Joel Kovel

Eco-socialist and author of the other-worldly ‘Overcoming Zionism’, ‘The Enemy of Nature‘ and other works,  Joel Kovel’s sayings and writings have featured on various occasions into the Green World. He is a considerable influence on Green anti-Zionism, who “understand[s] the desire to smash Zionism” and considers Israel an “abomination” which itself constitutes an occupation.

He has lost his job at Bard College or it lost him – the occasion for a number of retrospectives, including from the man himself (as many anti-Zionists with conspiracy beliefs do when things don’t go their way, he believes it was political rather than professional), a response from Judeosphere, this piece from Ignoblus:

“I once saw Kovel speak at my local lefty book shop. I attended with my wife. It’s perhaps worth noting that, while she’s become sympathetic to the concerns of Zionists since knowing me, she is not herself a Zionist and continues to view the creation of Israel as a mistake. She was quite struck with the absolute absence of any discussion of antisemitism and even put off by the repeated assertions that antisemitism was irrelevant to the discussion. The only reference to the Holocaust -something that really can’t be ignored in a discussion of Zionism- was to claim that it was a myth that Israel’s existence was necessary to prevent another Holocaust.

Further, he continually referred to his own book as “banned.” That was a blatant lie. In fact, his book was on sale at that very shop. The truth is that distribution of his book was suspended while the University of Michigan Press reviewed it’s relationship with Pluto Press. It was Pluto Press which published Kovel’s book, but using UM Press’s name. UM Press decided Kovel’s book was terrible and that they needed to sever their relationship to Pluto Press in order to protect their own reputation. However, when they reached that conclusion, they continued publishing Kovel’s book, citing academic freedom. So, rather than banning the book, UM Press continued to publish what they saw as an obviously inferior work. In his narcissistic rant about being let go from Bard, he continues to refer to the episode as “book burning.”

Although he never used words like “conspiracy” or “cabal,” Kovel’s version of history also contained many, many details that strongly suggested a conspiratorial worldview. For instance, he attributed US support for the creation of Israel monocausally to Jewish funding for Truman’s presidential campaign. Never mind that Truman had been a vocal ally to Zionism long before running for President.

Given the similarity between his organization’s name, The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism (CODOZ), to the blatantly antisemitic Committee for the Open Discussion of the Holocaust (CODOH), I find it difficult to ignore the possibility that these were intentional dogwhistles. Perhaps he’s really that ignorant of antisemitism that he doesn’t know to avoid such things (like Juan Cole’s recent advocacy for an America First movement), but then I think it’s still a revelatory Freudian slip. His sense of victimization and the hands of some powerful, vaguely defined (but constantly growing) group supposedly out to silence him is the same category of mistake -is the same funtionally- as antisemitism.

So, had Bard actually dismissed Kovel for his views -not his advocacy of a one-state solution, but his (borderline?) conspiratorial views on the power of Zionists- I’d probably support them in that. But they didn’t. They cut him to save money.”

That’s most of the post, but go there anyway.

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6 thoughts on “Joel Kovel

  1. Gordon Hodgson

    It’s interesting how when this story broke, what was essentially an autobiographical statement was taken as some kind court transcript. Did no one else think it might be worth seeing what the Uni’s comment was or some dis-interested third party’s take on it?

    When I get sacked, I’m blaming the Masons.

    Reply
  2. Mira Vogel Post author

    That’s a beautiful notion of yours about a dis-interested third party, Gordon.

    I guess Bard has the final say, unless Kovel goes to court like Ward Churchill.

    On a separate note I suppose in academia there’s counter-hegemony and there’s counter-hegemony. It’s long been the case that some arts and social science academics do counter-hegemony in ways which makes them inappropriate to academia. I.e. propaganda, irrationality and poor argument, failure to engage with the opposite point of view on its own terms – all of which add up to bias. I’ve not read his books but I’ve read some interviews – Kovel says some things about Zionism which suggest that he is embracing bias. This is a feature of contemporary anti-Zionism – pushing the idea that there is no other side to the argument that Zionism is racism. An entirely unacademic approach.

    Reply
  3. Rosso Verde

    Hmmmnn..

    I think if anyone in Kovel’s place was sacked they would think the same thing – After all the same happened to Norman Finklestein (I know you are not a fan of him either!)
    I’ve read his (Kovel’s) book on Israel and agree with 95% of it, but about 5% is rather conspiritorial and lets it down somewhat.

    Reply
  4. Mira Vogel Post author

    The thing is, Rosso, the allegations of conspiracy which attached themselves to Jews – unified in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – are the same ones which attach to those who are designated Zionists. Shared purpose, clannishness, covert control, behind-the-scenes dealing. They were unreasonable before Israel existed and they are unreasonable when circulated on Green Party discussion lists today too. While it isn’t unacademic to be wrong, it is definitely unacademic to be unreasonable. Even a bit unreasonable.

    Reply
  5. Matt

    Thank you for the link, Mira.

    Yes, I do think that conspiracism can often be quite like a curate’s egg. Actually, antisemitism often works in ways where it’s not predominantly salient. It ties disparate threads together and creates odd alliances — it’s the conjunctions in an incoherent manifesto.

    In any case, someone (a professor of Jewish Studies focusing on Judaism) has responded to my post, and I now feel my earlier impressions may have been overly generous (see Kovel here). It really is remarkable how Kovel responds to criticism from UMP stating, “For us, the issue raised by the book is not free speech but hate speech,” by blaming a Zionist conspiracy. In fact, he blames his failure to not premiere on the New York Times bestseller list in a conspiratorial fashion as well. Surely some notion of falsifiability must apply. Worse(?) this is in a recent article, where he’s still making the same self-centered claims.

    Reply

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