Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 19, 2009

Bard College terminates Joel Kovel

Filed under: bard college,Palestine,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm

Joel Kovel has been terminated from Bard College. You can read the full statement on the firing on his website. It begins:

In January, 1988, I was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at Bard College. As this was a Presidential appointment outside the tenure system, I have served under a series of contracts. The last of these was half-time (one semester on, one off, with half salary and full benefits year-round), effective from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2009. On February 7 I received a letter from Michèle Dominy, Dean of the College, informing me that my contract would not be renewed this July 1 and that I would be moved to emeritus status as of that day. She wrote that this decision was made by President Botstein, Executive Vice-President Papadimitriou and herself, in consultation with members of the Faculty Senate.

This document argues that this termination of service is prejudicial and motivated neither by intellectual nor pedagogic considerations, but by political values, principally stemming from differences between myself and the Bard administration on the issue of Zionism. There is of course much more to my years at Bard than this, including another controversial subject, my work on ecosocialism (/The Enemy of Nature/). However, the evidence shows a pattern of conflict over Zionism only too reminiscent of innumerable instances in this country in which critics of Israel have been made to pay, often with their careers, for speaking out. In this instance the process culminated in a deeply flawed evaluation process which was used to justify my termination from the faculty.

Of particular interest to me was the participation of Bard College’s chaplain Bruce Chilton on Joel’s evaluation committee. Since this body must be based on impartiality, the inclusion of a hardened Zionist activist would in and of itself invalidate its findings. Joel comments:

The evaluation committee included Professor Bruce Chilton, along with Professors Mark Lambert and Kyle Gann. Professor Chilton is a member of the Social Studies division, a distinguished theologian, and the campus’ Protestant chaplain. He is also active in Zionist circles, as chair of the Episcopal-Jewish Relations Committee in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and a member of the Executive Committee of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East. In this capacity he campaigns vigorously against Protestant efforts to promote divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel… Of course, Professor Chilton has the right to his opinion as an academic and a citizen. Nonetheless, the presence of such a voice on the committee whose conclusion was instrumental in the decision to remove me from the Bard faculty is highly dubious. Most definitely, Professor Chilton should have recused himself from this position. His failure to do so, combined with the fact that the decision as a whole was made in context of adversity between myself and the Bard administration, renders the process of my termination invalid as an instance of what the College’s Faculty Handbook calls a procedure “designed to evaluate each faculty member fairly and in good faith.”

I should add that I listened to the abovementioned “Religion on the Line” radio show and wrote a piece examining Chilton’s defense of Israeli ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

In keeping with Bard College President Leon Botstein’s finely honed ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth, he managed to create the impression this week that he was the best friend that Palestinians ever had:

NY Times, February 15, 2009
Palestinian Campus Looks to East Bank (of Hudson)
By Ethan Bronner

JERUSALEM – It would be hard to find two institutions of higher learning that seem more different than Bard College, an upscale, bucolic college in Dutchess County, N.Y., and Al Quds University, a struggling, sprawling Palestinian institution in and near this disputed capital.

Yet the two schools have decided to join forces in an unusual venture aimed at injecting American educational values and expertise into Palestinian society, in hopes of contributing to a future democratic State of Palestine. Although the effort has been many months in the planning, those involved say the recent war in Gaza and a political turn rightward in Israel make it more important and urgent.

The plan, relying largely on outside financing, includes a liberal arts honors college and a master’s degree program in teaching, both located at Al Quds and granting joint degrees, as well as a model high school to serve as an educational laboratory. The starting date for the first two is September; the high school is to open in 2010.

This is not the first instance of Bard College “adopting” a college in some peripheral country. The Times reports:

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds and a philosopher trained at Harvard and Oxford, who has been pushing to open his institution to outside influences; and Leon Botstein, president of Bard, a polymath whose college has set up special high schools in New York City, humanities classes for the homeless around the United States, and joint programs in Russia and South Africa.

Do you wonder where Bard gets all the money to fund such initiatives, especially when most colleges are being forced to slash budgets? Surprise, surprise. It comes from a famous benefactor of the underdeveloped world:

The initial financing is coming from the liberal financier George Soros, but Mr. Botstein is looking for more, and the Palestinian Education Ministry is being asked to provide help, since the joint degree program has what its proponents consider to be an important civic side.

