controversial, according to Cotler-Wunsh and two professors with knowledge of the situation.

Yale’s Jewish Law Students Association agreed in February to host Cotler-Wunsh for a lecture on anti-Semitism and human rights, one of several planned stops on a speaking tour organized by the Academic Engagement Network, a pro-Israel advocacy group. But on April 14–one week before Cotler-Wunsh’s talk, which is scheduled for Friday—Yale’s Jewish Law Students Association told the Academic Engagement Network that it would no longer be able to sponsor the event, according to Miriam Elman, the network’s executive director.

The drama follows a string of anti-Semitism controversies at the Ivy League university, which just this month hosted Houria Bouteldja, an anti-Israel activist and outspoken defender of Hamas, on the second night of Passover.  The event’s timing sparked blowback from Jewish students—though not from the Jewish Law Students Association—who said their religious obligations prevented them from organizing a counter-event or from attending the talk to pose questions.

Though the Jewish Law Students Association gave no reason for its about-face, Cotler-Wunsh and two Yale law school professors said they understood that the group succumbed to pressure to call off her lecture.

It is not clear who was applying that pressure, and Morgan Feldenkris, the president of the Jewish Law Students Association, did not respond to a request for comment. The talk would have been canceled but for deputy dean Yair Listokin’s willingness to step in and host the event himself, Elman said. Listokin declined to comment.

Dean Yair Listokin, also a chaired Professor of Law at Yale, saved the day, but I’d still like to know who pressured the Jewish Law Students Association to back away from supporting what was, after all, a pretty uncontroversial talk. Or is fighting anti-Semitism somehow controversial?

And who else could apply that pressure save someone who doesn’t want an Israeli politician—regardless of their views—to speak?  And yet, as the article recounts, Yale has been a venue for a fair bit of anti-Israeli activity:

This is not Yale Law’s first debacle over anti-Semitism or the Jewish state. In 2021, the Yale Law Journal hosted a diversity trainer, Erika Hart, who accused the FBI of artificially inflating the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes. And last year, activists at the law school urged students to boycott a spring break trip to Israel, plastering signs around the school that called Israel an apartheid state, according to sources familiar with the matter. Some of those activists, two sources said, were themselves members of the Jewish Law Students Association.

Here’s a tweet from Cotler-Wunsch as she went to Yale. I can’t find any account of her talk on Friday, not even at the Yale Daily News, but it must have gone on as scheduled. Thanks, Dean Listokin!

h/t: Ginger K., Malgorzata


Bill Maher bestows Cojones Awards for anti-wokeness

April 22, 2023 • 11:00 am

Reader Gregory sent me this clip from last night’s Real Time show, in which Bill Maher recounts how censorship, once the purview of the Right, now comes more often from “Twitter, the Ivy League, and the progressive Left.” (He defends J. K. Rowling, which of course will rile his opponents.) In response, he suggests starting an awards show “to honor the brave people who fought back” against Cancel Culture.

The award show, called The Cojones (honoring “outstanding achievement in growing a pair”), begin at 3:05. And the winners, who receive a mounted pair of golden testicles, are:

Martha Pollack, the President of Cornell University, for her rejection of trigger warnings.

Trader Joe’s, which refused to give up the names of “problematic” products like “Trader José’s Beer” and “Trader Ming’s” Chinese food.

Ted Sarandos, the CEO of Netflix, who refused to give in to those who demanded the cancelation of Dave Chapelle and told employees that comedy can cross boundaries, and employees who didn’t like that might want to work elsewhere.

Ben Stiller, who directed and starred in the movie Tropic Thunder, which and recently defended it. Maher says it’s a great movie, though I haven’t seen it, but apparently, while highly rated and popular, it was also deeply controversial for supposedly mocking the mentally disabled, using anti-Semitic tropes, and showing blackface. As Maher says, “The scolds have been after it for years.” Here’s what Wikipedia says about Stiller’s defense:

In February 2023, Stiller defended Tropic Thunder on his Twitter account by stating he had “no apologies” and that he is “proud of it and the work everyone did on it.” Stiller’s defense was a response to a fan of the film who suggested that the former cease apologizing for making the film in light of the pervasive cancel culture which rose during the late 2010s and early 2020s

A tweet from Stiller in response to another one:

Maher’s lesson, which is a good one, is this:

“If you stand up to the mob—for just a day or two—their shallow, impatient, immature, smartphone-driven gerbil minds will forget about it and go onto the next nothingburger and you—you will still have your cojones.”

If you’ve seen “Tropic Thunder,” weigh in below.

And I have a shortlist of my own Cojones Awards, none of them going to conservatives.

J. K. Rowling, for extraordinary aplomb and passion in defending women’s rights in the face of vicious trans activists

John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, who refuse to adhere to the Critical Social Justice playbook and say what they think about race in America

Riley Gaines, an NCAA swimmer who was chased and assaulted at San Francisco State University after giving a talk opposing the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sports. She’s been a vocal critics of this “inclusion” that is actually a trampling on women’s rights, and she says she’s not going to stop just because a pretty dire attack on her person.

And there are all those academics who were fired or disciplined for speaking the ideologically improper, but I don’t have time to list them all. Who would you award a Cojones Award (or perhaps a Golden Ovaries Award) to?

J. K. Rowling uncanceled?

April 21, 2023 • 12:30 pm

One of the most ridiculous and offensive instances of cancellation I’ve seen has been that involving J. K. Rowling. Attacked by unhinged trans activists as a “transphobe”, Rowling responded eloquently, rationally, and calmly, and the attacks have simply made the activists look bad.  Like many of us, Rowling is not a “transphobe,” nor feels that trans people should be denied their “rights”—so long as those don’t include the confected “right” to be a biological male invading all women’s spaces (and vice versa).

Rowling is empathic but also a staunch advocate of women’s rights, and her “transphobia” consists of nothing more than the reasonable view that biological men who identify as women should not be allowed to enter those “women’s spaces” that shouldn’t include biological men, namely women’s prisons, women’s sports, battered women’s shelters, or rape counseling. There are no preexisting “rights” there save those arrogated by trans activists themselves. But beyond this limited sphere of access, neither Rowling, I, nor our many confrères want to deny trans people genuine rights, nor to discriminate against them any way, nor to shame them or misgender them. They’re just humans like everyone else.

But that’s not enough, and we all know that because of her stand (and her fame), Rowling has been a magnet for hatred, accusations of bigotry, and, of course, death threats—so many that she says she can paper her house with them.  People boycotted her books, two of the actors in her movies (Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson) basically disassociated themselves from her, and her books were even burned. There are no activists as full of bile and genuine hatred as extreme trans activists (Chase Strangio, an ACLU lawyer, is one example).

In my few optimistic moments, I think the tide against Rowling may be turning as people realize how far the insanity and mischaracterization has gone. This article, from the Torygraph (click screenshot to read an archived version) suggests that the tide may be turning, with Warner Bothers bringing Rowling on board in an upcoming television series, despite the opprobrium of the haters:

A few excerpts:

Amid a backlash against her views on women’s rights and transgenderism, even mentioning Rowling’s name next to her works has been taboo in recent years.

