OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Duke University Press enables blood libel at Princeton

The resurrection of professor Jasbir Puar’s modern blood libel as part of an Ivy League humanities course has the Jewish community up in arms.

Perkins Library at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Perkins Library at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Amy Rosenthal. Credit: Courtesy.
Amy Rosenthal
Amy Rosenthal, who lived in Israel as a child, is co-founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Israel.

Do Jews maim innocents to control them and reap economic rewards? Do they target the vital organs of their victims? Do they starve children? This is what Jasbir Puar’s 2017 book, Right to Maim, published by Duke University Press (DUP), claims. These hateful lies about Jews constitute a modern blood libel, a term that has its origins in the Medieval Christendom myth that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in Jewish rituals.

The lie sparked pogroms—i.e., attacks and murder of Jews. The resurrection of professor Puar’s modern blood libel in a 2023 Ivy League humanities course at Princeton University has the Jewish community up in arms. It is the culmination of efforts by Duke University Press to disseminate anti-Israel propaganda—and the failure of prominent Jewish faculty and alumni to confront and dissuade the press from promoting Jew-hatred.

When Right to Maim was published, outraged members of the Jewish community reached out to Duke president Vincent Price. One Duke professor wrote a letter of concern regarding the “extreme bias against Israel among DUP staff and its faculty Advisory Board” since many Duke University Press staff members were openly anti-Israel and supporters of BDS. The professor garnered 16 signatories, including from this author, as well as prominent Duke professors—current, past and emeriti—and sent it to Price, requesting a meeting.

Price rebuffed the request, writing that “the volume in question and its quality should be judged as appropriate in the court of public opinion.” He delegated the issue to a committee under then-provost Sally Kornbluth. The writer believed that a review “behind the scenes” would lead to needed changes. Only one signer pushed for follow-up, but Kornbluth gaslighted the group and nothing happened.

Or rather, nothing good happened. Having successfully stymied Jewish concerns, Duke University Press accelerated its output of antisemitic materials. In 2020, it published The Colonizing Self, Or Homelessness in Israel/Palestine by Hagar Kotef. It portrays Jews as greedy and violent.

In 2021, there was a call for authors to contribute to a DUP publication “Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Palestine,” which “centers Palestinian perspectives.” The original post on Twitter by Somdeep Sen claimed a goal to reshape forms of tourism to help “Palestinians … lay a claim … to their homeland … in the midst of Israel’s settler colonial project.” There is no mention of Jews, Jewish human rights or the 3,500-year Jewish connection to the land.

Four of the original 16 signers showed interest in addressing this ongoing problem. A second letter concerning ongoing anti-Israel bias garnered 47 high-level academic signatories from across America, Canada and Israel, and was sent to Smith and Kornbluth in February 2022. A meeting was requested with Dean Smith, DUP editor since 2019.

Smith agreed to meet. Kornbluth was invited but did not show. Smith claimed that DUP “is an anti-racist publishing organization that aspires to hold justice, equity, diversity and inclusion as values that guide our policies, practices and publications.” He promised that the Decolonial Guide (due to come out late 2023) will be “rigorously peer-reviewed.”

In the meantime, DUP turned out “Gaza on Screen,” which heroizes terrorist attacks on Jews as “resistance,” and Invited to Witness: Solidarity Tourism Across Occupied Palestine, which denies Jewish indigeneity and calls for the removal of the colonizers—aka, the Jews.

Our Jewish faculty group—and the Anti-Defamation League, which was contacted—failed to respond.

Meanwhile, Jewish students at Duke came under attack. The student government refused to grant them the same status as other student organizations, and Duke paid for anti-Israel speakers to mock them in front of hundreds of audience members. Kornbluth responded by joining with a different group of Jewish faculty, signing a public letter denying Duke’s antisemitism problem.

In other words, Jewish faculty at Duke have been complicit in sanctioning Jew-hatred.

For those Jews who are standing with their head not buried in the sand, now is not the time to be complacent.

Given that Duke University has legitimized Puar’s blood libel to the point that her book will be used at a Princeton course and that DUP continues to pump out similar publications, it will only get worse from here unless action is taken to reverse this problem. This is not just about poor academic quality; it is not just about conflict of interest or free speech. It is about the hatred of Jews. Period. Until and unless the truth is confronted, Jewish students and the Jewish community will pay the price.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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