There is a certain logic in propping up Nusseibeh in light of the decision by Hampshire College, another “progressive” college like Bard, to divest from Israel (even though there are multiple interpretations over whether this took place or not.) On May 19, 2005 Nusseibeh lent his name to a statement opposing a cultural and educational boycott. The NY Times reported:

Two university presidents, one a Palestinian and the other an Israeli, joined on Thursday to urge an end to an academic boycott of Israeli universities by Britain’s leading higher education union.

Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, and Menachem Magidor, president of Hebrew University, made a joint declaration here at an international gathering of scholars debating human rights.

“Our position is based upon the belief that it is through cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved,” the declaration said.

“Our disaffection with, and condemnation of, acts of academic boycotts,” it said, “is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights and equality between nations and among individuals.”

The move comes one week before the higher education union, the British Association of University Teachers, plans to meet to reconsider a decision in April to bar Israeli faculty members at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University from academic conferences and joint research.

The boycott was in response to an appeal by 60 Palestinian organizations complaining about Israeli actions in the conflict with Palestinians.

Is there some connection between Sari Nusseibeh’s opposition to a boycott and Bruce Chilton’s activism against church and university-based divestment campaigns? I will allow you, dear reader, to decide. Being somewhat suspicious of the motives of the George Soros’s of the world, I  believe that he invested wisely when he decided to back Sari Nusseibeh. As one of the capitalist class’s most far-sighted defenders of its long-term interests, Soros has learned to hedge his bets. He has decided in this case to risk alienating Zionist opinion in the U.S. by funding a college run by a nominally anti-Zionist president but made sure to put his money on a safe bet.

Perhaps it was Nusseibeh’s collaboration with the former head of Israeli intelligence that brought him to the attention of George Soros and Leon Botstein:

A modest start for a joint bid to galvanize public support for a permanent peace accord

In the spring of last year, when suicide bombings were at their height and Israeli troops were combing Palestinian cities for terrorists, former Shin Bet security services Chief Ami Ayalon quietly visited East Jerusalem to discuss a peace plan with al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh. The two had met a few months before at a London conference and been struck by the similarity of their views. They agreed that violence was leading nowhere and that Israeli and Palestinian leaders should get back to the negotiating table and tackle the tough “final status” issues.

(The Jerusalem Report, July 28, 2003)

It should be mentioned that Nusseibeh and Ayalon settled on a plan that would drop the Palestinian right of return. It seems that Nusseibeh had a much easier job currying Israeli favor than that of his own people, as this item from the July 18th 1989 Jerusalem Post would indicate:

A leaflet distributed yesterday in Nablus strongly attacks public figures in the West Bank, calling them traitors and collaborators, and targets Bir Zeit University teacher Sari Nusseibeh for the brunt of its attack. In Nablus, a well informed source has claimed that the Unified Leadership of the intifada has lost its power.

A leaflet distributed yesterday in Nablus strongly attacks public figures in the West Bank, calling them traitors and collaborators, and targets Bir Zeit University teacher Sari Nusseibeh for the brunt of its attack. In Nablus, a well informed source has claimed that the Unified Leadership of the intifada has lost its power.

The leaflet, signed by the Popular Army of the State of Palestine, asks sarcastically: “Why has the Lord Doctor secretly left the country?” (Nusseibeh left for England about a month ago with his British wife and three children).

The leaflet accuses Nusseibeh of being a “traitor and collaborator” because of the fact he has not been arrested despite depositions by Palestinians in court that he helped finance the intifada. The leaflet also claims Nusseibeh bought a piece of land in Jabel Mukaber with intifada money.

In other words, the perfect candidate for a collaborative project with Leon Botstein and George Soros.


An atrocious article on Kovel’s termination appeared on Inside Higher Education that could have been written by Bard’s public relations officer. You can read it here to get an idea of how Bard will be defending itself in the court of public opinion, not to speak of the actual legal court in which Joel will be pursuing redress.

Joel and I offer corrections to the crappy report in the comments section but I would be remiss if I did not include this comment from a Bard graduate, class of ’97:

I am very impressed by the way in which many posters cite their “Zionism” along with their academic credentials. It gives me great faith in their impartiality.