At one event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone last June, a journalist was infamously blocked from asking a question about her absence.

But on Wednesday, executives at Warner Bros Discovery gave Rowling their support as they positioned the Harry Potter TV show as a flagship offering of their enlarged “Max” streaming service.

Casey Bloys, the chairman and chief executive of HBO and HBO Max, dismissed suggestions that showrunners will struggle to find cast members because of her involvement, telling journalists: “That’s a very online conversation.

“We’ve been in the Harry Potter business for 20 years, this isn’t a new decision. We’re comfortable being in the Potter business.”

The decision to work with Rowling again generated instant outrage from trans activists, with some vowing to boycott the show before it has even begun filming.

But it may be a sign that the tide is turning for Rowling and others who have been ostracised by the media establishment for their views on women’s rights and gender.

Brands are facing a growing backlash for wading into trans issues, with the US beer maker Budweiser embroiled in a row over adverts featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney and Disney locked in a feud with the US Republican Party for its opposition to “don’t say gay” laws in Florida.

I couldn’t get excited about the Budweiser/Mulvaney dustup because if they want to sell beer using trans people, well, that doesn’t bother me. The vehemence of the opposition—including people making videos blowing away cases of Bud with shotguns, spoke to me of genuine transphobia. Why would they want to do that?

But this bit heartened me, especially the bit I’ve put in bold:

One senior film industry source says the uncancelling of Rowling will ruffle feathers but is ultimately the right call.

“If you look at what JK Rowling has actually said and done, this is a woman who herself was a victim of domestic violence, who was a single mother, and has now devoted herself to women’s rights and helping other women who have suffered,” the source adds.

“Yet because she took a position, out of concern about those issues, she was just completely thrown under a bus.

“I think you are now going to see her redeemed, for a lot of reasons. Hollywood likes to forgive – and particularly when someone is a creative genius like her.”

Another industry source says: “I think you just need to lean into these things, there isn’t any point in shying away as it was always going to raise a few eyebrows.

“Their focus is on involving the best creatives possible to make something that fans will really want to watch. Rowling is undoubtedly one of them.”

I’m not so sure that Hollywood likes to forgive (really?), and isn’t it convenient that she’s being picked up by some people because they can make more money with her on board? As for “there isn’t any point in shying away as it was always going to raise a few eyebrows,” well, that’s the wisdom of hindsight, and doesn’t show much spine.

There’s a bit more heartening defense:

However, since [the attacks on her] Rowling has received support from other quarters.

Last summer, Warner Bros stepped in with a forceful defence of the author when a journalist was banned from asking about her.

“Warner Bros has enjoyed a creative, productive and fulfilling partnership with JK Rowling for the past 20 years,” it said.

“She is one of the world’s most accomplished storytellers, and we are proud to be the studio to bring her vision, characters and stories to life.”

Ralph Fiennes, who played the villain Lord Voldemort, also came to Rowling’s aid, telling The New York Times that the author had faced “disgusting” abuse.

“It’s not some obscene, uber right-wing fascist,” he told the New York Times. “It’s just a woman saying, ‘I’m a woman and I feel I’m a woman and I want to be able to say that I’m a woman.’”

Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the films, told The Telegraph in February: “Her [Rowling’s] character has always been to advocate for the most vulnerable members of society… I do wish people would just give her more grace and listen to her.”

But then filthy lucre raises its head again (at least Fiennes or Lynch can’t be accused of pecuniary gain!):

Next to those successes, Warner Bros’ decision to bring Rowling back may be motivated by profit just as much as principle.

The company certainly needs a little magic. It is currently battling the likes of Netflix, Disney, Amazon and Apple for streaming dominance, with the companies splashing huge sums collectively on films and TV shows in the quest for subscribers.

HBO’s combined “Max” service will wrap HBO Max and Discovery+ platforms into a single, bigger competitor, says Tom Harrington, a television analyst at Enders Analysis.

And David Zaslav, president and chief executive of Warner Bros Discovery, says major franchises such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and DC superheroes such as Batman are at the heart of his strategy to woo audiences.

Although I’ve never been a big Harry Potter fan, I’m a huge J. K. Rowling fan, for the woman has courage. Yes, of course she’s a gazillionaire, and has little to lose financially from being canceled, but still, what does she have to gain from speaking out? Nothing tangible but the ability to express what she thinks despite the inevitable disapprobation, hatred that cannot feel good. And of course she’s lost readers. Yet she is not a hater or a transphobe, but a creative force and a caring woman, and that’s reason enough to stop this cancelation now.

It won’t stop, of course, because haters gonna hate.  And through it all, Rowling has never lost her aplomb or dignity, and so the last sentence of the piece is appropriate:

Rowling, her literary agent and Warner Bros declined to comment.

Pamela Paul on the Stanford Law School debacle

March 30, 2023 • 1:00 pm

Pamela Paul, former editor of the NY Times Sunday Book Review, and a refreshing addition to the increasingly antiwoke contingent of Times writers, weighs in on the deplatforming of conservative judge Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School. (His speech apparently didn’t contain material that ignited the protests; rather, the protestors just didn’t like his conservative legal views and rulings, and he never finished his remarks.)

Paul reiterates what many have said about allowing “offensive” speakers to have their say, most importantly that you might learn something from the speaker, or at least be able to sharpen your own arguments in a reasoned and civil Q&A session, which of course didn’t occur at Stanford.  But she does have two interesting anecdotes and, as usual, makes her point very well.

Click to read:

All quotes from her article are indented.

Anecdote 1. 

On April 8, 1991, when I was a sophomore at Brown University, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia came to campus to speak. Conservatives allegedly existed at Brown, but the school was as true to its left-leaning reputation then as it is now. This was where Amy Carter, the daughter of the former president, got in trouble for protesting apartheid, where a longhaired John F. Kennedy Jr. was also an anti-apartheid activist, where the most popular campus newspaper comic strip featured a character named P.C. Person.

We were right about everything. We knew our enemy and we hated him, whether it was the former segregationist Strom Thurmond or the bigoted Jesse Helms, both somehow in Congress, or the pugnacious Senate minority leader Bob Dole. Students regularly protested in favor of abortion access and need-blind admissions.

That April evening of Scalia’s talk, I lined up with my anti-Helms T-shirt on. I barely made it into a back row of the packed auditorium, where I awaited what would surely be a triumphant Q. and A. session. Once Scalia finished and we the righteous had a chance to speak truth to the evil one, we would rip apart his so-called originalism, his hypocrisies, his imperiousness. We were champing at the bit to have our say.

And then he wiped the floor with us. In answer to our indignant questions, he calmly cited rebutting cases. We fulminated and he reasoned, and when we seethed he lobbed back with charm. Within the hermetic bubble of my liberal upbringing and education, it had never occurred to me that even when finally presented with The Truth, someone from the other side could prevail. I’d been certain we would humiliate him. Instead, I left humbled.

