Accuses College of Dismissing Kovel for Writings on Zionism and Israel
The Green Party of New York State condemns the recent termination of Dr. Joel Kovel by Bard College after 20 years on its faculty. We agree with Dr. Kovel, a former Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, that this termination appears to be motivated by political considerations, notably his outspoken criticism in recent years of Zionism and Israeli policy. This incident is part of an escalating attack in America on academics who are critical of Israel’s behavior in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Party calls on Bard College to immediately reinstate Dr. Kovel and restore its reputation as one of the most open and intellectually diverse campuses in the nation.
“A fundamental principle of mine is that the educator must criticize the injustices of the world, whether or not this involves him or her in conflict with the powers that be,” noted Dr. Kovel. “The systematic failure of the academy to do so plays no small role in the perpetuation of injustice and state violence. In no sphere of political action does this principle apply more vigorously than with the question of Zionism; and in no country is this issue more strategically important than in the United States, given the fact that United States support is necessary for Israel’s behavior.”
“I take the view that Israeli human rights abuses are deeply engrained in a culture of impunity, granted chiefly, though not exclusively, in the United States — which culture arises from suppression of debate and open inquiry within those institutions, such as colleges, whose social role it is to enlighten the public,” said Dr. Kovel. “Therefore, if the world stands outraged at Israeli aggression in Gaza, it should also be outraged at institutions in the United States that grant Israel impunity. In my view, Bard College is one such institution. It has suppressed critical engagement with Israel and Zionism, and therefore has enabled abuses such as have occurred and are occurring in Gaza.”
Dr. Kovel, who is Jewish, practiced psychiatry and psychoanalysis for twenty-four years. In 1988 he was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at Bard College. He has published over a hundred articles and essays and nine books, including White Racism, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1972. More recently, he has obtained national attention for his writings on ecosocialism, including the acclaimed book, The Enemy of Nature.
While Bard defends its action on the grounds of budgetary constraints, Dr. Kovel said that his problems with the Bard administration began shortly after he published an article in 2002 entitled “Zionism’s Bad Conscience.” In 2003, after the publication of another article on the “one-state solution” in Israel/Palestine — which would grant full equal rights to all residents, whether Israeli or Palestinian — he was informed by the Dean and Executive Vice-President of the college that he would henceforth be employed half-time.
In 2007, after publication by The University of Michigan of his book Overcoming Zionism, Dr. Kovel came under attack by various pro-Israeli groups and the book was pulled from distribution. Bard College did nothing during this period to defend or protect his rights as a faculty member — a highly unusual act by any institution of higher learning. Only public outcry forced the publisher to reinstate the work. Finally, the committee to review his contract this year included the campus’ Protestant chaplain, Professor Bruce Chilton, an outspoken member of pro-Zionist circles.
“This is an act that has disturbing implications for any scholar that questions the orthodoxy on Zionism,” said Green Party of New York State co-chair Peter LaVenia. “Professor Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007 because of his numerous works questioning Zionism and Israeli policies. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt — both hardly political radicals — have been shunned from numerous speaking engagements because of their book, The Israel Lobby.
“The academy is supposed to be a place where controversial ideas are welcomed as contributing to knowledge, debate, and discussion: the foundation of any involved democratic citizenry,” continued Mr. LaVenia. “This is a systematic attempt by disapproving members of the public and academic administrations to silence a point of view with which they disagree.”
Reposted to IPR by Paulie.