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Ideology over Integrity in Academe

James R. Russell of Harvard University writes in the Columbia Current:

Is this Columbia University? A professor of anthropology calls for a million Mogadishus, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Science tells a girl she isn't a Semite because her eyes are green, and a professor of Persian hails the destruction of the World Trade Center as the castrating of a double phallus. The most recent tenured addition to this rogues' gallery is to be an anthropologist, the principal thrust of whose magnum opus is the suggestion that archaeology in Israel is a sort of con game meant to persuade the unwary that Jews lived there in antiquity.

I could refute the claims that Nadia Abu El-Haj makes in her book, but respected specialists have done so already in Isis, the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, and elsewhere. Facts on the Ground fits firmly into the postmodern academic genre, in which facts and evidence are subordinate to, and mediated by, a "discourse." There is no right or wrong answer, just competitive discourses. It does not come as news that people employ the data of archaeology to prove points of interest to them—information in any discipline used by human beings does not exist in a vacuum. But, as reviewers noted, Facts on the Ground expands upon this insight, quite unremarkable in itself, to propose that Israeli archaeologists use altered or falsified data and do so to a single ideological end. That purpose is to demonstrate a previous Jewish sovereignty and long historical presence that did not in fact exist, thereby to cloak the "colonial" essence of Zionism. This aspect of the book is malign fantasy.

Though alumnae of Barnard have declared they will stop giving money to Alma Mater if El-Haj is tenured, it is unlikely their protests will have any effect. She is fully supported by other ideologues in positions of power at Columbia and by outspokenly anti-Israel academics around the globe. Most of the good lack all conviction, as usual.

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