The lesson:  But the protesters themselves suffered the greatest loss. Unleashing on Duncan may have felt good in the way we Brown students felt good asking our “tough” questions of Scalia. But whereas we got to hear the answers, the Stanford Law School students did not. It isn’t enough to challenge someone unless you’re willing to be challenged back. Scalia’s answers may not have made us feel especially good, emotionally or intellectually. They did, however, teach us the value of listening, and motivate us to be smarter.

Anecdote 2. 

As some readers of The Times may be aware, nearly 25 years ago I was briefly married to another columnist here, Bret Stephens. When my friends and family members had learned I was dating a conservative — let alone thinking of marrying one — they were stunned. How could an intensely partisan Democrat like me marry someone who described himself — proudly! — as “very conservative”? (“But he’s pro-choice and believes in gay marriage,” I assured them.)

Not surprisingly, Bret and I argued about politics intensely and often. At one point during the Clinton controversies of the 1990s, I remember screaming at him on a Soho sidewalk, my face mottled with tears. How could someone I knew to be a good person possibly believe what he was saying, and why, dammit, must he make his points so cogently?

The lesson: After our divorce and back in my liberal province, I actually missed those intellectual battles. What better way to keep an open and sharp mind? Without someone “in house” to spar with, I found myself seeking political debate elsewhere.

The dismaying statistics:

Unfortunately, many Americans — and worryingly, many younger Americans — are looking for it less frequently. In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats said they wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat, and 25 percent of Republicans said they wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. By 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way. By 2020, 43 percent of single Democrats said they probably or definitely wouldn’t date someone Republican (compared with 24 percent of single Republicans who wouldn’t date a Democrat). According to one study, only 21 percent of marriages today are politically mixed. Democrats are especially unlikely to have friends from across the political divide. Polls show that partisans on both sides view their opponents as “closed-minded” and “immoral.”

And the overall lesson:

When you don’t know someone personally, it’s easier to assume the worst about him. And if you assume your opponent is immoral, you don’t have to listen to him, that he’s not worthy of charitable interpretation. But if you assume your political opponent is operating in good faith — even if the person isn’t a friend or significant other — you’ll be inclined to hear him out.

Students at Stanford Law School would do well for themselves to hear out their opponents. In the professional world, it won’t be enough to deem their opponents evil and declare the battle won. They will be sitting across tables from their adversaries and trying to make persuasive arguments against them in courtrooms. Their success will depend on a mutual assumption of good faith from both sides — and from the bench, where not only Judge Duncan but 53 percent of active federal appeals judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

Beyond the personal stuff, there’s really nothing here that you can’t read in the must-read pamphlet On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (it’s free online here, WHICH YOU MUST READ NOW), except it goes doubly for law students, who are constantly, no matter what their job, forced to stand in their opponents’ shoes and think, “What is the best argument they can throw at me?” If they don’t think that way, they’ll be lousy lawyers.

But this goes for everyone else, too.  Unfortunately, the polarization of America, combined with the intellectual arrogance of all those who think they know the truth, and thus doesn’t have to listen to anybody’s arguments, bode ill for the future of reasoned discourse. This quarter at my university, the Students for Justice in Palestine, who of course know the truth (which is that the genocidal and apartheid state of Israel should be eliminated) have tried to shut down a University class by former Israeli General Meir Elran on counter-terrorism, a course approved by the University. (Elran is no longer with the IDF, but of course he’s still accused of being in the military and being in favor of “Palestinian genocide.”)

The student newspaper even gave three full pages to the SJP to beef about Elran’s course, an unprecedented amount of space for what is an op-ed (you can read it here).  The SJP have never suggested that people might want to listen to (and counter, if they object) Elran’s instruction. No, they have just agitated and tried to shut down the course via demonstrations and petitions.

It won’t work, of course, because this is the University of Chicago. Naturally, the students are free to object to the course as much as they want without disrupting it, but it’s sad to see a group so sure of their assertions, which are dubious at best, that they brook no possibility that they’re wrong. They’ve cut themselves off from learning anything, because of course that might cause them to rethink their conclusions.

I think Mill’s pamphlet should be required reading for all students entering the University—indeed, all universities—as part of a short unit on free speech. Sadly, though, by the time they get here, most students are already fixed in their views, or will be shortly when they join an ideological tribe.  It’s a good thing that I taught stuff that only wacko creationists could object to!

Audubon Society decides to keep its name

March 15, 2023 • 10:00 am

My criteria for deciding whether a name should be kept, or a statue left up, are twofold: the good that the person’s life did outweighs the bad, and the name or statue is in honor of the good.

Although there have been calls for John James Audubon’s name to be taken off everything (including his Society), I’ve decided his name is worth keeping. Yes, he was a slaveholder, with nine humans as his possessions, and of course that’s immoral. (He also held white supremacist views.) But George Washington and Jefferson each had many more slaves, yet we’re not hearing calls to rename Washington, D.C. or tear down the Jefferson Memorial.

How does one balance being an enslaver against being one of the founders of ornithology, a naturalist who named many species, and an inspiration for conservation? You can’t. They’re apples and oranges. So you make a judgment call, and my own call was that Audubon still deserves to be honored. Yes, by all means call attention to the slaves he held, but I never favored (as some did) renaming the Audubon Society.

Neither did the Society itself, as the Washington Post just announced (click screenshot to read):

From the article:

The move comes even as about half-a-dozen of the organization’s regional chapters have pledged to scrub his name from their titles, part of a broader reckoning over the U.S. environmental movement’s history of entrenched racism.

The National Audubon Society’s 27-person board of directors voted to retain its current name during a Zoom meeting on Monday after more than a year of deliberating and gathering feedback from both members and outsiders. Susan Bell, chair of the board, declined to provide a breakdown of the final vote.

“The name has come to represent not one person, but a broader love of birds and nature,” Bell said in a phone interview. “And yet we must reckon with the racist legacy of John James Audubon, the man.”

Keeping the name does not of course mean that the Audubon Society endorses slavery. In fact, they reckon it correctly: as a blot on the man’s name. But the Society decided that the name represents a lot of good things, and I won’t criticize them for keeping it. Neither will I criticize those who say the name has to go, for they’ve made a judgement call the other way, though Jefferson and Washington have not (yet) been erased.

h/t: Steve

Students for Justice in Palestine try to shut down U of C course taught by former Israeli intelligence officer

March 3, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Given the anti-Semitism sweeping academia, spurred on largely by pro-Palestinian organizations but also by the “anti-Zionism” of the progressive Left, it is academic suicide for someone to teach a course from an Israeli point of view, especially if that person is a former deputy director of Israeli military intelligence.  But such a course has been scheduled at my University for two separate quarters, with the first in progress now. The Palestinian students and their sympathizers are up in arms, physically trying to disrupt it.  It’s all detailed in the article from Inside Higher Ed below (click screenshot). However, a group of academics are trying to stop the students’ planned disruption (second article below from the Algemeiner; also click screenshot).

