Nadia Abu El-Haj: At Center of Newest Battlefield of Middle East Conflict Is Tenure Case at Barnard College





Scholars of anthropology and of Middle East studies are rallying around Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology at Barnard College whose tenure bid, like that of Norman G. Finkelstein at DePaul University earlier this year, has become the subject of an online skirmish in the larger conflict over research on the Middle East.

Central to the controversy is Ms. Abu El-Haj's book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which argues that Israeli archaeology has been shaped by Israeli national identity, and vice versa.

This month a group of Barnard College alumnae posted an online petition urging that Ms. Abu El-Haj be refused tenure and outlining several criticisms of her book (The Chronicle, August 15). That petition, which has drawn more than 1,000 signatures, accuses her of being unfamiliar with Israeli archaeological research, of relying on anonymous sources, and of not being able to speak Hebrew. It also characterizes Ms. Abu El-Haj's book as a partisan indictment of Israeli archaeology that denies outright the existence of an ancient Israelite civilization.

Last week supporters of Ms. Abu El-Haj posted a counterpetition. Many of them cited the high esteem Ms. Abu El-Haj's research has been accorded in the fields of anthropology and Middle East studies, and many others directly countered the accusations leveled against the assistant professor -- including the allegation that she does not speak Hebrew.

"Anybody who reads her work can see that it is replete with Hebrew sources, both written and oral," Lisa Wedeen, chair of the political-science department at the University of Chicago and a scholar of the Middle East, said in an interview. She said that the book contains Ms. Abu El-Haj's own translations from Hebrew, and that they are "fluid and idiomatic."

Accusations that Ms. Abu El-Haj cannot speak Hebrew stem from an earlier scrutiny of her work by a group called the Va'ad ha-Emet, or Truth Committee, which said that she repeatedly confused the Hebrew words for "settlement" and "stream."...


comments powered by Disqus