Many university presses in the United States distribute books for publishers from other countries – and vice versa. But as Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik reported yesterday, the University of Michigan has recently discovered that such an arrangement can land a university in the middle of a controversy over a book neither written by one of its professors nor published by its press.
Last month, the press halted publication of Joel Kovel‘s OVERCOMING ZIONISM, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the “one state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country, without a Jewish character. The publisher is Pluto Press, a British outfit that describes itself as having a left-wing focus and that publishes books by and for scholars in the social sciences. The University of Michigan Press is the American distributor for Pluto. After the book’s halted distribution, Anne Beech, managing director of Pluto Press, defended the book and its publication, saying “[Kovel is] a scholar of standing – not a ranting madman.”
Today, however, Jaschik follows up with a report that UMich has had a change of heart. In a statement released by the university, the press Executive Board (a faculty body) said that while it “has deep reservations about Overcoming Zionism, it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis. We conclude that we should not fail to honor our distribution agreement based on our reservations about the content of a single book.” At the same time, the board tried to distance itself from the book and its publisher. “Had the manuscript gone through the standard review process used by the University of Michigan Press, the board would not have recommended publication. But the arrangement with Pluto Press is for distribution only; the UM Press never intended to review individually every title published by Pluto (or any other press for which it holds distribution rights). By resuming distribution, the board in no way endorses the content of the book.”