Details from the article above:

The Students for Justice in Palestine organization at the University of Chicago has been protesting teaching by a former deputy director of Israeli Military Intelligence whose “main academic interest,” according to the Israel Institute, “is societal resilience in the context of protracted terrorism against Israel.”

Meir Elran is a visiting professor at the university teaching the class Security, Counter-Terrorism and Resilience: The Israeli Case. He’s also a retired Israeli brigadier general who directs the domestic research cluster of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. He has a doctorate from the University of Haifa.

A Students for Justice in Palestine statement condemning Elran and his course is signed by, among others, several Chicago faculty members and Noam Chomsky, the longtime critic of American foreign policy who is now a University of Arizona laureate professor.

The statement says Elran’s course aims at “inculcating U.S. students with the mindset and worldview of the Israeli military.”

“On Elran’s telling of Israeli history, Israel appears not as an expansionist apartheid state predicated on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land, but as an embattled liberal democracy surrounded by ‘large hostile Muslim populations’ and mired in a ‘Muslim-Jewish conflict’ not of its own making,” the statement says. “Having established this essentially Orientalist and propagandistic framing, Elran’s course encourages students to put themselves in the shoes of Israeli military strategists, reflecting throughout the quarter on the various past and present means by which Israel has worked to ‘secure’ its colonial enterprise and crush indigenous Palestinian resistance to it.”

“No principle of ‘academic freedom’ or ‘intellectual diversity’ justifies hosting classes taught by complicit Israeli military personnel—particularly not classes that misrepresent Palestinian history, treat Palestinian deaths as fodder for ‘strategic’ military theorizing and inundate students with the Orientalist worldview of Israeli colonists,” the statement says.

I regard the Students for Justice in Palestine as an anti-Semitic organization. They favor the motto “From the River to the sea, Palestine will be free”, which of course means eliminating Israel), so this protest is expected. and in line with our free speech policy. What is not allowed is disruption of the class, and of course the University of Chicago will not cancel an approved class because of political protest. The SJP argument that “academic freedom” does not allow an Israeli professor to give a course that may involve expressing Israeli points of view is of course a stupid argument. They’d certainly approve a course that that retells Palestinian history given by a Palestinian academic. Anything Israeli is condemned here; in the past few years students having shut down two talks given by Israelis.

A call for the elimination of Israel from SJP’s Chicago Instagram page:

The SJP beefs that this course is part of a nefarious Universsity plan to silence Palestinian voices, but no such plan exists. The SJP put their anti-Israel posters all over campus (and that’s fine), and they’re not removed:

On Instagram, the organization wrote, “Far from being an exception or an isolated incident, this latest escalation fits into a larger pattern of the university’s antagonism toward pro-Palestinian voices and refusal to take disciplinary [sic] against Zionist students and organizations. SJP will not be intimidated by these repressive tactics and refuses to be silenced by the university’s escalating attempts to shield students from the truth about Palestine and the violence represented by General Elran’s course.”

Repressive tactics? To give a course? What these students want is nothing less than the suppression of viewpoints they don’t like.  If they don’t like the course, they shouldn’t take it, but neither should they prevent other students from hearing Elran’s course.

Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier, Vice President for Communications, gave a typical U of C response, one of which I’m proud:

Manier wrote in an email that the university “is deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, and these values have been consistent throughout our history. While differences of opinion over course material may arise, the university defends the freedom of instructors to teach any course that has been developed through our faculty-led curricular processes, and the ability of students to enroll in courses of their choice.”

The course will go on, and students will not be allowed to disrupt it.

Meanwhile, the Algemeiner details a protest of the disruption, signed by many academics:

From the piece:

Over 120 academics from universities across the US have issued a letter calling on the University of Chicago to prevent Students for Justice in Palestine’s “in-person, disruptive” protest of a course taught by retired Israeli Defense Forces General Meir Elran.

A controversy broke out at the university on Feb. 2 when, according to the Chicago Maroon, SJP attempted to gain entrance to Cobb Hall — a building where Elran was teaching —but were allegedly “obstructed” by administrators and the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). The students were attempting to protest his course, “Security, Counter-Terrorism, and Resilience: The Israeli Case.”

In a statement to The Algemeiner sent on Tuesday, the University of Chicago described the incident differently, explaining that “there was a brief delay of less than three minutes that allowed time for a Dean-on-call to speak with the students.” After, SJP “held a protest of approximately 15 minutes in a hallway outside of the classroom.” The group, according to multiple witnesses, also had previously succeeded in entering the building and standing outside the door of Elran’s classroom while chanting “Terrorist!”

That’s not really peaceful protest, though the protestors probably shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt the class this way.  The academics’ letter, here, is a good one, I think (it’s a sad sign of the times that the letter is unsigned), but SJP is relentless. What they want is not just the extirpation of Israel, but the silencing of all pro-Israeli (i.e., pro-“Zionist”) points of view.

SJP’s actions continued an effort to boycott what the group last year called “sh*tty Zionist classes,” which has targeted classes including Israel Institute visiting professor Meital Pinto’s “Multiculturalism in Israel” and Stephanie Kraver’s “Narrating Israel and Palestine through Literature and Film.”

Elran became the focus in January of SJP’s ire, which called his course “nothing less than the incursion of Israel’s military complex onto the university’s campus.”

In Monday’s letter, the professors urged University of Chicago to publicly condemn SJP’s academic boycott, citing the centrality of Zionism to Jewish identity, academic freedom and open inquiry, and student safety. [JAC: There’s no way the University woul condemn a boycott, as a call for boycotting a class is simply free speech.]

“We believe that it is only through such forceful and unequivocal responses that campuses can remain vibrant spaces for learning, dialogue, and growth,” they continued.

I’m curious to know to what extent the University will use force to stop any disruption. They’ve said they would, but of course the optics of campus police removing demonstrators from buildings are not good, and Elran’s class did go on.

And, by the way, I’d equally defend a Palestinian professor’s right to give a course from the opposite point of view—so long as it’s approved by the curriculum committee.

An ideologically unpalatable book gets canceled, but then finds a home

February 6, 2023 • 9:35 am

The idea that there could be some salubrious aspects to creating an empire (which of course means “colonization”) is about as taboo an idea you can have these days—save defending slavery.  And that’s what Nigel Biggar discovered when he wanted to explore the pros and cons of empires.  First, part of his c.v. from Wikipedia:

Nigel John Biggar CBE (born 14 March 1955) is a British Anglican priest and theologian. From 2007 to 2022, he was the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford.

