Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Cary Nelson on Jasbir Puar's book, "The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability."

Cary Nelson, the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the coeditor of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, has just published a scorching criticism of Jasbir Puar's anti-Israel book, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability in the Times of Israel. The book just received an award from the National Women's Studies Association, which has been wholly taken over by the BDS movement.

But the organization that represents many faculty members and graduate students in the field—the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)—has increasingly embraced political aims that display contempt for the objective, self-critical standards that guide the best scholarship. Now it is clear politics has won; the NWSA’s political mission will not be qualified by objective standards. The organization is committed to criminalizing and delegitimating the state of Israel. In 2015 it passed the most far reaching anti-Israel resolution of any major professional association, going well beyond an academic boycott to isolate, and condemn, and do as much economic and cultural damage to Israel as possible. With that NWSA became officially intolerant of all alternative political opinion.
On Puar's book:
The NWSA has now crossed a further line in self-discreditation by honoring Jasbir Puar’s December 2017 book The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, a publication that discards evidentiary standards and instead bases its accusations against the Jewish state on its author’s personal fantasies. In September 2018 the NWSA awarded The Right to Maim its Alison Piepmeier Book Prize, describing the book as a “major milestone.” It has now officially endorsed an irresponsible and discriminatory research agenda for feminist faculty and students.

My book in manuscript—Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State—devotes its longest chapter (30,000 words) to an analysis of Jasbir Puar’s publications. Most anti-Israel faculty publications focus on debatable propositions. Not Puar. You can debate the claim that Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens, but so long as there is evidence of racism among some Israelis you cannot wholly discredit the accusation. Puar, however, makes arguments that can actually be proven factually right or wrong. They are consistently false.

Take one example: she claims that Israel has been stunting the growth of Palestinian children. Stunting (below normal height) means children are at greater risk for illness, reduced cognitive capacity, and premature death. The WHO, UNICEF, and other groups publish statistical reports on this and other health concerns. So does the Palestinian Authority. There are scores of published academic papers on the subject. All come to the same conclusion: comparing stunting rates across the world proves it is not a major health problem in Gaza or the West Bank. The WHO standard for classifying stunting as a major health concern is 20%. Stunting in the West Bank Gaza runs at 7-10% of children aged 1-5 years. By comparison, Egypt’s rate is 19.8%. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia include countries with dramatically higher stunting rates: India (38.4%), Ethiopia (38.4%), Zambia (40%), Pakistan (45%), Madagascar (49.2%), Eritrea (50.2%), and Burundi (57.5%). Puar cites none of this research. If Israel is stunting the growth of Palestinian children it is doing a very poor job indeed.

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