The University of Michigan Press executive committee announced yesterday that it will continue its distribution contract with left-wing British publisher Pluto Press.
A statement released by University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the board unanimously agreed to maintain its contract with the London-based publisher under existing contract terms.
The board plans to develop guidelines for its distribution contracts, keeping in mind “the principle of freedom of expression,” the statement said.
Sales of Pluto Press books represented 16 percent -$918,000 – of the University Press’s total revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Cunningham said.
Anne Beech, managing director of Pluto Press, praised the University Press for continuing its contract with Pluto, describing the decision as “brave.”
“The University itself was quite resolute, and we admire them for that,” Beech said. “They really stuck to their guns in this debate.”
The debate surrounding the press’s contract with Pluto involves its distribution of the book “Overcoming Zionism,” written by Bard College Prof. Joel Kovel.
“Overcoming Zionism” argues that Zionism has created an apartheid-like racist state in Israel and that a single, secular, democratic state is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In an August newsletter, the Michigan chapter of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us attacked the book and urged members to contact the University Press and question its distribution of the book.
The group described the book as a “collection of anti-Israel propaganda, misquotes and discredited news stories” and a “rambling negation of every aspect of Israeli society.”
The University announced in August that the University Press would immediately suspend distribution of the book, stating that “members of the University community” had asked “serious questions” about the book.
In September, the University released a statement saying distribution of the book would resume.
Despite having “deep reservations” about the book, the members of the executive board said that not distributing “Overcoming Zionism” raised both First Amendment and censorship concerns.
At the same time, the board said it would reconsider whether it would renew its existing contract with Pluto when it came up for review in October.
The American Movement for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group, said in a statement that it was “appalled” by the university press’s decision to continue its distribution agreement with Pluto.
The statement said that it is unacceptable the University has chosen to associate itself with a book “which attacks the very existence of the State of Israel” and rejects a two-state solution.
“By distributing a factually inaccurate and hateful piece of propaganda, the University of Michigan has discredited its reputation and dishonored its commitment as an honest and intellectual establishment,” the statement said.
In an open letter to the public, author and historian Howard Zinn criticized the University for initially withdrawing the book from distribution.
Writing on behalf of the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism, Zinn said the University’s threat to cancel its contract with Pluto would be a “serious blow to the principles of pluralism, academic freedom and free speech.”
He added that the book is a “serious, well researched work” and also a “valuable addition to the growing debate” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kovel said the board’s decision to continue the Pluto contract was a “victory” for people concerned about the state of democratic debate in our society. “It’s a victory against the efforts of Stand With Us Michigan and, more generally, against the Zionist lobby, to suppress open debate on questions of Israel and Palestine,” Kovel said.
Jonathan Calt Harris, director of the Michigan chapter of Stand With Us, could not be reached for comment last night.