The article is about two projects of Biggar: an academic unit about colonialism at Oxford, and then his new book on the same topic. Click below to read how the Oxford project created hysterical opposition, and then how Biggar’s book on colonialism after first exciting a lot of interest at the publisher Bloomsbury, was effectively canceled when there was a public outcry. Bloomsbury then lied about why they had delayed publication. Further, Biggar’s five year project on “Ethics and Empire,” beginning in 2017 at Oxford, aroused such hostility that most of the project’s participants quit as The Offended tried to shut it down.

Now I’m no fan of colonialism and certainly not of empire, but I am also no fan of suppressing speech, either. If there’s a case to be made for the creation of empires like the Roman or British Empires, it should be hashed out and its proponents allowed to make their best case. How else can opponents hone or modify their ideas if the “case for empire” is simply shut down? To me, this is like banning Holocaust denialism, which I also believe should not be shut down. From reading about that denialism (most notably in Michael Shermer’s book Denying History) , I’ve been better able to argue for why it’s bogus to deny the Holocaust (you wouldn’t believe how clever and slippery the denialists are!). You can listen to a sample chapter of Shermer’s book here.

Back to Biggar. I admit that I don’t know squat about his views, either expressed in his Oxford project or his book, Colonialism: A Moral reckoning, which finally was published by William Collins.  Here’s the published version; click to see the Amazon link:

The Project at Oxford. (Quotes from the article indented):

What had I done to deserve all this unexpected attention? Three things. In late 2015 and early 2016, I had offered a partial defense of the late-19th-century imperialist Cecil Rhodes during the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford. Then, in late November 2017, I published a column in The Times of London, in which I referred approvingly to Bruce Gilley’s controversial article “The Case for Colonialism,” and argued that we Britons have reason to feel pride as well as shame about our imperial past. Note: pride, as well as shame. And a few days later, third, I finally got around to publishing an online account of the “Ethics and Empire” project, whose first conference had in fact been held the previous July. Contrary to what the critics seemed to think, this project isn’t designed to defend the British Empire, or even empire in general. Rather, it aims to study evaluations of empire from ancient China to the modern period, to understand and reflect on the ethical terms in which empires have been viewed historically.

. . .That was quite enough to rouse the academic forces of repression. Responding to the online description of “Ethics and Empire,” Priyamvada Gopal—then a reader in postcolonial studies at the University of Cambridge, now promoted to professor—tweeted, “OMG. This is serious shit…. We need to SHUT THIS DOWN” (Dec. 13, 2017, 8:45 a.m.). A few minutes later, she issued a call to arms to “Oxford postcolonial academics” (8:49 a.m.). Among those who responded were Max Harris, fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, who tweeted, “Totally agree—more needs to be done” (5:08 p.m.), and “working on a response” (Dec. 14, 2017, 2:30 a.m.); and Jon Wilson, senior lecturer in history at King’s College London, who wrote, “We need a big well-argued letter signed by everyone who writes on empire” (Dec. 16, 2017, 12:39 a.m.), and, “I’ll be in touch with James [McDougall]” (2:14 a.m.). When the Oxford Open Letter appeared on Dec. 19, Max Harris and Jon Wilson were among its signatories, and James McDougall, professor of history at Oxford, was listed as its senior co-author. When the worldwide one followed on Dec. 21, Priyamvada Gopal’s name came first, then Jon Wilson’s.

Shortly afterward, Oxford’s Centre for Global History took its cue, almost verbatim, from the Oxford letter and announced on its website that it  “is not involved” in the “Ethics and Empire” project headed by me and “other scholars at Oxford”—coyly declining to name John Darwin, who, until very recently, had been the Centre’s own director. That this was a statement of boycotting intent, not of mere fact, was evidenced by the Centre’s obliquely critical claim “to move beyond the problematic balance sheet of empires’ advantages and disadvantages” and to “shun imperial nostalgia.” When this notice was first posted, one of the Centre’s own members reported to me that no one had consulted him about it.

I am so tired of the moral fervor of people like Gopal, who screams “We need to SHUT THIS DOWN!” It is the cry of those who want to keep everyone from hearing what the screamer doesn’t want to hear herself. It is censorship, pure and simple.

Oxford, of course, followed Gopal when the open letters appeared, severing official ties with Biggar’s project. And several of his colleagues in the project simply resigned. But the project didn’t die: Biggar recruited four other historians and they’ve had three annual conferences.

The Book 

The main goal of Biggar’s piece is to shame Bloomsbury Publishing for the way it treated him: first accepting his book with great approbation, and then, when the outcry began, “indefinitely delaying publication” without giving Biggar a reason, though he (and we) well know what the reason was.  It was Empire, Jake!  Biggar’s account does indeed make Bloomsbury look pretty dreaful, and, to use Biggar’s word, “craven.” Publishers are not in the business of putting out books that conform only to dominant ideologies; they are there to publish books that can edify, offend, and, overall, encourage discussion. Biggar’s book falls in that class.

His account:

The facts are these. In the wake of the public row in December 2017, I was approached by Robin Baird-Smith of Bloomsbury Publishing, who suggested that I should write a book on colonialism. Initially doubtful, I gave it some thought and eventually decided to take up his suggestion. In May 2018, Bloomsbury and I signed a contract. [JAC: Baird-Smith is now the senior publisher at Bloomsbury.]

Thirty months later, I delivered a manuscript, a nail-biting eight hours short of the deadline. On Jan. 5, Robin wrote to me, saying, “I consider this to be a book of major importance, certainly one of the most important on my list for some time…. Your research is exhaustive. I am speechless. Your argument is conveyed with care and precision. I say again, this is such an important book.”  He predicted sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies. The manuscript was entered into the copy-editing process, and a cover was designed.

Then, on March 15, an email arrived from Sarah Broadway, head of special-interest publishing at Bloomsbury. In it, she told me that “we are of the view that conditions are not currently favorable to publication” and that “we will therefore be postponing publication and will review the position next year.” She added, “If you are not happy with this, we will pay the balance of the advance due and revert the rights to you.”

I was stunned.

Twenty minutes on, I replied, asking, “Please explain what conditions make the publication of my book ‘currently unfavorable’ and what conditions next year might make it favorable.” Four days later, Broadway replied, revealing nothing and merely repeating, “We consider that public feeling on the subject does not currently support the publication of the book and will reassess that next year.”

A knowledgeable source informed me that senior Bloomsbury executives wanted me to volunteer to walk away, so that they could appease younger staff who had protested against being made to work on material they found objectionable. Since I had no alternative publisher waiting in the wings, I was strongly disinclined to comply. Instead, I decided to hire a lawyer to look at my contract in the hope that I might be able to make Bloomsbury proceed with publication. Alas, £600 later, I was told that a get-out clause permitted the publisher to walk away virtually at will. From my point of view, it was worthless.

What’s interesting here is the enthusiasm that Bloomsbury initially showed toward the manuscript (beside the plaudits above, remember that they accepted the book’s prospectus, which is a group decision, and forked out an advance) as opposed to the haste with which they backed off when faced with opposition. Note as well the duplicity of the publishers in coming clean about the “delay”, and the fact that it’s the younger people who seem to feel that publishers should only issue ideologically approved books (this same thing happened when Woody Allen’s memoirs were canceled).

