By: Aaron Bandler | Jewish Journal | August 14, 2023
The book in question is the 2017 book “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability” by Jasbir Puar, who heads Rutgers University’s Gender Studies program.
A course at Princeton University reportedly features a book that critics say promotes blood libels.
The book in question is the 2017 book “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability” by Jasbir Puar, who heads Rutgers University’s Gender Studies program. It is listed under the sample reading list for the course “The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South,” which will taught by Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies Satyel Larson. A summary of the book on the website for Duke University Press, which published the book, states in part: “Supplementing its right to kill with what Puar calls the right to maim, the Israeli state relies on liberal frameworks of disability to obscure and enable the mass debilitation of Palestinian bodies.”
In an August 6 letter to Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Near Eastern Studies Department Chair Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi obtained by the Journal, International Legal Forum (ILF) CEO Arsen Ostrovsky expressed “grave concern” over the course’s use of the book. “The book in question contains a number of very serious and defamatory accusations, primarily that the Israel Defense Forces is harvesting the organs of Palestinians, including by ‘shooting to maim, rather than to kill’, in order to create a ‘mass debilitation of Palestinian bodies,’” Ostrovsky wrote. “This charge is not only demonstrably false, but a modern-day antisemitic blood libel.” When asked by the Journal to provide the passages of the book claiming that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, Ostrovsky acknowledged not having access to the full text, but noted that an extract from the book states “Israel manifests an implicit claim to the right to maim and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control.” He also pointed out that the publisher’s summary of the book states that “supplementing its right to kill with what Puar calls the right to maim, the Israeli state relies on liberal frameworks of disability to obscure and enable the mass debilitation of Palestinian bodies.”
Additionally, Ostrovsky noted to the Journal that Puar allegedly said in a 2016 lecture that Israel harvests Palestinian organs; Puar wrote in the Jadaliyya magazine shortly after the lecture that during the lecture she had “made an effort to convey the affective distress and pain of families whose children’s bodies were held for months before being returned. In doing so, I relayed a simple ethnographic observation: ‘Some speculate that their bodies were mined for organs for scientific research.’ This example was intended to highlight the daily terror that imbues Palestinians’ lives and the ways that fear for their bodily integrity animates every interaction with the Israeli state.” Puar further claimed in Jadaliyya that “the fraught history of organ mining practices from both IDF soldiers and Palestinian bodies during the 1990s is well documented” but maintained that she “was not making any empirical claims about current organ mining” during the lecture. “Rather, I was conveying a small part of the sheer terror of life in the West Bank since the uprising began in October 2015,” Puar wrote. “I can only surmise that the charges of anti-Semitism and blood libel leveled against me were intended to discredit scholarship about the deleterious effects of the occupation on Palestinian daily life.”
Asaf Romirowksy, who heads Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Journal, “The whole title of the book ‘The Right to Maim’ is arguing they’re maiming in order to harvest the organs. That’s the whole hypothesis of her book. And so she’s trying to say that this shows the inhumane nature of the Israelis.” He explained that before the book came out, Puar gave a series of book talks where “she spoke out about harvesting of organs and she cites this and alludes to it in the book itself about the continuation of harvesting of organs.” Romirowsky called the book a “work of fiction,” citing University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Professor Emeritus Cary Nelson’s 2019 book “Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State” that devotes an entire chapter toward debunking Puar’s work. Nelson published an op-ed in the Journal on August 8 discussing the “series of malicious, unproven allegations against the State of Israel” in Puar’s book.
In his letter to Eisgruber and Ghamari-Tabrizi, Ostrovsky wrote that “the book in question does not contain any educational merit, but only promulgates a dangerous conspiracy and age-old antisemitic trope. This kind of blind racism would not be permitted against any other minority, and nor should it be tolerated with respect to Jewish students.” He further argued that Princeton is obligated to abide by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to prevent “hostile and discriminatory environments for students, such as one that will inevitably be created as a result of the use of such antisemitic and inflammatory material, as contained in the book ‘The Right to Maim.’” As such, Ostrovsky is urging Princeton to remove the book from the course altogether.
Romirowsky concurred with Ostrovsky. “This should not qualify as scholarship,” Romirowsky said of Puar’s book. “This is propaganda at the highest level … I think it’s academic garbage. This should not even have passed any review of being published as a manuscript, as an academic publication, not to mention by a reputable academic press. The fact that Duke Press would publish this book altogether is insane, but more so the fact that Princeton is sanctioning this as a legitimate book on a [syllabus].” Romirowsky also noted the timing of the book being used on the syllabus in an anthropology-related course right after the American Anthropological Association passed a resolution endorsing an academic boycott of Israel and called Puar one of the “major movers and shakers in the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement.”
Academic Engagement Network (AEN) Executive Director Miriam F. Elman issued a Twitter thread explaining how Puar’s book has been excoriated in “multiple devastating (and peer-reviewed) criticisms” and that such critiques “could also be assigned, providing students w/key insights into how to undertake rigorous research & field work about #Israel in these disciplines—and how NOT to do it.”
StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein told The College Fix, “Jasbir L. Puar’s The Right to Maim spreads hate and disinformation by implying that IDF soldiers have a thirst for harming innocent Palestinians. This not only ignores Israel’s widely recognized efforts to avoid harming civilians, but also echoes age-old antisemitic blood libels.”
Stop Antisemitism tweeted, “Princeton received a B- in our 2022 ‘Antisemitism on U.S. College & University Campuses’ report, with many Jewish students stating they were afraid to admit their connection and support of the Jewish nation … With antisemitic courses like this one, who can blame them?”
The Journal’s requests for comment to the university, Eisgruber, Ghamari-Tabrizi, Larson and Puar (which was made through her website) and Duke University Press were not returned. Eisgruber’s email sent an automatic reply stating that he “is away from the office and will have limited access to e-mail.” Similarly, Larson’s email gave an automatic reply saying to “expect a response to non-urgent matters within 1-2 business days.”