Keeping "Hidden History" Hidden:
American Historical Association Censors Ad
for Book on Israel, Palestine & the US

AHA

Alison Weir
Counterpunch
March 27, 2015

The American Historical Association (AHA) has refused to publish a paid advertisement for my book, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel.

Our adClick on the ad to see an enlarged image

This type of action demonstrates how the history discussed in my book has, in fact, so often remained hidden. It follows an incident a few years ago in which the largest chain of history magazines in the U.S. refused any advertisement by the Council for the National Interest, based on the accusation that CNI is “anti-Israel.”* CNI is a 20-year-old organization that works for policies that represent American interests and principles.

The AHA was founded in 1884 and chartered by Congress in 1889 “to serve the interests of the entire discipline of history,” according to its website. It is the largest professional history organization in the U.S. and publishes two journals, American Historical Review and Perspectives on History. The organization says the latter is “the principal source for news and information about the historical discipline.”

According to AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman in a phone conversation with me, AHA would not publish the ad for several reasons: The book “does not fall within the scope of the mission of the AHA, the book is “advocacy not scholarship,” it “has not been peer reviewed,” and it “has not been reviewed by the mainstream press.”

None of these objections – even if they were accurate – seem relevant to a paid advertisement, and none violate AHA’s published advertising guidelines in any way. In fact, AHA guidelines particularly make clear that advertising in an AHA publication “does not necessarily constitute endorsement or approval of any product or service advertised.”

On top of the irrelevance of Dr. Grossman’s objections to our paid advertisement, his claims contain several fallacies. These may be related to the fact that he has never read the book.

For example, it’s difficult to understand how he could evaluate whether or not the book fits into the scope of the AHA mission to further knowledge of history without reading the book. By the way, my book is thoroughly cited, containing over 300 footnotes and an extensive bibliography. It underwent a thorough fact-checking process before being published.

Dr. Grossman complains the book has not been reviewed by the mainstream press, but it received a long and positive review in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The Washington Report, founded by U.S. ambassadors and Foreign Service officers, has been publishing excellent journalism for over thirty years and is considered by many to be one of the top publications on the region.

Book cover

Against Our Better Judgment has received positive reviews from several distinguished reviewers.

For example, Ambassador Killgore, a career foreign service officer who served throughout the Middle East for many years, wrote that the book was “prodigiously documented” and said, “Alison Weir must be highly commended for throwing such a brilliantly hard light on the relationship between the United States and Israel. I hope this marvelous book gets all the attention it deserves.”

1. Michael Haber, co-founder of the International Development Law Organization in Rome who has been published in the Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, The Hill, International Herald Tribune, and the London Independent, called the book “revelatory and articulate.”

Senator James Abourezk, who has long focused on the region, stated: “This provocative book documents a history that is essential in understanding today’s world. Scholarly, yet readable, it is a must for all Americans.”

Dr. Grossman also claimed that the book was “advocacy, not scholarship.” When I asked how he had arrived at this conclusion without reading the book, he backtracked and said it was not the book itself that was the problem, it was the advertisement. Yet our advertisement contains no advocacy, other than to advocate for the book itself, presumably the function of any book advertisement.

Perhaps one underlying reason for Dr. Grossman’s unsubstantiated claims is that the book was independently produced, rather than the product of the academic and mainstream publishers who normally advertise in AHA, in a belief that such publishers (and such publishers alone) guarantee accuracy. There is much evidence to the contrary, including prize-winning books by major publishers that turned out to be fraudulent.

AHA seems to have had no problem publishing an advertisement by Cambridge University Press for its book Antisemitism and the American Far Left, for example, despite the book’s substantial bias and numerous inaccuracies, including the strange assertion that “university courses on European, American, and Middle Eastern history have rarely addressed the issue of anti-Semitism, or even the Jewish experience.”

Similarly, some of AHA’s articles on Israel-Palestine have contained problematic statements, such as Barry Rubin’s claim that “pro-Israel lobbying efforts… were minimal even into the 1980s,” despite the fact that the pro-Israel lobby had been significant for decades. (Extensive information on this is available in my book and others.)

In addition, the suggestion that the ad was rejected because the book was self-published and therefore not subject to peer review is belied by the fact that a quick scan of AHA advertising reveals that in 2013 AHA published a full-page ad for a self-published book by an individual named Michael Swanson.

In addition, it is likely that many of the commercially published books advertised in AHA did not undergo "peer review," a clearly defined process used in academia that is not standard in commercial publishing.

Troubled by Dr. Grossman’s lack of logic and evidentiary support, I phoned and emailed the members of AHA’s Executive Committee, the body that Dr. Grossman said had made this decision. I asked them why they had decided to ban the ad, and requested that they reconsider this decision. I also asked if they had read the book. (Dr. Grossman had said he didn’t know whether any of them had read it.)