As Botstein quite rightly pointed out, Kovel’s views are not terribly radical, but they surely must rankle the passionately pro-Zionist president and chair of the religion department at Bard. This is as clear-cut a case of Bard’s grotesquely pro-Israel stance as anything I have seen (and this is not the first instance). Bard claims to be “a place to think.” Perhaps more apropos would be to describe it as “a place not to think bad things about Israel.”

I’m disgusted. You won’t be getting any alumni dollars from us. Sorry, I learned way too much about critical thinking at Bard to ever let this kind of intellectual bullying stand. Bravo, Mr. Kovel, and to those who live comfortable academic lives in the USA and claim to be “Zionist,” I suggest you go see what’s really happened in Gaza before you let your smug assurance that you’re in the right strangle your sense of decency.


Facebook group created to discuss Joel Kovel termination


Excellent letter to Botstein by Noel Bush, Bard graduate 1996


  1. I sent this email to Mr Botstein earlier today:

    Dear Mr Botstein,

    I am writing you from Edinburgh, Scotland, to register my disgust and outrage at the political witchhunt against Joel Kovel responsible for his dismissal from Bard College. Joel is an internationally renowned champion of universal human rights, evidenced in his principled rejection of and opposition to Zionism, an ideology responsible for the ongoing crime against humanity that is Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land and resources.

    As both an academic and a human being you are a disgrace, deserving of every scintilla of the opprobrium that is sure to come your way from every corner of the globe over this egregious act. You can rest assured that whatever trace of a legacy you leave behind, it will be dwarfed by that left behind by Joel Kovel.

    In the words of the Tibetan proverb: ‘Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep’.

    John Wight

    Comment by John Wight — February 19, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  2. “It seems that Nusseibeh had a much easier job currying Israeli favor than that of his own people, as this item from the July 18th 1989 Jerusalem Post would indicate”

    Lexis-Nexis strikes again. Lucky you, I wish I could use that.

    Comment by littlehorn — February 19, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  3. I led the organization/unionization of the service staff workers at Bard College more than 20 years ago. The workforce had suffered for decades in a captive company union, set up and run by Bard. From the time we started organizing until the day we triumphed we were witness to every despicable tactic imaginable by the college. Countless bogus NLRB delaying tactics, attempted terrorization and alternate bribery of workers, surface bargaining, you name it. We finally shoved Mr. Botstein off-balance by revealing our intent to publish an ad in the NYTimes revealing the fact that he was a member of the American Federation of Musicians (at least back then) and that, among other things, his college paid women “cleaners” one dollar per hour less than male “janitors” for the same work. He seemed concerned enough about it to order his underlings to settle a union contract with us. I never had much faith or trust in liberals, and nothing I experienced with the Bard management changed my mind. Good luck in your struggle, Joel!

    Comment by Chris Townsend — February 20, 2009 @ 1:45 am

  4. […] Bard College has fired Joel Kovel Posted February 20, 2009 Filed under: economics | I am biased since I admire Joel. Lou Proyect has done an excellent job in putting the case into context. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/bard-college-terminates-joel-kovel/ […]

    Pingback by Bard College has fired Joel Kovel « unsettling economics — February 20, 2009 @ 2:54 am

  5. […] I am biased since I admire Joel. Lou Proyect has done an excellent job in putting the case into context. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/bard-college-terminates-joel-kovel/ […]

    Pingback by Bard College has fired Joel Kovel | Economist Blog — February 20, 2009 @ 3:01 am

  6. […] I am biased since I admire Joel. Lou Proyect has done an excellent job in putting the case into context. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/bard-college-terminates-joel-kovel/ […]

    Pingback by Bard College has fired Joel Kovel | 1800blogger — February 20, 2009 @ 3:01 am

  7. […] statement of the firing from Bard College can be found on Joel Kovel’s website. In addition, Louis Proyect has covered this, and has written his own critical responses to Inside Higher Ed for the quality of […]

    Pingback by Academic Freedom News: Ward Churchill, Joel Kovel « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY — February 21, 2009 @ 6:12 am

  8. Do they have a Lavrenti Beria professorship, too?

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — February 21, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

  9. You might want to hold your nose when opening “jack’s” helpful links. The stench of zionist apologia for mass murder is almost overwhelming.

