Editors Apologize After Israel Studies Publication Accused of anti-BDS, pro-Israel Bias

The controversial special issue of Israel Studies, dedicated to pushing back against anti-Zionism, led to the resignation of 11 members of its editorial board

FILE Photo: Protesters during a BDS demonstration in Marseille, France, June 13, 2015.
GEORGES ROBERT / AFP

Editors of an academic journal specializing in Israel studies have issued a public apology following the resignation of nearly a dozen prominent board members who accused them of serving Israel’s public diplomacy interests and compromising their professional integrity.

The controversy, as exposed in Haaretz, erupted over a special summer issue of Israel Studies — a journal affiliated with the Association for Israel Studies — which was dedicated to pushing back against anti-Zionist rhetoric.

Following its publication, 11 members of the editorial board resigned, noting, in a sharply worded letter of dissent, that the special issue “deviates sharply from academic standards and acceptable scholarly norms,” and that “its publication clearly crossed the lines between academic scholarship and political advocacy.”

>> Read more: 'Anti-BDS, pro-Israel hasbara': Internal war breaks out in Israel Studies field

They demanded that the upcoming issue of the journal include an apology and outline plans for preventing recurrences in the future.

The cover of "Word Crimes; Reclaiming The Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
Screengrab from Indiana University Press

In a statement published in the newly released fall issue of the journal, the co-editors of Israel Studies — Ilan Troen of Brandeis University (also a past president of the association) and Natan Aridan of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, wrote: “We, the co-editors, acknowledge that the special issue and our decision-making process regarding the publication were flawed. We regret any embarrassment caused by the publication to individuals and institutions affiliated with the journal and the field. Though such dissent was not universal, the criticism and the underlying problems it exposed must be addressed.”

In order to “maintain and ensure” the academic reputation of the journal, the editors wrote that in consultation with past and current members of the editorial board, they planned to introduce new procedures for acceptance, review and publication of all articles and special issues.

Among the board members to sign the letter of dissent were Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is currently on faculty at Princeton University; Derek Penslar of Harvard University; Yehudah Mirsky of Brandeis University; and Pnina Lahav of Boston University. They noted in their letter that the special summer issue — titled  “Word Crimes: Reclaiming the Language of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” — was published without their knowledge or consent.

To protest the publication of the special issue, a respected Israeli-American historian declined in April to receive a prestigious award from the association and an invitation to sit on its board.

In the letter announcing his decision that sparked the crisis, Arie Dubnov wrote: “Instead of an invitation to dialogue about the conceptual language and theoretical frameworks used by leading scholars in the field, the [journal’s] ‘alternative dictionary’ appears designed to provide talking points for anti-BDS and pro-‘hasbara’ efforts, and does not serve an academic purpose.”

Dubnov, who serves as the Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University, was referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the public diplomacy performed by the Israeli government.