The Petition

OUR LOCAL CORRESPONDENTS about the controversy over anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj of Barnard College. Writer discusses Abu El-Haj’s doctoral dissertation, which was revised and published in 2001 under the title “Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society.” The book looked at the role of archeology in what was essentially a political project: the Biblical validation for Jewish claims to what is now Israel. After teaching at the University of Chicago and spending a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Abu El-Haj moved to New York and joined the faculty of Barnard College. In April of 2006, she came up for tenure there. No one in her department doubted she would get it.

Over the next year, her tenure file passed the scrutiny of three committees, which recommended her for tenure. By the spring of 2007, all that remained was the approval of a fourth committee. In August of 2007, a petition entitled “Deny Nadia Abu El-Haj tenure” was posted on the Internet. It found its way onto a number of email lists and Web sites. The author of the petition was a Barnard alumna named Paula Stern. Writer notes that Stern’s complaints against Abu El-Haj’s work were inaccurate. Stern later predicted that Barnard and Columbia were going to lose a lot of alumni money if Abu El-Haj got tenure. Writer discusses the legacy of the late Columbia professor Edward Said. Many of the attacks on Abu El-Haj made pointed reference to his influence. Tells about Rashid Khalidi, who came under attack for accepting the chair named after Said. Mentions Columbia president Lee Bollinger’s stinging introduction of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke at the university last year. Gives biographical information about Abu El-Haj, who was born in New York and raised in Iran and Lebanon.

She attended Bryn Mawr and later Duke, where her dissertation adviser, Virginia Dominguez, helped her focus her research on how Israel’s Jewish national “self” came to be constructed. Discusses Abu El-Haj’s work on the subject. Tells about “Columbia Unbecoming,” a film about the alleged intimidation of Jewish students by three Middle Eastern professors. A university committee that investigated the claims found no evidence of harassment, but two professors were cited for “episodes” three years earlier. One of these men, Joseph Massad, is currently awaiting word on tenure. Mentions the activities of pro-Israel advocacy groups led by David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, and Charles Jacobs. Tells about criticism of Abu El-Haj by Professor Alan Segal and others during her tenure process. On November 1, 2007, Abu El-Haj was informed that she had received tenure. “What happened last year—it wasn’t about me. I was a cog in the big wheel of the issue of the Middle East and Israel,” she says.

/New Yorker

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Posted in United States, US - Israel relations

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