While looking through the new book catalogue for the University of California Press, I was struck by the strong left-wing tilt of the titles it chose to publish. I was at first inclined simply to ascribe the phenomenon to the leftist bias of the academic profession as a whole. But an article in the July 22, 2005, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that the political content of the Press's chosen publications is anything but accidental.
The Chronicle's flattering puff piece describes how UCalPress directress Lynne Withey courageously lived up to the call in her presidential address to the Association of American University Presses about the duty of such presses to publish “controversial” books. The book highlighted by the article is by one of the most prolific and virulent of anti-Israel bashers, Norman Finkelstein, and it is entitled Beyond Chutzpa: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
The tone and substance of the book is exemplified on p. 85:
…Jewish elites in the United States have enjoyed enormous prosperity. From this combination of economic and political power has sprung, unsurprisingly, a mindset of Jewish superiority. Wrapping themselves in the mantle of The Holocaust, these Jewish elites pretend—and, in their own solipsistic universe, perhaps imagine themselves—to be victims, dismissing any and all criticism as manifestations of “anti-Semitism.” And, from this lethal brew of formidable power, chauvinistic arrogance, feigned (or imagined) victimhood, and Holocaust-immunity to criticism has sprung a terrifying recklessness and ruthlessness on the part of American Jewish elites. Alongside Israel, they are the main formentors of anti-Semitism in the world today. Coddling them is not the answer. They need to be stopped.
Does anyone else sense shades of Julius Streicher? No doubt re-education camps are the answer. And this from a publisher that boasts—with due modesty—being “one of the largest, most distinguished scholarly publishers in the world…We have built a reputation for publishing books that matter.”
Directress Withey fails to understand—or more likely, knowingly obfuscates—the difference between a controversial work of scholarship and a political tract. The UCP’s blurbs for its fall 2005 list reveal how many of its publications cross the line into political advocacy:
- Charles Tiefer, Veering Right; How the Bush Administration Subverts the Law to Promote Conservative Purposes. The subtitle sums up the theme that pervades the work: the Bush administration’s “political use and sometimes abuse of the law for conservative political causes”; its “serving extreme ideological causes in ways that distort the governance process in a long-term bid to put the extremists in power over the centrist majority”; and its success in “keeping the American public unaware of policies it would not support.”
- Judith Steinberg Turiel, Our Parents, Ourselves: How American Health Care Imperils Middle Age and Beyond: “Her book clearly demonstrates the pressing need for…universal, publicly funded health insurance.”
- Laura Pulido, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Southern California: “She…includes an engaging account of where the activists are today, together with a consideration of the implications for contemporary social justice organizing.”
- Peter Jelavich, Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture: “Jelavich’s book becomes a cautionary tale about how fear of outspoken right-wing politicians can curtail and eliminate the arts as a critical counterforce to politics.”
- Merrill Goozner, The 800 Hundred Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs: This “gripping expose…suggests how government’s role in testing new medicines could be expanded to eliminate the private-sector waste that drives up the cost of existing drugs.” Goozner is identified as a consulting editor of the Bill Moyers/George Soros-funded leftist publication, The American Prospect.
- Christine Williams, Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality: “Williams discusses specific changes in labor law and in the organization of the retail industry that can better promote social justice.”
- Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker, Coffins on Our Shoulders: The Experience of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel: “[T]he book culminates in a radical and thought-provoking blueprint for reform.”
But back to Finkelstein. The main target of Finkelstein’s “controversial” work is Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. According to the Chronicle article, the manuscript as first written explicitly accused Dershowitz of plagiarism. Dershowitz threatened to sue for libel—“the letter-writing campaign” alluded to without explanation in the UCalPress press release. The solution was typical of left-wingers: innuendo and insinuation.
Professor Dershowitz is more than able to defend himself. What makes the story of larger interest is how UCALPress became the book’s proud parent. The midwife in the conception process was UCalPress editor Niels Hooper. Hooper had collaborated with Finkelstein when working for Verso and arranged for its publication by UCAL Press.
Verso publishers is the creation of the British New Left of the late 1950’s, in a fusion of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activists, “veterans of the unions and Labour Left, radical professionals, countercultural students and artists, and dissident Communists.” Its top journal was the bimonthly New Left Review. “[T]he NLR group sought to provide the theoretical foundation on which a revolutionary culture could be built.” “To facilitate the dissemination of its ideas,” the NLR group launched its own publishing house, New Left Books, which was “later renamed Verso.”
The aim of Verso remains—in the firm’s own description of its Haymarket Series (itself named after the site of a socialist riot)—“[r]epresenting views across the American left…of interest to socialists both in the USA and throughout the world.”
In pursuit of this aim, Verso specializes in publishing denunciations of the United States as an imperialist capitalist power bent on world domination. A typical example is the introduction by Tariq Ali—a leader in the attempted revolutionary coup in France in 1968 and one of Verso’s favorite authors—to his collection, Masters of the Universe (Verso, 2000). Writing about the NATO intervention in the Balkans, Ali wrote:
Many liberal pundits find it difficult to believe that the war in Kosovo was fought for any other but the most profound moral and humanitarian reasons. They believe this not because it is true, but because they want it to be true…The United States played on this liberal guilt as much as they could, but they knew very well why they were waging war…to maintain…hegemony in the New World Order.
An even more striking example of Verso’s paranoid style is William F. Pepper’s An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, which Verso published in 2003. The book’s thesis is that “the corporate establishment” plotted the King assassination with “government departments and their officials…footsoldiers for the mighty economic interests.” The author’s moral? “We have learned by now that a political revolution is not enough. It must be part of a broader social, economic, and cultural revolution…[to] sweep away…the parasitic special interests which continue to drain the very life blood of the people’s liberty.”
As is standard with the extreme Left, Israel-bashing is the reverse side of hatred of the United States. A few Verso titles will suffice as illustration:
- Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality in Israeli-Palestine Struggle (1995);
- Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000; new ed. 2003);
- Roane Carey, ed., The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid (2001);
- Rosie Sandercook, ed., Peace Under Fire, Palestine, and the International Solidarity Movement (2001);
- Baruch Kimmerling, Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians (2003).
I should add that since Norman Finkelstein has been so prolific an anti-Israel propagandist, I have to wonder if there is anything new in the volume to be published by UCalPress that warrants its publication by a university press supposedly devoted to the advancement of knowledge. The list of titles given above—which constitute only a fraction of the anti-Israel books on its roster—gives the lie to Mr. Hooper’s self-serving claim in the Chronicle about “how limited the discussion is on Israel in this country.”
Directress Withey goes on at length in the Chronicle article and her press release about the rigors of the UCalPress review process. Apparently the top criterion for publication is whether the publication reviles Jews, conservatives, Israel, and the United States of America.