    Comment by belgish — February 21, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

  10. A parenthesis. Reading Lou Proyect’s revelations about Bard College here for many months, I’ve got a hankering to read about that institution in a concise, book-length portrait. He is certainly the man to write it. The place would take on a prototypal value as an instance of the downhill skid of liberal pretensions to clever-dick double-dealing behind progressive camouflage. I imagine something like, in a completely different field, Mike Royco’s “Boss”. That little masterpiece was the result of the author taking bites out of a subject for years and then finally sitting down and making a meal of it with panache. It’s an idea.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 22, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  11. A little calm can make wonders.
    Joel is obviously a decent and intelligent man.
    I am surrounded by great people like him in the Hudson Valley.
    All is fine if it is a search for civil solutions for the nations who suffer from confrontations.
    The matter is murky if it is an unbalanced activism, just because we see lots of injustices from Cuba to Palestine.
    The most difficult problem is to unite the enlightened people in any nations to work for a local civil society.
    George Soros sponsored Eastern European scholars to do that. The results are very meager. The openminded people are not in leadership positions.
    As a contra Marx solution, I think the solution can be found in the constructive circles of the powerful. Perhaps these circles have really put Obama into the Oval Office.

    Comment by SomeIntegrity — February 23, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  12. As a contra Marx solution, I think the solution can be found in the constructive circles of the powerful.

    A solution to what? Three of the major benefactors of Bard College in recent history have been members of the finance bourgeoisie: Charles P. Stevenson Jr., who runs a hedge fund; George Soros, an even bigger hedge fund operator; and Leon Levy, who ran Oppenheimer mutual funds. The United States is going down the drain because of the operations of such characters and will likely drag Bard College down with them. Indeed, Ezra Merkin, who served on the Board of Trustees of the Leon Levy Institute, was Bernard Madoff’s chief enabler and lost $3 million for Bard.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 23, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  13. Keep calm. Don’t rock the sinking boat with any unbalanced activism, at least until my helicopter lifts me off to the constructive heights.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 23, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

  14. Shame on Bard College! Such great thinkers like Joel Kovel, without hesitation, are few who can speak the truth out loud, within the so-called academic world controlled by these thugs! They are afraid that their malicious motives will result in their previleges they enjoy, at the expense of the oppressed, will diminish. What do they do then? Sack such heroes, cowards!

    This is not the only example of how they get rid of truthful, brave, daring individuals who would not succumb to their ongoing agenda of colonialism and exploitation of the weak in this world we live in! Get sense in your heads, you the controllers!

    Comment by Zarina Bhatia — February 25, 2009 @ 12:07 am

  15. The comment made by some ‘Thomas’ above is exactly what I have pointed out about these controlling scums who use their powers in the academic world because decisions of recruiting and sacking are made by them and are based on imperialism. Which staff would preserve their greed and which won’t. Of course these wealthy thugs are non-Marxists, non-thinkers, even supporters of wars, invasion far from wanting World Peace. If scholars like Ilan Pappe or Norman Finklestein who inspite of being Jews themselves, point out the Truth, they have no choice left but to get displaced. This is just common sense, my friends!

    Comment by Zarina Bhatia — March 9, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  16. I stand by all my comments I made earlier. They who sack these heroic people and make their lives unbearable are cowards! Ilan Pappe and Norman Finklestein are not afraid and Joel Kovel won’t either because he has done service to the world of academicians that TRUTH must be told.

    Comment by Zarina Bhatia — November 18, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  17. They did the same thing to Jonathan Brockopp when they denied him tenure some years ago. He had a Ph.D. from YALE and is now a tenured professor at Penn. State.

    Comment by 23 — February 17, 2010 @ 4:49 am

  18. It was an absolutely wonderful experience to hear him speak to a large audience at Birmingham University in UK where I heard this inspiring Professor Joel Kovel. I was only one of the many!

    Comment by Zarina Bhatia — February 19, 2010 @ 1:56 am

  19. The Palestinian leading personality in Washington DC, Ziad Asali wrote a book review in Meretz, and asked all liberal and progressive people to end their support for the extremists in the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian world, mostly fueled by disaproval of Israel and America. Joel is one of these intelligent and smart progressive people. He is right in many points but can not bring himself to saying to the Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans to thread the path of non-violence. My heroes are Gene Sharp, Mandela, Gandhi, Ferenc Deak.

    They would disaprove the thinking of Joel Kovel.

