Consortiumnews.com, April 29, 2008
By Morgan Strong
An obscure academic dispute – over whether Israeli archeology sought to obscure the land’s last two millennia of history and promote a continual Jewish claim of ownership – has shown again how tensions in the Middle East can reverberate in unlikely ways in the United States.
The dispute centered on whether Barnard College should grant tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj, an American-born scholar of anthropology who, in the 1990s, challenged the scientific integrity of what she saw as the Israeli use of archeology in a politically motivated way to justify Jewish settlements on territory that had belonged to Palestinians.
Although the controversy wasn’t new – it had been argued out within archeological circles in Israel for years – El-Haj became a lightning rod because she was the first academic of Palestinian descent to publicize the debate in a 2001 book, Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society.
This academic debate boiled over the past two years when El-Haj – who had been a professor at Barnard College since 2002 – applied for tenure in 2006 and became a target of neoconservative attack groups determined to punish her for undermining Israel’s claims to the Holy Land.