Over the past few days, the media in Israel have reported a scandal at the Hebrew University involving a radical feminist professor who was forced to resign because of alleged gross fabrication and distortion of research results. The full details of the story have not been revealed, and parts are being kept quiet by the university authorities. But the parts that have been revealed are sufficiently outrageous.
Meira Weiss was Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Hebrew University, and also was Director of the Leifer Center for Women’s Studies. She claims to be specialized in “medical anthropology” and evidently also taught courses in the University’s medical school. Some of her research concerns health-related issues, including psychiatric topics.
According to Maariv (Israel’s 2nd largest daily) of Jan 21, 2005, and the Jerusalem Weekly Kol Hazman of the same date, the saga began when some “anonymous source” (it is pretty clear that it was another professor) leaked information to campus authorities, claiming that Weiss had falsified results in her research over a long period. Ordinarily such a “leak” would not have produced much reaction, but in this case the allegations were taken seriously enough to open a full-scale investigation.
The newspapers are being very vague about what exactly Weiss was accused of doing, but they cite Hebrew University officials, including university spokeswoman Orit Soliciano, saying that Weiss “falsified and fabricated research results.” The newspaper stories assert that some of this falsification and fabrication was in the dissertations of PhD students studying in the Women’s Studies Center under her supervision. Her supporters in the Women’s Studies Center and in the Department of Sociology are claiming she was the victim of a reactionary witch-hunt by campus authorities opposed to the expression of criticism.
The university authorities are not providing full details. It is not clear whether Weiss was suspected of just making up data and results or perhaps of plagiarizing them from students or other researchers.
Be that as it may, the Hebrew University set up a disciplinary committee at the initiative of the Dean of Social Sciences to investigate the allegations. Weiss was invited to submit her side of the story in full in writing and she did so. She also retained a lawyer. The university investigation committee examined her academic record and work, apparently going all the way back to her PhD dissertation. The committee examined all of the evidence, concluded that she had grossly falsified her research results, and recommended that she be indicted under internal university disciplinary procedures (which might have resulted in her being dismissed, even though she has tenure). They must have believed that what they found was extraordinary; once someone is tenured, it is almost impossible to strip that person of tenure.
At that point, Weiss and her lawyer proposed their own resolution to the scandal. At Weiss’ initiative, it was decided to allow her to resign in the middle of the academic year, rather than face “prosecution” or probable dismissal in disgrace. She hopped the first plane to California and is now a visiting professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.
Weiss has a long history of flaky writing. Some can be seen in the following two web sites about what looks like her defining “research” book: http://sociology.huji.ac.il/the%20chosen%20body.html and http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/anthropological_quarterly/v075/75.1weiss.html.
She has some wacky theories about the “Jewish body” and these seem to be comparable to certain discredited ideas about the “German body”.
She has written that early Zionist leaders endorsed or practiced mass eugenics. Here is a short passage from a review article on her book on “The Jewish Body”: "Prof. Meira Weiss, an anthropologist of medicine at Hebrew University, describes in her book "The Chosen Body" how the settlement of the land and work on the land were perceived by these Zionist thinkers as the "cure" that would restore the health of the Jewish body that had degenerated in the Diaspora. In Nordau's terms, a "Judaism of muscle" would replace "the Jew of the coffee house: the pale, skinny, Diaspora Jew. " At a time when many Europeans are calling for a policy of eugenics, the Jews have never taken part in the `cleansing' of their race but rather allowed every child, be it the sickest, to grow up and marry and have children like himself. Even the mentally retarded, the blind and the deaf were allowed to marry," wrote Ruppin in his book "The Sociology of the Jews." "In order to preserve the purity of our race, such Jews [with signs of degeneracy] must refrain from having children." ( taken from http://www.usenetarchive.org/Dir16/File14.html )
This racialist nonsense, it goes without saying, has already been picked up by anti-Semitic and neonazi web sites as “evidence” of the depravity and racism of Jews.
Among her wackier writings, Weiss has endorsed conspiracist lunacy regarding the now thoroughly-discredited myths of “kidnapped Yemenite children”, a moldy old “theory” popular among Israeli conspiracy nuts. For example, in http://www.medanthro.net/maq/v15/15no2.html, “The Children of Yemen: Bodies, Medicalization, and Nation-Building,” Meira Weiss writes : “Yemenite Jews were among the many immigrants from Arab countries who were flown to Israel after its establishment in 1948. Following many complaints regarding the disappearance of Yemenite children from hospitals and schools in the transit camps where the new immigrants were kept in the 1950s, a governmental investigation committee was established in 1995.” What Weiss neglects to mention is that the committee concluded that there had been no kidnappings at all.
