Reverend Wright & the UCC

Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Thanks for Eudora Smith’s “The Liberation of Reverend Wright” [May 5]. So, there is an echo of the biblical prophetic tradition that remains in the church in America after all! Most of us know precious little about the black church and its rhetorical traditions. The miserable performance of the media covering the snippets from Jeremiah Wright’s sermons reveals their utter ignorance of such traditions, which have sustained millions. Wright stands in a long line of great African-American preachers who have not only read the prophets but had the courage to emulate them.



In Eudora Smith’s praiseworthy article, her brief passage on the roots of the United Church of Christ doesn’t mention the counterpart to the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims and Puritans, namely the Evangelical and Reformed Churches, with their contrasting geographical and ethnic makeup, the latter including many German and Hungarian Americans. The black members of the UCC are part of a denomination that includes a broad range of other members. Since the UCC is receiving a good bit of attention because of Barack Obama, it needs to be presented in broader terms.



Huntsville, Ala.

As a 1948 refugee from Palestine, I have had a keen interest in writings by progressive Jewish Americans on the Palestine/Israel peace process. Henry Siegman’s excellent moral criticism of Israel’s occupation and its treatment of Palestinians in “Tough Love for Israel” [May 5] takes a sharp turn when he refers to the events leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948, which he describes as a “noble Jewish national liberation struggle.” Surely Siegman is aware of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which documents the execution of a plan, conceived and perfected by early Zionists, to dispossess and expel the bulk of the Arab population by acts that included well-documented massacres.

Because the United States and other Western countries glorified Israel’s 1947-48 enterprise, extreme Israelis know they can rely on similar justification of their current policy. This was vividly demonstrated by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, addressing the Knesset on May 2, 1982, criticizing a view that settlements outside the Green Line be stopped: “Settlement [within the Green Line] in areas populated by Arabs…was it moral or immoral?… If that decision is moral, then settlement near Nablus is moral.” Logically, the reverse would also be true. This point is not lost on Siegman, who writes: “Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior.”


Campus Watch, SPME vs. Alterman


Eric Alterman mischaracterizes Campus Watch in his May 5 “The Liberal Media” column, implying that we worked with Paula Stern to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. He is wrong on two counts: first, Campus Watch never coordinated our work with Stern. We operate independently of any external party, be it Stern or David Horowitz. Second, we do not take positions on tenure questions. We insist on our right to critique professors at any stage of their careers, but we did not call for the denial of tenure to Abu El-Haj.

Alterman also charges that Campus Watch “offers its kosher seal of approval for ideologically kosher academics while attacking all others.” In fact, Campus Watch has no litmus test for professors. We critique for analytical failures, politicized scholarship, intolerance of alternate views and abuse of power over students.

WINFIELD MYERS, director, Campus Watch

New York City

Eric Alterman’s May 5 column contains inaccuracies. (1) Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), in its online newsletter, reported but did not take a position on the granting of tenure to Professor Abu El-Haj. Despite numerous requests, SPME did not circulate the petition, precisely because SPME, as an organization of academics, supports “the time-honored tradition of politically disinterested tenure.” (2) As an archaeologist, Alexander Joffe has standing to comment on the validity of Abu El-Haj’s criticisms of Israeli archaeologists. However, he has no official association with SPME, nor does Daniel Pipes. (3) Although Alan Segal publicly opposed tenure for Abu El-Haj, his opposition focused on her scholarship, not her politics.

JUDITH S. JACOBSON, vice president, SPME

Alterman Replies

New York City

I stand by every word in my column. First let’s note that neither letter writer points to a single error of fact. The problems they point out are either “implied” or not stated at all. However, with regard to Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch, I think readers would benefit from knowing more about Pipes and the kind of work in which he and his organization engage. According to my colleague Matthew Duss at the Center for American Progress:

“Pipes spearheaded a campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York, a public school focused on Arab culture and language. The campaign eventually caused the resignation of the school’s principal, Debbie Almontaser. Pipes based his hostility to the school on what he called ‘the basic problems implicit in an Arabic-language school: the tendency to Islamist and Arabist content and proselytizing.’ Needless to say, Pipes offered no evidence for that claim. In keeping with his stated belief that Arab- and Muslim-Americans deserve to be subjected to ‘special scrutiny,’ Pipes apparently thinks the question of whether Barack Obama practiced Islam as a child is so important to the future of the Republic that since December he has penned three articles on the subject, always making sure to apply a thin veneer of ‘scholarly rigor’ over what is in fact an attempt to smear by insinuation and innuendo” (see

Given their involvement in so many campaigns of this nature, it would have been irresponsible of me not to include Pipes and Campus Watch in my discussion of the tenure question.

With regard to SPME, I appreciate Judith Jacobson’s efforts to clarify the work of her organization. It certainly does not deserve to be lumped with Campus Watch, which is why I avoided doing so. Universities have long-established processes designed to insulate the tenure process from the political passions of the day. Any interference in that process is contrary to the principle of academic freedom.


Dancing at the Revolution

Wyoming, Mich.

I was shocked to see Emma Goldman in your subscription ad. In your eyes she may have been one of the “somebodies” who read The Nation, but in my eyes she was the inspiration behind the murder of President McKinley. This is outrageous!