Friday, December 7, 2007
This is an important guest blog by Hillel Stavis concerning an event that occurred this past Tuesday (scroll down for audio):
Who is J. Lorand Matory and why is he saying those terrible things about Israel and Jews? And why is he "trembling with fear" these days at Harvard University?
Mr. Matory is Professor of Anthropology and of African American and African Studies at Harvard. According to his recent oped in the Harvard Crimson, he "trembles with fear" at the power of the Israel Lobby.
For over 30 years I considered myself an "unofficial" member of the Harvard Community. I founded WordsWorth Books in 1976 and for nearly three decades our bookshop prided itself on serving the Harvard community and welcoming hundreds of authors to speak, regardless of the controversial nature of their writings. In 1989 we were scheduled as the only bookstore in America to host Salman Rushdie just before the death edict was issued against him by the Mullahs of Iran. When the publisher cancelled his appearance for security reasons, we presented a distinguished panel to discuss the state of free speech in the publishing world. We hosted Jimmy Carter twice and Tariq Ali, a voluble critic of Israel. Hardly a week went by without a Harvard graduate walking into WordsWorth thanking us for being a unique venue for ideas or recounting how they had met their future spouse in our Psychology aisle.
WordsWorth was forced to cease operations (like hundreds of other independent bookstores) primarily as a result of the onslaught of Amazon.com and the "big box" stores of Barnes & Noble and Borders.
For nearly twenty years I was a supporter of our local NPR affiliate, WBUR. In the late ‘90s I decided to stop advertising on that station because, in my opinion, the balance and objectivity so often trumpeted by them was absent when it came to one issue: The Arab Israeli conflict. After a number of meetings with the then head of WBUR, Jane Christo and the President of NPR, Kevin Klose, in which I expressed my concerns, I decided to end my relationship with the station. One particular example of the lack of fairness I cited was the complete failure to report on what has often been called "The Forgotten Exodus," namely, the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands that occurred from 1948 to 1968. Just recently, official Arab documents have been disclosed proving collusion by their governments in the expulsion of Jewish citizens. While NPR had presented scores of stories of Arabs who fled Israel after the 1948 war (it is still a matter of debate whether most fled or were expelled), I claimed that in the network’s 30 year history not one story had been aired concerning the Jewish "forgotten refugees." I challenged Mr. Klose to find even one story that NPR had aired on this subject. After about three weeks I received an email form him citing an interview with Andre Aciman, a distinguished man of letters and author of the memoir, Out of Egypt, that was aired on the Terry Gross show, Fresh Air. During the interview, Mr. Aciman remarked that his family had to "leave Egypt" in the 1950’s. Of course, Ms. Gross’s interview did not focus on the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands where they had built thriving communities thousands of years old. Mr. Aciman’s remark was a passing one, a small part of a discussion of his literary oeuvre.
Why am I dredging up this "ancient history" now, you might ask? Well, a few days ago, I decided to spend my lunch hour attending a lecture by Professor Matory, whose recent op ed in The Harvard Crimson stirred up so much controversy. I had never met nor even laid eyes on Professor Matory before his lecture. Imagine my surprise when halfway through his disquisition on Israel and its alleged atrocities against Palestinians, he began talking about me personally, by name, and my decision – more than six years ago - to stop supporting NPR. Professor Matory announced to his audience that I "led a highly damaging donor boycott of WBUR on the grounds that it allegedly broadcast pro-Palestinian points of view too freely." He made no reference to the substantive and, at the time, published reasons I gave for my withdrawing my support. To my amazement, I was being demonized by the professor for exercising my right not to contribute to certain organizations.
During the Q and A period, I stood up and introduced myself to Professor Matory, who was, understandably, quite chagrined by my presence. I challenged him to provide evidence that I "led a highly damaging donor boycott". He provided no evidence other than referring to a Boston Globe article which he claimed appeared in 2002. There was indeed an article in The Boston Globe that year, but it simply recounted the picketing of my store by anti-Israel activists.
