The review process at Duke University Press has come under question after the announcement of the forthcoming publication of a book that claims Israel has a policy of shooting Palestinians to maim them, as part of a program to dominate them.
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Asaf Romirowsky—a Middle East historian, and executive director of the anti-academic boycott organization, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East—asked how a respected academic press came to publish Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability.
Puar, a Rutgers University professor of women’s and gender studies, argues in the book that the Israel Defense Force has “shown a demonstrable pattern over decades of sparing life, of shooting to maim rather than to kill,” an “ostensibly humanitarian” policy that is actually part of Israel’s project of “creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”
“This is pseudo-scholarship, with no data to back up the fallacious theories,” said Romirowsky. “On the other side, there is so much data to counter Puar’s claims about Israeli policies. It’s a compliment to call the book academic garbage—and now it gets the imprimatur of a university press, making it a legitimate secondary source that will be taught and cited.”
“These are lies built on anti-Semitic tropes. The peer review process is set up so that a work with this many problems is not published,” said Romirowsky, who has not published with Duke. “How does Duke University Press endorse this? I can’t figure out what their end goal is here.”
The Duke University Press review process is “single-blind,” according to the online guidelines, meaning the readers know the identity of the author, but the author does not know the identity of the chosen peer reviewers.
The last step in the process is final approval by the Editorial Advisory Board, which is composed entirely of Duke faculty.
The board was formed in 1982 “to ensure that the name of Duke University appears only on publications that have met high standards of peer review.”
All those currently on the board been contacted for comment for their thoughts on Puar’s manuscript.
Board member Adriane Lentz-Smith, an associate professor of history, said she did not read Puar’s manuscript but she has “faith in the rigor of Duke’s review process.”
Ara Wilson, a board member and the director of graduate studies in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies, told the Free Beacon that editorial board discussions are confidential.
Duke University Press did not return multiple requests for comment.
Puar went across the country with “Right to Maim” on a speaking tour, with stops at Vassar College, Rutgers University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, and New York University.
Puar refused to permit Vassar to record her talk—in which she allegedly claimed Israel “mined [Palestinian bodies] for organs for scientific research“—and restrictions were placed on the recording of her Dartmouth appearance.
She cancelled her lecture at Fordham University when administrators insisted on recording it and making it publicly available.
Romirowsky said Puar’s brand of scholarship fundamentally threatens the state of higher education.
“Students who are not educated on these issues are taught lies, and they don’t have the right tools to ask the right questions in response. They go to an academic lecture by an academic who is published by an academic press—of course they’re open to accepting what they are told,” said Romirowksy.
Puar did not reply to requests for comment.
Faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel are “disproportionately affiliated” with gender studies departments, according to a recent study. Gender studies units with one or more pro-boycott lecturers are also 12 times more likely to sponsor anti-Zionist events than their counterparts with no pro-BDS professors.
Of the fourteen members of the Duke editorial board, three are professors of women’s studies and others are affiliated with the discipline.