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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Nadia Abu El-Haj gets tenure at Barnard

The New York Times has a brief announcement this morning that Anthropology Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj has received tenure at Barnard. Here's part of the Times' politically correct announcement:
The professor, Nadia Abu El-Haj, who was born in America and is of Palestinian descent, contended in her first book, “Facts on the Ground,” that Israeli archaeologists searched for an ancient Jewish presence to help build the case for a Jewish state. In their quest, she wrote, they sometimes used bulldozers, destroying the remains of Arab and other cultures.

Her bid for tenure set off petitions supporting and opposing her candidacy; some opponents accused her of shoddy scholarship, while some supporters said her opponents were engaged in an ideological witch hunt.

Barnard officials said in their statement that Dr. Abu El-Haj had passed a rigorous tenure review by scholars from Barnard and Columbia University, as well as independent scholars in her field. Tenure, college officials said, “gives scholars the liberty to advance ideas, regardless of their political impact, so that their work may be openly debated and play a critical role in shaping knowledge in the scholar’s academic field.”
Shoddy scholarship is an understatement. I've discussed Nadia Abu El-Haj and some of the reasons she did not deserve tenure previously here.
Nadia El Haj, a professor at Barnard College in New York City ... denies that the ancient Jewish or Israelite kingdoms existed. "What was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland" is "a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth… transported into the realm of history." The Hasmonean and Davidic dynasties are a mere "belief," an "ideological assertion," a "/pure /political fabrication."


This absurd and unsupported assertion is the theme of Facts on the Ground; Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society by Nadia Abu El Haj, Assistant Professor of Anthroplogy.

Although it my seen incredible that a book could commit a more flagrant violation of scholarly standards than to dismiss the vast body of archaeological and documentary evidence for the existence of the ancient Jewish and Israelite kingdoms, Abu El Haj manages to do so when she excuses the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites when it is done by Palestinians for political purposes. In Abu El Haj's view, deliberately destroying ancient buildings is not to be condemned, it is to be "analyzed as a form of resistance to the Israeli state."

The deliberate destruction of archaeological artifacts, "Needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one ‘fact on the ground."


Nadia Abu El Haj is not a critic of Israel. She is dedicated to eliminating the state of Israel.


Abu El Haj proudly announces in her book that she rejects all "commitment to scientific methods," preferring post structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory… in response to specific postcolonial political movements.” This, of course, enables her to write a study of Israeli archaeology upholding the most absurd idea that the existence of ancient Israelite kingdoms is a "pure political fabrication." She single-handedly attempts to suggest that the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. was not a result of the Roman invasion (as is commonly held by approximately...all the world). This leaves El Haj to suggest that perhaps it was the Jews themselves that destroyed their own city. No evidence is given for this ridiculous claim and since El Haj has rejected scientific methodology, she is now free to ignore all known evidence that counters her wild imaginations.
Mrs. Carl's friend, colleague (sort of - they both work in the same profession) and Barnard classmate Paula Stern has led the fight against granting tenure to Abu El-Haj (and wrote the original post quoted above). She tries to put an optimistic face on losing the battle in this post (Hat Tip: Boker Tov Boulder):
This is a warning to Jewish students at Barnard and Columbia - you will now have one more professor to avoid, one more purveyor of hate in your ranks. Already the lowest forms of life are crawling out amid the ivy. A swastika was painted on a door of a Jewish professor at Columbia, a noose on the door of a black professor, more swastikas in other places - think you that there is no connection?

When a school opens its doors to a man such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and when they hire people like El Haj and Massad, they invite hate to dine, to make its home in its once-hallowed halls. Too many waited too long, and El Haj's acceptance is the result. Let no one think this woman earned this honor - she did not. You need only read her book to see the poor level of her scholarship, the errors that are readily apparent. Even a small child in Israel can point out the errors in language and most high school students have a better understanding of archaeological practice here. But Barnard's administration under Judith Shapiro was not interested in facts, there remains the smell of something rotten just underneath the decision.

Shapiro conveniently withheld the fact that she was a professor of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College while El Haj majored in Anthropology there. This is the same president who admitted to not having read all of El Haj's book, the same woman who is leaving Barnard much worse off than how she found it, lower in the esteem of its graduates for having lowered its standards for El Haj.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that El Haj would receive tenure, she is, after all, the darling of the Anthropology, where no less than 21 professors signed an anti-Israel boycott. No one honestly thought Shapiro would have enough courage to go against the department's recommendation. Some satisfaction can be gained from the latest rumor on campus that, at least, Joseph Massad was denied tenure, though his department will likely try to appeal. And thus...the dirty deal becomes reality, at Barnard's expense.

At a time when most people would wonder what legacy they leave behind, Shapiro can have little doubt that many will remember her for the seeds she planted long after she is gone from Barnard. These are the seeds of hatred and racism. Shapiro has helped lower the standards - mediocrity is now acceptable, if you are politically correct enough to hate Israel and brave enough to hide your political agenda in a bastardized book rather than your doctoral dissertation.
Paula goes on to discuss a course about the history of Zionism that I took as a Junior at Columbia (Paula could not have taken it with me because she - and Mrs. Carl - were four years behind me) with Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who was a Conservative Rabbi and a traditional Labor Zionist (when the two terms were not an oxymoron). Hertzberg passed away in 2006. He is likely rolling over in his grave over this tenure decision. And in this case, I think he might even agree with Paula:
Sometimes, the right is in the fight itself and not in the results. The victory goes to those who fought against her tenure because Barnard now knows it has damaged itself irreparably in the eyes of thousands of its graduates. At a recent gathering of Barnard graduates in Israel, some 90% of the women there signed a petition against El Haj's tenure. The visiting Dean of the College, Dorothy Denburg, was forced to offer a rambling explanation, but mostly, she just asked not to be held responsible for the decision. The oldest alumna there, Class of 1943, listened, and was livid. "I want nothing to do with Barnard. I'm finished with Barnard," she said to those around her, the anger so apparent. This woman has held on to letters and notes from sixty years ago, and when she went home that evening, she left the notes and the book on the table. She is finished with Barnard. It was sad, heartbreaking. This is Columbia's loss.

A petition with over 2,500 names proved that thousands thought the El Haj tenure was wrong decision. They will think twice before sending their children to Columbia, and certainly those yearly requests for money will go unanswered. This too is Columbia's loss. But more importantly, Columbia and Barnard have lost their respect.
For those who went to Columbia or Barnard like Paula, Mrs. Carl and I, Columbia has changed since we were there 25-30 years ago (actually more in my case...). It no longer deserves your respect or support. Don't give it to them.

Read the whole thing.


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