Princeton Professor Defended for Book Choice

The following is the text from a petition signed by 100s in response to pressures to prevent an esteemed professor for teaching a book about Israeli state violence and related topics.  We are reaching out to Jews for Palestinian Right of Return who started the petition to get a current status but to err on the side of caution this editor recommends signing it if you agree.

September 27, 2023

Christopher Eisgruber
President, Princeton University

Dear President Eisgruber,

Thank you for defending academic freedom for Princeton Prof. Satyel Larson, who is under slanderous attack for including an award-winning bookThe Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, by Rutgers University professor Jasbir Puar—on the reading list for one of her fall courses. We now call on you to explicitly reject any attempt to conflate support for Palestinian liberation with hatred of Jewish people.

As part of a wide-ranging inquiry, Prof. Puar critiques the role Israeli state violence and intentional debilitation plays in controlling the indigenous Palestinian population. Now Zionist organizations and representatives—including the Israeli “Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism,” U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer, and Princeton Hillel—have joined forces to malign the book, and by extension the class, as anti-Jewish. Offering no evidence to refute her analysis, they have instead smeared it as “a modern-day antisemitic blood libel,” hoping you—and everyone else—will accept this shameful mischaracterization at face value.

In honest discourse, nothing Prof. Puar asserts should even be controversial, for despite Zionist denials, Israeli violence as a tool to control a colonized people is an incontestable fact. Moreover, her critique (excerpted here) is squarely directed at the Israeli state; it does not in any way target Judaism or Jewish people, and therefore cannot, by definition, be antisemitic.

That has not stopped the Israeli government from calling on the university “to remove the book from the curriculum of any of its courses” and, chillingly, to “conduct a thorough review of the academic materials taught in this specific course, as well as in other courses.”

Nor has it stopped Rep. Gottheimer from misrepresenting the book as a threat to the safety of Princeton’s Jewish students (he also used the occasion to slander scholar Marc Lamont Hill, a speaker at the recent Palestine Writes Literature Festival at University of Pennsylvania).

The attacks on Prof. Larson’s course, however, are far more than a peril to academic freedom or the ideal of university as a place where students come into contact with what you refer to as “disturbing ideas.” In fact, they parallel right-wing assaults on Critical Race Theory, gender studies, and adjacent disciplines.

Like reactionary ideologues bent on suppressing all discussion of structural oppression in the U.S., Zionists are desperate to stop the world from seeing the Israeli regime as it is: a 75-year-old settler-colonial state built on land theft and racist domination. Unable to answer the Palestinian demand for liberation, they are determined to muzzle it by defaming its advocates as Jew-haters and blood-libelers.

This witch hunt misdirects legitimate anxieties over white nationalism—the real driver of resurgent antisemitism—onto Palestinians and their supporters, while distracting attention from the long-standing alliance between Zionists and antisemites over shared Islamophobic, ethno-supremacist, and social Darwinist fixations.

No one with humane values should find anti-Zionism a “disturbing idea.” On the contrary, we should be disturbed by the reality of the apartheid Israeli regime. Advocacy for its victims should be welcomed, and the boycott (BDS) campaign against it, embraced—just as it was right to embrace earlier boycotts against the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa. The call for a free Palestine from the river to the sea, with equal rights for all, should be hailed as a model of transformative justice.

We once again call on you—and all advocates for justice—to join us in saying: anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.


Al Awda New York/New Jersey: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition

American Muslims for Palestine – New Jersey

Council on American-Islamic Relations – New Jersey

CUNY for Palestine

Jewish Voice for Peace – Central New Jersey

Jewish Voice for Peace – New York City

Jewish Voice for Peace – Northern New Jersey

Jews for Palestinian Right of Return

North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group

Occupy Bergen County

Palestinian American Community Center

People’s Organization for Progress

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Further reading:

Letter to the president of Princeton University defending Professor Satyel Larson (Middle East Studies Association)

Open Letter: Stand in Solidarity with Prof. Larson, Stand for Academic Freedom at Princeton (Princeton Alliance of Jewish Progressives