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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."

Alan Dershowitz wrote about Matory a few days ago here: "Free Speech For Me, But Not for Thee!", as did Richard Cravatts here: The Academic Shield.

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.

Update: Thanks to those who have linked, including Martin Kramer, Anti-Racist Blog, Atlas, and PowerLine (who also link to their own Matory coverage -- worth having a look).

Update 2: Joel Pollak has a very good report on the talk.



22 Comments

Hillel Stavis AKHBAR!

Professor Matory sounds a little "light in the loafers", if you know what I mean.

Someone should have asked Professor Matory how concerned he is over Current Day Slavery in Sudan or the treatment of Gays in Islamofascist iran, saudi arabia.

One of the more frightening trends occuring on our nation's campuses is the liberal-fascist trend toward stifling ANY points of view not in lock-step with the leftist-liberal world-view. In my view, one of the more horrendous details in this essay is the refusal of the Harvard Book Store to carry a tome critical of Noam Chompsky. Why? Among our elite intelligencia and the students who sit in their classrooms, reasoned discourse is being supplanted by dictatorial dogma.

Many thanks for gathering all the pieces in one place, Sol!

This post is making waves already. Great job!

Liberalism has a clear fascist streak ... the notion that the average person cannot be trusted to behave properly, and that the government (or society) must therefore force "proper" behavior upon the individual, is a fascist notion. It is not surprising that some of the most repressive regimes in the world thus hide behind "liberal"-sounding names:

The People's Republic of China
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea
The Democratic Republic of Congo
National Socialist German Workers Party

No mention of Matory's piece in the Harvard Crimson is complete without also mentioning the pointed response Who’s Really Trembling? in the Crimson by Harvard undergrad Julia Bertelsmann.

You go, girlfriend!

I hope Hillel Stavis has the money to take this guy to the cleaners. If he doesn't I hope someone can do the work pro-bono.

okay..an AWESOME yashah kohach on covering this one. I have to link to this.

Why do these morons REALLY believe the goal of their cause means they can wink at honesty? They REALLY believe it.

Stavis was quite eloquent until he let his emotions get the better of him, though I still think he came off rather well. It was probably very hard to keep his cool as Matory spouted more and more distortions, talking on in that annoyingly dulcet voice of his; also, it was clear that Matory was not about to give Stavis another chance to speak. If Stavis could've shouted out something funny that would made the audience laugh (in spite of itself), it would've been infinitely more effective, but that's a tall order.

This Matory is quite a character, very smooth and reasonable sounding, even as he talks nonsense. Yet Stavis apparently managed to get enough across to plant some doubts in the audience's heads. Some people snickered at him, but others did applaud. His one Achilles heal was in not having read what was written about his incident with WBUR before going to confront Matory. I don't mean everything, but at least what was written in the major papers. That way, he wouldn't have been caught by surprise when Matory mentioned the Boston Globe article. If the article indeed wasn't about a supposed boycott, then Matory was playing dirty pool here. But because Stavis couldn't say back, "I know the article, and it wasn't about that at all...," Matory scored big and severely damaged Stavis' credibility.

It's a shame, but few if any of the members of the audience will even bother to look the article up. They'll just take Matory at his word.

I do hope that the members of the audience found it strange that Matory mentioned only one article, and kept harping on just that one. To me, that stuck out a mile. You just had to figure that, if he could've quoted the New York Times, the Washington Post, or local media, Matory would've leaped at the chance. If he could've quoted statements from NPR or WBUR to the effect that they were being hounded, he would've jumped at the opportunity. But, no. Matory just kept saying "the Boston Globe article...the Boston Globe article." I had the impression that he was basing his case on one thin reed, even if it was the Globe. Also, I hope his listeners asked themselves, "since when does one article ever prove anything?"

I have a recommendation for Stavis' next course of action: I suggest that he write his own letter to the Harvard Crimson. In that letter, he should give a brief account of the encounter with Matory, then make the point that Matory's evidence consisted of one sad reference repeated over and over. Then, the coup-de-grace: He should give the reference to the article and summarize what it was really about, quoting from the article at length. It wouldn't hurt if he could talk to the journalist who wrote that article, to get his or her take on things, though that might be a bit too ambitious. Stavis should also familiarize himself with the coverage about him in the other major media, and summarize that in the letter. This way, there will be nothing else for Matory to lean on...or lie about.