Bigger wrote a strong letter to Bloomsbury, chewing their tuchas, and then made all his emails available to the Times of London, including those showing that Bloomsbury lied about delaying the book (the Times wrote about this just a few days ago). Biggar’s is a good letter, and was sent to the founder/director of Bloomsbury:

Since Bloomsbury decided to cancel my contract, I took the only option left me and gave my consent.

I do not wish to conclude this correspondence without communicating the depth of my dismay at Bloomsbury’s conduct. You commissioned me to write a book on colonialism. I submitted the text on time. Your own commissioning editor, Robin Baird-Smith, described it as ‘a book of major importance, certainly one of the most important on my list for some time.’ He predicted sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies. And yet you decided to cancel my contract because of ‘public feeling.’

This ‘public feeling’ was sufficiently clear to you to warrant cancelling a contract. Yet, in spite of two requests, you refused to be transparent with me about it.

Of course, it is quite clear what it is. The public feeling that concerns you is that of—for want of a more scientific term—the ‘woke’ left. This is an illiberal movement that agitates to suppress the expression of any views that offend it. Since my book exposes several of its basic assumptions as false, you correctly anticipated that the ‘woke’ section of public feeling would be offended by it.

Therefore, rather than publish cogent arguments and important truths that would attract the aggression of these illiberals, you chose to align yourselves with them by de-platforming me. In so doing, you have made your own contribution to the expansion of authoritarianism and the shrinking of moral and political diversity among us.

I can quite understand, then, why you were unwilling to be transparent about your reasons. They are shameful.

Yes they are.

Go have a look at the last two paragraphs in which Biggar draws some conclusions about the substitution of hysteria for rational discussion and about about the willingness of publishers to defer to the younger members of their companies. He finishes with this:

That’s why it’s so important that Bloomsbury be held to account in public—so that they, and other publishers, see the reputational costs of unprincipled cravenness.

To me the lesson is also that of Hitchens, Mill, Milton, and other free-speech advocates. If someone wants to argue against the “received wisdom”, it is important not just to let them speak, but it is more important to let them speak than those who parrot the current ideas. And it’s most important that people listen to the most heterodox ideas. I haven’t read Biggar’s book and don’t know what’s in it, but the fervor and censoriousness of its opponents make it all the more important to read and consider.

h/t: T. m.

On British museums effacing the past

January 30, 2023 • 11:15 am

The Economist has a very well written and well argued piece on how museums should handle aspects of the past that we today find uncomfortable or even offensive. The article, which is signed with the pseudonym “Bagehot”, was inspired by the dismantling of part of the Wellcome Collection. It then recounts other instances of museums getting rid of stuff, some of those removals proper (I agree that the Benin bronzes should have been handed back to Nigeria and strongly believe that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece), but as for simply removing stuff from public inspection because it doesn’t comport with modern views, read below for a sensible take (there’s also an audio version):

Indented words are from the article; words flush left are mine.

The impetus:

Forget Cézanne at Tate Modern. Forget Lucian Freud at the National Gallery. If you want to see something on a gallery wall that is really, as arty sorts say, challenging, head to the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London. On the white wall of this minimalist space you will find a similarly minimalist exhibit of six small holes; three above and three below. There’s no label, though, and it’s not quite clear at first what they are.

It is clear what they are not. They are emphatically not part of the Wellcome Collection’s Medicine Man exhibition. Until late last year, this comprised an eccentric display of medical oddments—a glass eye; false legs; Tunisian amulets; Napoleon’s toothbrush—acquired by the Collection’s equally eccentric philanthropic founder, Henry Wellcome. At the end of 2022 the Collection announced that the exhibition “perpetuates a version of medical history that is based on racist, sexist and ableist theories” and shut it two days later. Napoleon’s transgressive toothbrush vanished; racists and ableists everywhere were doubtless chastened.

Poor old Wellcome. The past is another country and they did things differently there, much to the embarrassment of the present, which really would rather that they hadn’t. All British museums and galleries are squirming.

Damn! I would have wanted to see Napoleon’s toothbrush.

Some bizarre “erasures”:

Most have started to accompany their displays with labels rich in sorrowful subjunctives. In a recent William Hogarth exhibition at Tate Britain, a much-mocked label next to a painting of Hogarth sitting on a chair noted that the chair was made from colonial timbers. Might the chair’s limbs “stand in for all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity”? In the Burrell Collection, in Glasgow, a label observes that contemporary critics of the artist Édouard Manet often compared his paintings of women to pieces of meat. Might we be “seeing more [in this picture] than just a painting of a ham?” asks the label next to a Manet painting of a ham.

Oy! Yes, some Jews would find offense in that ham. Here it is, and below is the controversial painting showing Hogarth in his chair:

Self-portrait of Hogarth sitting in a chair and painting. The Tate’s label, written by Sonia E. Barrett, reads:

“The curvaceous chair literally supports him and exemplifies his view on beauty,” she writes. “The chair is made from timbers shipped from the colonies, via routes which also shipped enslaved people. Could the chair also stand in for all those unnamed black and brown people enabling the society that supports his vigorous creativity?”.

This shows that there is nothing—literally nothing—that can’t be construed as racist.

Seriously, though, the writer has a good philosophical take on museum erasures:

Some of this is sensible. People in the past did awful things; it is right to think about those things, carefully. If objects have clearly been nicked, it is absolutely right that they should go back. But it is absolutely wrong to do what the Wellcome Collection has, and forget the most obvious thing about the past—namely, that it isn’t another place at all. The past is merely the present, yesterday. We, today, will be in it tomorrow. The clumsy closing of the Medicine Man exhibit is in the past already. And it already looks bad.

History rarely looks kindly on those who put the past on trial from the vantage point of the present. Consider Pope Formosus, a ninth-century pope who annoyed a successor, Pope Stephen VI. Stephen’s chief problem with Formosus wasn’t merely that he was irritating; it was that, since the papacy is held for life, he was dead. Undeterred, Stephen had Formosus’s rotting corpse exhumed, dressed in full papal regalia, put on trial, found guilty, mutilated and then tossed into the Tiber. Today the Cadaver Synod is, in a highly competitive field, considered one of the finest examples of Vatican idiocy in history. Museums and galleries that mutilate their collections to conform to present fashions tend to look similarly absurd. People still smirk at the Gabinetto Segreto in Naples, in which the ruder relics of Pompeii were locked away.

And the ending, which I love because it’s not only true, but very well written.

Un-Wellcome reminders

The job of history is not, as Hilary Mantel once said, to issue “report cards” to the past. The sanctimonious word soup being spread over museum and gallery walls is not necessarily wrong in its conclusions—which are often spot-on. But it is wrong in its aim, which is to tell people what to think. And that is exactly what history should not do. One of the most mocked history books of the 20th century was “Our Island Story”, which was parodied in “1066 and All That” for its habit of briskly dismissing moments in history as “A Good Thing” or a “A Bad Thing”. In contrast, Mantel’s own “Wolf Hall” took Thomas Cromwell, one of history’s most infamous villains, and made him, if not a hero, then at least someone you rooted for. You thought again. You thought at all.