Except for one professor who replied that she believed AHA president Vicki Ruiz had already responded to my concerns (Dr. Ruiz had not)**, none of the committee members responded to my emails and phone calls. I suspect that none have read the book.

These are all professors at reputable American universities. I hope they would not be pleased with students who made decisions about a book without reading it. Moreover, my book is quite short and takes little time to read.

In my email to the committee members, I pointed out that we were not requesting that AHA review my book:

“We simply asked to put in a paid advertisement telling readers about a new history book that contains clearly cited, highly significant information that would quite likely be of interest to them. This information could then be studied, considered, and debated. To me,” I wrote, “this falls within the AHA mission.”

It’s sad that apparently these professors don’t share this view – or don’t find such a principle sufficiently compelling to overrule a recommendation made by their executive director.

Such negligence is particularly unfortunate in those charged with overseeing AHA operations, given that Israel-Palestine, the subject of my book, is an exceedingly timely issue and one that is particularly relevant to AHA – not to mention to millions of people in the Middle East and beyond.

The AHA and Israel-Palestine

The AHA, like several other scholarly organizations, has recently been embroiled in heated controversies involving Israel-Palestine. Such a situation should make AHA even more sensitive to the need for its members to have full, uncensored information on this topic.

In 2014 an AHA member submitted a resolution calling for a boycott of Israel, because of its violations of academic freedom, to be placed on the agenda for the upcoming AHA national meeting.

AHA President Jan Goldstein, however, decided not to add the resolution to the agenda because, according to an announcement by Dr. Grossman, an “insufficient number of AHA members in good standing had signed the petition, and the resolution as written went beyond matters ‘of concern to the Association, to the profession of history, or to the academic profession.’”

While Dr. Grossman ascribed President Goldstein’s decision to consultation with the AHA parliamentarian, the Weekly Standard reported that she had also been heavily lobbied by pro-Israel professors.

A number of other academic organizations have passed such boycott resolutions, including the American Studies Association, Association for Asian American Studies , African Literature Association, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. The American Anthropological Association is expected to endorse a boycott next year, having resoundingly rejected an anti-boycott resolution in 2014. (The Modern Language Association voted on a resolution on Israel’s violations, but although the majority of those voting favored the resolution, the number required to ratify it was not attained.)

After AHA leadership rejected the boycott resolution, a group called Historians Against the War introduced new resolutions that called for ending Israeli violations but stopped short of calling for a boycott.

At this point, the deadline for new resolutions had passed, so the group went to the AHA business meeting and asked for a suspension of the rules so that the resolutions could be sent to the full membership for an “open and full debate.” This failed for a variety of reasons and the resolutions were not debated at that time, but it is clear that discussion of Israel-Palestine will be part of next year’s convention.

The New York Times reported that AHA president Goldstein announced that her successor, Dr. Ruiz, “had already committed to holding several academic sessions on the issue at the 2016 meeting,” and quoted Executive Director Grossman, who endorsed this action: “Our role is to provide a forum for historians to discuss historical context.”

Given such admirable and publicly expressed stances, and the importance of this topic in the AHA, it is disappointing that Dr. Grossman and Professor Ruiz are blocking a paid advertisement for my book from appearing in AHA publications – thus working to prevent the historical context it contains from being part of this extremely important discussion.

Notes:

* The previous organization that censored an ad is World History Group (also known as Weider History Group), which publishes American History, America’s Civil War, Armchair General, Aviation History, British Heritage, Civil War Times, Military History, Military History Quarterly, Vietnam, Wild West, and World War II. For more information on this incident, see “The Empire Behind World’s Largest History Magazine Chain: How American History Magazine Censored Palestine,” CounterPunch, Dec. 6, 2012.

Further Resources on the boycott controversy: Detailed reports on violations: “Israeli Violations of Palestinian Academic Freedom & Access to Education” and “International Human Rights Law: Violations by Israel and the Problem of Enforcement.” ComprehensiveFAQ on the rationale for boycotts. Article on one of the main opponents of the boycott: “Cary Nelson, the AAUP, and the privilege of bestowing academic freedom.”

** After this article was published, I was informed that Dr. Ruiz had sent a response to my emails to her, but this seems to have been misdirected and was never received.

This article contains three updates since its original publication in CounterPunch: that the book underwent a rigorous fact-check process before publication, that AHA published at least one ad for a self-published book, and that many books advertised by AHA likely did not undergo academic peer review.

When I posted this topic to the AHA online Members' Forum, it elicited considerable discussion. After a few days Dr. Grossman wrote that they had decided to "close the threads related to this issue," saying that some members had complained. However, there are easy options by which members can handle unwanted discussions: they can unsubscribe from a dicussion, elect to receive only one daily digest, or choose to receive no emails at all.

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History of the Israel Lobby


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