My decision to stop advertising was a personal one, reluctantly undertaken by what I perceived as a betrayal of NPR’s mandatory and self-proclaimed policy of balance and fairness. I never led a boycott, nor solicited anyone else to stop funding WBUR. As to his charge that exercising my democratic right not to fund organizations I disagreed with amounted to a "highly damaging" campaign, I reminded him that NPR boasts 860 radio outlets in all 50 states, a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and prides itself on reaching more than 25 million listeners a week. The lower end of the FM broadcast spectrum is reserved for NPR from coast to coast and its affiliates receive their federal licenses free of charge. Their demographics reveal their listeners to be in the top 1% of American earners, the elite of American media consumers. NPR is the "establishment" when it comes to the American university community. The notion that a single, independent bookstore can "damage" one of the largest media outlets in the country is ludicrous.
Professor Matory did not stop at slandering only me. He went on to excoriate another independent bookstore, The Harvard Bookstore, for allegedly yielding to pressure from Professor Alan Dershowitz in dis-inviting Norman Finkelstein from appearing there. Yet a casual glance at the Harvard Bookstore’s titles hostile to Israel vs. those supporting Israel will yield an enormous imbalance favoring the former. Nor would The Harvard Book Store agree to carry a book critical of Noam Chomsky; hardly the profile of a business controlled by "The Israel Lobby."
Just last week, Harvard hosted Noam Chomsky and two passionate pro-Palestinian speakers at the Law School to an overflow crowd of cheering supporters. Rather than "trembling with fear" as Professor Matory puts it, it would seem that his point of view expresses itself whenever and wherever it wants on campus to large, approving audiences.
While decrying the purported "witch hunt" atmosphere on college campuses in general and Harvard, in particular, by "The Israel Lobby" and portraying himself as a victim of a Jewish conspiracy he revealed more than a bit of the paranoid style.
But what is most disturbing about Professor Matory’s apparent obsession with Israel and Jews (at one point he referred to "a moneyed and media connected American Israeli defense force" – I guess we can dispense with the usual coded language observation) is the unavoidable realization that for Professor Matory who was at the epicenter of ousting Larry Summers, ostensibly for sexist remarks, Israel was the primary trigger. It seems clear that for Professor Matory, Summers’ original sin was his opposition to the Harvard divestment - from - Israel campaign expressed long before his (in)famous speech on women in the sciences.
It would seem that Professor Matory has a bad case of Jews-on-the brain. He is beset by Israeli colonizers and their minions on campus: Practitioners of "character assassination, dis-invitation, and other losses of career opportunities campaign contributions, income or friends, and, above all, the damage done by fervent Zionists to the process of intellectual inquiry and debate in this university". By dis-invitation, he was referring to the wide opposition to the Harvard English Department’s invitation to Tom Paulin, an Irish poet who has called for the murder of all Jewish settlers, including men, women and children (a position predictably skipped over by the Professor). Continuing his breathless rant he claimed that even his teaching compensation was not off limits for the vaporous cabal: "Even my annual salary is set by officials who appear to feel threatened by my bringing up this issue."
That a tenured professor is so driven by hatred of Israel, who sees sinister forces plotting against him at every turn and who spearheaded the successful campaign to unseat Larry Summers speaks volumes about power, not powerlessness. Dr. Johnson famously referred to patriotism as "the last refuge of a scoundrel". Were he still with us, he might want to substitute the word, "university" for "patriotism."
Here is the audio of Stavis's confrontation with Professor Matory. First, I have isolated the portion of Matory's talk where he discusses WordsWorth (he repeats the accusation during the Q&A -- not included here), then I have inserted a pause of three seconds and we hear Stavis confronting Matory during the Q&A. Hillel becomes rather emotional, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. It must be tough to sit still while someone tells lies about a business you ran for most of your life:
Here is audio of the entire talk:
Note how Matory spends the first minutes of his talk in an extended version of "Some of my best friends are Jews." My impression of Matory from the little I've heard is that he knows very little of the subject. What we have here is the poison of postcolonial theory. It gives him all he needs to know: He has his good guys, his bad guys and his framework for making declaratory statements -- details and facts are mere inconveniences with slogans ready to hand. Here's a clue: Whenever you hear someone make a blanket statement about every authority on International Law agreeing that the Arab refugees of 1948 must be allowed back into what is now the Nation of Israel, you know they're talking politics, not facts.
I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this matter.