It is the job of history—and therefore of galleries and museums—to make you think. To make you wonder, of any moment in the past: what was the right thing to do? What was the wrong one? Happily, the Wellcome Collection has a temporary exhibit of its own that does just that. Just head over to where Medicine Man used to be. You might have trouble finding it: labels have been stuck over the name in the lifts; in the newly reprinted maps it has already, Soviet-like, vanished. But look carefully and you can still find those six holes on the wall. As you look, it slowly becomes clear what they are: they mark where the sign for the Medicine Man exhibition used to hang. And that does make you think.


h/t: Wayne

“American Dirt”: The book that chilled American publishing

January 26, 2023 • 9:45 am

This three year old novel, which you can buy from Amazon in hardback for only $9.99, is the subject of Pamela Paul’s latest op-ed in the NYT (click on the second image below to read it).  According to Paul, and judging by the news I’ve followed since American Dirt‘s publication, this book had a huge chilling effect on American publishing. It was, Paul maintains, the harbinger of the timorous and self-censoring publishing industry of modern America. But click below to read, and I’ll give a few excerpts.

Paul, as you may know, used to be the editor of the New York Times Book Review, so she knows the ins and outs of publishing, and that informs her harsh critique of how this book—written by Jeanine Cumins and published by Flatiron Press, an imprint of MacMillan—was treated by a woke mob.

Here are two lines from Wikipedia’s bio of Cummins.  See if you can guess what the fracas was about from these:

Cummins’ 2020 novel, American Dirt, tells the story of a mother and bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico, who attempts to escape to the United States with her son after their family is killed by a drug cartel.


Jeanine Cummins identifies as both white and Latina. In a December 2015 New York Times opinion piece about her cousins’ murder, she mentions her Puerto Rican grandmother but also states “I am white…and in every practical way, my family is mostly white.”

Yes, this is a set-up for an accusation of Cultural Appropriation, and that’s what brought the book down, though it ultimately was translated into 33 languages, sold three million copies, and was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s “Book Club”, which guarantees huge sales. But the social-justice mob that went after this book, ignited by a single blog post, has, for the indefinite future, chilled all of publishing. For crying out loud, some people thought I’d have trouble publishing my children’s book set in India, Mr. Das and His Fifty Cats, because I’m not Indian. And indeed, that “conflict” has been mentioned to me by at least one editor. (No, I haven’t placed the book.)

On to Paul’s take:

The story in brief as she tells it:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a pre-publication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb  and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over, sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis, self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

If you want to see an unfair and nasty hit job, I suggest that you read the review of American Dirt below by writer Myriam Gurba, published on the blog Tropics of Meta (click screenshot below).  In the title below, I see Gurba labels Cummins as “pendeja,” which apparently is “a mildly vulgar insult for ‘asshole’ or ‘idiot’ in Spanish” (female form). And “bronca” in Spanish means “row” or “beef”. So the very title begins with an insult:

It’s a short review, but accuses Cummins of cultural appropriation, not having the ethnic credibility to write about Mexico, and, by producing a highly touted book, taking undue credit and quashing the achievements from other Latino authors. Here’s a bit of Gurba’s invective (“gabacha” is a pejorative Spanish word for a non-Hispanic foreigner, a female):

A self-professed gabacha, Jeanine Cummins, wrote a book that sucks. Big time.

Her obra de caca belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:

  1. Appropriating genius works by people of color
  2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
  3. Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.

Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us. Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide. This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a “road thriller” that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.

This vicious attack, laced with Spanish slang, is what launched a thousand sensitivity readers and the mentality that makes publishers wary of putting out any books not written by someone with the proper ethnic cred. Although Cummins has Hispanic genes, a 25% DNA titer was apparently not enough to make her qualified to write about Mexico (note that lots of writers with no Hispanic heritage have previously written about Mexico).

People who liked Cummins’s book suddenly retreated (there were some exceptions, including Latino writers) and Cummins was demonized by her fellow writers. She has not been asked to blurb books by other authors, as her name and endorsement are considered toxic.  As Paul says, “if the proposal for ‘American Dirt’ landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.”

Here’s Paul’s example about how a Latino who defended writers’ use of “cultural appropriation” was treated:

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media.

I guess Hobart’s editors saw themselves as HARMED by Perez’s interview.

This whole thing makes me ill. History is filled with great novels about men written by women (Middlemarch), about women written by men (I just finished the Beartown trilogy by Fredrik Backman, most of whose main characters are girls or women, and portrayed with great insight and sensitivity), and about people of one culture written about by those from another (just one example: Kazuo Ishiguro, born in Japan, now living in England, writes fantastic books about a variety of cultures, including robots). I know readers can think of other “exceptions” like these, for we’ve discussed them before.

It baffles me that you have to be from one gender or racial group to write well about it; it violates the very dictum that we’re all humans and share emotions and thoughts, even if our cultures differ. Nor do I buy the argument that Cummins’s writing about Mexico hurts other Latino authors and prevents them from getting attention. Especially these days, good writing is recognized by publishers. The problem is that they bridle if the good writing is about one ethnicity or gender yet produced by writers from another.

In truth, I don’t think you can make a rational argument for why the gender, race, religion, or ethnicity of an author should be ANY factor in judging their writing. Yes, their backgrounds can liven or add worthwhile nuances to a book, but it doesn’t give them a monopoly on describing their culture. In the end, it looks to me that people like Gurba are making a power grab on art, claiming that, because of their DNA, only they have the ability to write meaningfully about their own country or culture.

It’s nuts. But at least Paul, whose writing I like very much (subscribe to her column), ends on somewhat of a high note. For Cummins, despite being demonized and attacked, and despite having inadvertently turned publishing into an orgy of ethnic introspection, wrote a book that was an international bestseller:

History has shown that no matter how much critics, politicians and activists may try, you cannot prevent people from enjoying a novel. This is something the book world, faced with ongoing threats of book banning, should know better than anyone else.

“We can be appalled that people are saying, ‘You can’t teach those books. You can’t have Jacqueline Woodson in a school library.’ But you can’t stand up for Jeanine Cummins?” Ann Patchett said. “It just goes both ways. People who are not reading the book themselves are telling us what we can and cannot read? Maybe they’re not pulling a book from a classroom, but they’re still shaming people so heavily. The whole thing makes me angry, and it breaks my heart.”

Much remains broken in its wake. Jeanine Cummins may have made money, but at a great emotional, social and reputational cost. She wrote a book filled with empathy. The literary world showed her none.

Such is the work of the Authoritarian Left.

Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school

January 18, 2023 • 10:00 am

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

The statement above was issued by the President of Hamline University in Minnesota after she fired an instructor, Erika López Prater, who showed the students in her art history class an ancient painting of Muhammad. The problem was that the painting, shown below, depicted the Prophet’s face. Different sects of Islam take different positions on whether showing Muhammad’s face is blasphemy, and there are many paintings, old and new, showing his face. The one López Prater showed, from the 14th century, is considered a masterpiece of Islamic art. (It shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.)

Despite the instructor’s warning on the syllabus and also in class that this picture would be shown, some Muslim students, claiming that they were offended, objected, and López Prater was let go (rather, her contract was not renewed).  There were many objections to the firing, including from FIRE, PEN America, and lots of individuals (including Muslims), for Hamline had clearly violated the instructor’s academic freedom. The case is clear cut, and FIRE wrote the University taking them to task.  Hamline refused to re-hire the instructor or admit that it had erred, and Hamline’s President, in a statement excerpted above (see below the fold for her entire statement), dug in her heels.  See here for my previous reports on this shameful episode, including a video in which López Prater explains why she showed the painting and how the University reacted.

FIRE then reported Hamline University to its accreditation agency, and, according to the NYT article below, López-Prater sued the University. Further, as Inside Higher Education reported yesterday (second screenshot below), the University’s trustees issued a statement walking back what they did to the instructor.  For some rea$on they’ve had second thoughts.

Now, because the administration caved into the “offended” students, the school is in a whole heap of trouble. This is the second time the NYT wrote about the school, and Hamline is looking bad. What parent would want to send their kid to such a Pecksniffing school?  As I’ve said, it should be renamed Hamhanded University.

I suspect that the two articles that you can read below will lead to the instructor either being rehired (though she’s apparently had other job offers), or, more likely, a fat monetary settlement. And Hamline deserves to pay big time for firing someone who was not only doing their job, but doing it well—warning students in advance.

From the NYT:

And from Inside Higher Ed:

On January 13, Hamline’s board of trustees, clearly having rethought the actions against Lopez Prater, issued this statement:

As Minnesota’s first university we’ve learned a lot in our nearly 170 years. Recent events have required us to look deeply into our values. We are a beautifully diverse community committed to educating our students and ourselves, and sometimes that means we need to make space for hard conversations and serious self-reflection. This is one of those times. We are listening and we are learning. The Hamline University Board of Trustees is actively involved in reviewing the University’s policies and responses to recent student concerns and subsequent faculty concerns about academic freedom. Upholding academic freedom and fostering an inclusive, respectful learning environment for our students are both required to fulfill our Mission. We will move forward together and we will be stronger for it.

They are listening and learning, and now they have to pay. The statement clearly shows that they are “rethinking”, but they still refuse to admit that they violated academic freedom and that López Prater DID provide a respectful learning experience for her students.

The New York Times quotes a stronger “walkback” statement” from the head of the board of trustees:

Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the president. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

At least Watters admits that there was a misstep. She still doesn’t realize, however, that academic freedom results in some students being offended or disturbed. You can’t always have both, and when they don’t coexist, academic freedom almost always takes precedence over “offense”, real or pretended.

Inside Higher Ed didn’t mention the lawsuit yesterday, so it must just have been filed because it’s described in today’s NYT:

University officials changed their stance after the lecturer, who lost her teaching job, sued the small Minnesota school for religious discrimination and defamation.

. . . The lawsuit, in Minnesota district court, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position, emotional distress and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

In a statement, David Redden, a lawyer for Dr. López Prater, said that having had her actions labeled Islamophobic would follow her “throughout her career” and hurt her ability to obtain a tenure-track position.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Wedatalla [an “observant Muslim student” who complained] “wanted to impose her specific religious views on López Prater, non-Muslim students and Muslim students who did not object to images.”

Mr. Redden said that the university’s new stance would not affect the lawsuit.

The lawsuit added that Hamline treated Dr. López Prater negatively because “she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

As for American Muslims, they’re divided, though I’m heartened by reports that other Muslim groups had no objection to López Prater’s showing the painting, since not all Muslims object to depictions of Muhammad and because the instructor did provide a warning. From the NYT:

Muslim groups are also divided over the Hamline controversy. Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes that showing the image was Islamophobic. But the national group disagreed.

“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the prophet,” the group said in a statement, “professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”

Finally, IHE gives two statements supporting the instructor:

The president emerita of Hamline, Linda N. Hanson, weighed in with a letter to the editor of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“I am concerned about the effect on Hamline’s reputation from the recent incident in which an art professor’s contract was not renewed and the missed opportunity for students to understand and expand their knowledge of Islamic art and history,” the letter said. “This decision has sent the wrong message to Hamline faculty, alumni and the communities it serves. Since Hamline’s founding in 1854, faculty have taught within the principle of academic freedom and examined subjects through the lens of open inquiry and respect for the beliefs, rights and opinions of the students they teach. Generations of Hamline faculty have taught with the belief that adhering to the bright line of academic freedom and supporting students are not mutually exclusive.”

And the Hamline chapter of the American Association of University Professors this morning released a statement that said, “We deeply regret that a colleague was unjustly accused of being ‘undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic’ in a fall semester class. We reject this divisive public statement that has exacerbated the incident, and we call on the administration to do the same.”

The statement added, “To preserve the vibrant environment for open inquiry and free exchange of ideas that Hamline values, we also affirm the primacy of faculty discretion to choose how classes are taught, free from interference by administration. Such administrative respect for faculty judgment is essential to faculty being able to continue to provide innovative and challenging student learning opportunities, consistent with Hamline’s long history.”

The only people siding with the firing of López Prater, then, are University President Miller, who pretends that she didn’t fire the instructor (LOL: she didn’t renew her contract) and Jaylani Hussein of CAIR. Everybody else, clearly including the timorous trustees, seem to realize that letting the instructor go was a huge mistake—a violation of academic freedom that besmirches Hamline’s reputation.

Oberlin College in Ohio did a similar thing when it besmirched the local Gibson’s Bakery by defaming it with accusations of racism. Gibson’s asked for an apology an Obelin refused. The case went to court, an it cost Oberlin $36 million in damages.  López Prater is clearly entitled to a big chunk of change because her reputation has already been damaged, and even if she gets another job, she’ll be demonized by a subset of students. She won’t be able to stay at Hamline, because all those offended students are still there.

The only thing that would have made Hamline back off, as it has done, is a lawsuit. The next headline we’ll see is probably “Money talks, Hamline squawks.”

Best of luck to Professor López Prater! Many of us support you, and not because you’re “Islamophobic”, but because you were doing your job and suffered greatly for it.  As to the firing, the person who should really be fired (and perhaps will) is President Miller. I rarely call for someone’s job, as I believe in second chances, but in Miller’s case her second chance involved digging in her heels and mischaracterizing academic freedom. Having clearly misconstrued the nature of a University, Miller should get her pink slip.

h/t: Wayne. Greg

Click “read more” below to see the statement from Hamline’s President, Fayneese Miller:

Continue reading “Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school”