“This article provides a preliminary description, from an anthropological perspective, of what is called in Israel ‘the Yemenite children affair.’ My analysis focuses on interviews with Yemenite Jews, describing how the bodies of new immigrants were medicalized and commodified and how immigrants and their families have come to resist these processes. I then focus on the role of the Israeli medical profession in promoting national goals and maintaining collective identity. [Israel, Yemenite children, medicine, nationalism, body, commodification, medicalization]”
Her full web page at Hebrew U is http://sociology.huji.ac.il/weiss.html. Note the de rigueur “postmodernist” Newspeak and gibberish. Note her obsession with the Yemenite children conspiracist nonsense.
While she has evidently published a few serious articles related to health, much of her other work is feminist boilerplate, and – like most radical feminists - she is pro-Palestinian.
But there is clearly more to the story than simple flakiness or academic unfitness. After all, the Hebrew University is crawling with such professors. Feminists doing low-quality work are not ordinarily canned at the Hebrew University. A few years back, a radical feminist law lecturer was fired for doing what was regarded by the law dons as insufficiently serious research. She then organized the feminist lobby as artillery and the law school was forced to capitulate and re-hire her back.
For the Hebrew University to fire Weiss, she must have been caught with her fingers in a very serious cookie jar. I repeat that the press here is being coy and has not revealed the details of what exactly Weiss’ misdeeds really were. Meanwhile, some radical feminists, including Weiss’ sisters at the Leifer Women’s Center, are trying to pressure Hebrew University to back down in this. This time – uncharacteristically – the Hebrew University is digging in its heels and its PR people are returning fire. Weiss’ attorney struck the deal with the university, by which Weiss retires early (at age 58) in exchange for not being prosecuted or dismissed in disgrace.
But the next question is why Berkeley wants to hire her, given this dubious exit from her previous position. Below is the description of the course at Berkeley that Weiss is currently inflicting upon her students. You can judge it for yourself. I have corrected some of her embarrassing spelling errors in the department’s course description, but have left the Newspeak (e.g., the references to Israeli Arab women as “Palestinian women in Israel”).
ANTHROPOLOGY 119: (SPECIAL TOPIC): THE STATE, MEDICINE, and THE MIDDLE-EASTERN BODY
M. Weiss, TuTh 3:30-5, 105 Dwinelle
This seminar/course examines some major theoretical approaches and debates that have shaped and informed anthropological research, fieldwork practices, analysis and writing concerning medicine and the body in the Middle-East from the mid 20th century to the present. It is open to upper division undergraduates and to graduate students. Graduate students will be expected to write a major research paper only.
The seminar is divided into two parts. We begin by problematizing the question of the body as a biosocial locus where truths and contradictions are expressed, as well as the site of resistance, creativity, and struggle. This part discusses theoretical issues such as the racial\ethnic\national body, the disabled body, Middle Eastern and Western systems of medicine, the politics of medicalization, and the politics of reproduction and infertility in the context of nation-building. The second part focuses on the Middle East. Is there a "Middle-Eastern body" in a similar manner to the "German body" (Linke) or the "Jewish Body" (Gilman)? And, conversely, are there Israeli, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Egyptian bodies? These questions will be explored by discussing cases of reproductive technologies, organ transplantation, genetic testing, identification, forensics, etc. in Middle-Eastern contexts.
This seminar is limited to 15 participants. Active, thoughtful participation in seminar discussions based on a careful and critical reading of the assigned readings is mandatory. Participants are expected to divide themselves into reading groups. Each week one of the reading groups is responsible for co-leading the discussion and presenting relevant background context for the readings. The reading group will meet independently to decide on the themes they would like to discuss and present. Each student is responsible to sign up to write 2 short critical reaction papers ( 2-3 pages each) in response to the assigned readings for each of two pre-selected seminar meetings. A sign up sheet will be distributed during the first meeting. Students will be required to keep a media journal describing and interpreting at least one relevant news story. Finally, each member of the seminar will write a final paper of 20 pages plus bibliography on a topic to be approved in consultation with the professor. An abstract of the proposed paper and bibliography is due on week 8. The final paper is due at the last seminar meeting. Due to the instructors summer research travel , no late papers will be accepted.
Tentative reading list:
Asad, Talal 1998 . Anthropology & the Colonial Encounter. Atlantic Highlands, N.J: Humanity Books.
Gilman, Sander (1991). The Jew's Body. London: Routledge
Ellen Gruenbaum (2001). The Female Circumcision Controversy. Univ. of Penn. Press.
Hogle, Linda ( 1999) Recovering the Nation's Body. Cultural Memory , Medicine and the Politics of Redemption. Rutgers University Press.
Inhorn, Marcia (2003). Local Babies, Global Science: Gender, Religion and In Vitro Fertilization in Egypt. NY: Routledge
Kanaaneh, Rhoda Ann. (2002). Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press
Kahn, Susan (2000). Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel. Durham: Duke University Pres.
Rabinow, Paul (1984). The Foucault Reader. New York : Pantheon Books.
Weiss, Meira (2002). The Chosen Body: The Politics of the Body in Israeli Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.