    Comment by Some Caution — March 10, 2010 @ 3:22 am

  20. I do not accept total non-violence as in case of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and occupation of their land. They pause to remain as the ‘poor victims of the Holocaust’ getting away with being perpetrators of the treatment they impose on Palestinians. For more, please see website:


    This Israeli famous jazz player has writings about Zionism and Judaism, and calls himself an ex-Jew!

    Comment by Joke! — March 20, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

  21. Please allow me to share the definition of the word “Zionism:” Zionism is support for the existence of a Jewish state. That is all. Zionism is not incompatible with support for a two-state solution, and it is certainly not incompatible with dissent for the actions of the Israeli government, as some above commenters seem to believe. Mr. Kovel’s views are not illegitimate; however, they are not the only righteous or morally justifiable views to be had.

    That said, I believe that the above vilification of the administration of Bard College may be misplaced. Leon Botstein and Bard College have in fact done a great deal to promote understanding and peace in the Middle East, as evidenced by the initiative with Al Quds University, among others. The article published in Inside Higher Education may promote one side of the story over the other, but more importantly it shows that there are two sides of the story, both of which have certain merits. There is not enough information for outside observers to form a conclusive opinion on the matter; Mr. Kovel may or may not have been unjustly fired.

    Comment by acb — April 5, 2010 @ 2:16 am

  22. #22: What thumb-sucking tripe.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 5, 2010 @ 2:22 am

  23. I am VERY angry. For goodness sake, Professor Kovel IS JEWISH! And for goodness sake, MANY important radicals around the world, perhaps particularly in American (anyone heard of the Weather Underground?), were/are radicals…people who helped bring about the 8-hour-day, end child labor, and all that good stuff…WHY MR. BOTSTEIN JUST WHY!?! Sorry I do not go to Bard I am just a really angry 13 year old Arab Jewish girl (imagine that) who agrees that the state of Israel DOES NOT NEED TO EXIST AND SHOULD NOT EXIST and that we as Jews need to GET OVER OURSELVES. I wanted to go to Bard but ever since this I have just been FUMING. Too bad…I make a 4.0 GPA and have been thinking about college since I was 5- and no thanks to my parents, I am a foster child being raised by a single Hindu mom. Imagine that. A POOR FOSTER CHILD WRITING TO YOU. YOU ARE OF THE ELITE YOU DONT FUCKING UNDERSTAND AND YES I WILL USE FOUL LANGUAGE THIS IS FUCKING AMERICA WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO THAT MR BOTSTEIN BRING HIM BACK NOW OR STEP DOWN. PLEASE! I WANTED TO TAKE HIS CLASSES!!! WHAT IF I PAID YOU OFF? THEN WOULD YOU>>>>>FUCK YOU! Sorry I am being really immaure I have had quite a few break downs lately because of PEOPLE LIKE YOU BRING HIM BACK then i’ll forgive you for everything. and let me cuss. and let me wear my “FREE THE PALESTINE” shirt and be an anarchist and be anti-capitalist and hate the founding fathers and hate capitalism and LOVE MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO REALIZE ALL HUMANS HAVE SUFFERED AND HAVE THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE WHAT THE BELIEVE…unless they are nazis or racists…which KOVEL WAS LESS FACIST THAN YOU YOU FUCKING SELF RIGHTEOUS “OH LOOK AT ME I AM SO YOUNG AND PRESIDENT OF A COLLEGE” NARCISIST!!! i really hate people like you. EVER BEEN POOR? I DIDNT EAT THIS WEEK. WELCOME TO AMERICA.

    Comment by Shakti — April 6, 2012 @ 2:59 am


    Comment by Shakti — April 6, 2012 @ 3:04 am

  25. I cannot agree more with Shakti. Shame, shame, shame!

    Comment by zarinaspeaks — April 6, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

  26. over 2 years since last comment…I heard Dr. Koval’s 2007 or so speech at Berkeley on Guns and BUtter today (WBAI radio 99.5). The risks of speaking truth to power is why so few act as bravely as this man. If the many who have on their minds would find the bravery of these few, the world could change. Until then, the brave pay the price, and the meek suffer a thousand defeats.

    Comment by Albert Horcher — October 4, 2014 @ 3:26 am

  27. Here’s a question I ask myself often – how is Gaza any different than the Warsaw ghetto?

    Comment by Albert Horcher — October 4, 2014 @ 3:28 am

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