What could Matory say in response? He would probably ignore Stavis' arguments and just repeat his accusations about the Jews in general, but then his lack of any meaningful answer would be apparent to everyone.

Maybe Stavis doesn't want for this issue to keep going on, but I think this last response is necessary. It will be satisfying to him personally, and will make his case all the stronger. And I think that the Harvard Crimson would accept his letter. Whatever biases the Crimson may have (if any), they'd probably be delighted to have this letter, as it will generate more interest in their paper.

My statement to Stavis is "Please go ahead and do this, and good luck."

I do know that some students in the audience Googled the articles right then and there and corroborated what Hillel had said, so some at least did discover the truth right then and there (as well as any others who will read this entry).

Defa-Matory

Inflam-Matory

That's fine, Solomon, that's great to hear. And maybe what they found will spread by word of mouth. But I still think that a letter would have greater reach, and it might even embarrass Matory into dropping his statements about Stavis.

Sorry, maybe I should specify what I mean by "greater reach." You mention that readers of this entry will also google the article. Again, that would be a good thing. But it's also necessary to target the audience that's most likely to be influenced by Matory, and that's the Harvard community, students and academics.

I don't mean to hog your comments section, but I have something to add regarding the Jews from Arab countries.

I want to recommend a great book called The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. It's by New York Times reporter Lucette Lagnado. Her family was originally from Egypt, but they were forced to emigrate from there around 1960. The book focuses on her father and his life as a "man about town" in the cosmopolitan Cairo of the 1930s and 1940s. Then she describes how it all went to pot after King Farouk was overthrown, including the hardships for the Jews. Great book, interesting and well written. It gives a good idea about one part of the "forgotten exodus."

Holy Cow! I just read the article, and was Matory lying!

First of all, he got the date wrong. The article wasn't from 2002, but from the end of 2004. So the one piece of "evidence" that he had he knew very little about.

More importantly, the article only touched briefly on Stavis' decision not to advertise on WBUR. There was no acrimony, and Stavis said in the article that he would advertise at WBUR again. The whole issue was treated in a half dozen sentences way down in the text. The article itself was simply a sad story about a Harvard Square institution forced to close because of the competition from Amazon, B&N and Borders.

I cannot believe that Matory lied so boldly, saying that this article described a widespread boycott headed by Stavis. And to think that this was the only "evidence" this creep was able to cite!

Matory is a liar.

Here is the relevant excerpt, which is only a small part of a larger article.

"In 2002, WordsWorth was picketed because Stavis withdrew financial support for WBUR-FM in the wake of what he said was biased coverage against Israel.

''Water under the bridge and blown out of proportion," he says. ''Yes, I was disenchanted, but at the time we cut back on all our advertising, equally, with 'BUR, WCRB-FM, and the Globe. Others, like Brandeis, also withheld donations."

Why, then, was WordsWorth picketed?

''That's Harvard Square. People believed other people should be constrained to give to organizations of their choosing. Tell me to whom you've given -- and if you haven't given to whom I want you to give, then I want to compel you to do that."

Stavis now says that if a decision is made to advertise, WBUR will be his venue.

''I think coverage has been modified, and we'd support 'BUR because of Robin Young," he said, referring to the cohost of WBUR's ''Here & Now." ''She's a neighbor and has a great show.""

It does not say that Hillel Stavis lead a boycott, as Matory claimed. Unless there is some other article from 2002 which he can produce, then he should admit he was wrong.

Write that letter, write that letter! Joanne, brilliant comments! p.s. somebody make sure Mr. Hillel is made aware of this thread!

Great post - very moving audio. Stavis is a hero and I thought he handled it perfectly - how else is one meant to respond to this sort of toxic nonsense FFS???

I had no idea that his bookstore has had to shut - how sad... I have v fond memories from my student days there and remember they had the best selections - just wonderful for browsing and discovering some treasure or other. I even remember some of the titles I bought there, that's how significant was the experience! I just took one down from the bookshelf to check my memory served me right and found, to my delight, that it still has the Wordsworth bookmark which came with it.

Great post! Why am I not at all surprised?

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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