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‘Respond Forcefully, Expose The Libel’: Interview w. Prof. Eunice Pollack

Professor Eunice Pollack

Professor Eunice Pollack

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Husband and wife. Both Jewish. Both history professors. Both right wing. Both combat anti-Semitism on American college campuses.

Meet Stephen H. Norwood and Eunice G. Pollack.

“It’s very exciting,” Pollack told The Jewish Press. “We go to archives together – he’ll look at one collection while I’ll look at another. It’s great, we’re fighting the good fight.”

In 2007, Norwood and Pollack co-edited the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History. And last year, Norwood published The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses (Cambridge University Press) while Pollack edited Antisemitism on the Campus: Past & Present (Academic Studies Press).

Pollack recently spoke to The Jewish Press about her marriage, her activism, and her new book.

The Jewish Press: It must be pretty interesting being married to someone who works in the same field, writes on the same issues, and takes the same positions as you.

Pollack: It’s wonderful. We’ve even co-authored book reviews together. Each of us reads the book and then we get together, argue about it, and change each other’s point of view.

You teach at the University of North Texas while your husband teaches at Oklahoma University. How does that work?

I didn’t want to teach at the same university as my husband. I wanted to have my own identity. So I called around and found the University of North Texas, and I really love it.

The distance is about a half-hour plane ride. It’s not a big deal. We have houses near both universities, so sometimes we live near one and sometimes we live near the other.

Your most recent book concerns anti-Semitism, but you actually first dealt with this issue head-on as a graduate student at Columbia University, correct?

Yes, I was the architect of the American Historical Association (AHA) resolution on Jews and the slave trade. This was in 1995 after the Nation of Islam had come out with a book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which claimed that the Jews dominated the slave trade. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. It was just chutzpah.

Basically they wanted to paper over the tremendous Arab involvement in the slave trade, which began in the 7th century and continued through the 20th century. I mean, Saudi Arabia only legally outlawed slavery in 1962, at which point it still had 100,000 black slaves. But all that is swept under the rug.

In what sense were you the architect of the AHA’s resolution condemning the Nation of Islam’s position?

I was only a graduate student, but no one would stand up and say that claim was libelous, so I picked up the phone and called the AHA. They said I’d hear from them by the end of May because the executive committee of the AHA only met twice a year.

I waited until the end of May but didn’t get a call, so I called up again and said, “Did you vote on the resolution?” They said, “Oh, it didn’t come up, we didn’t get to new business.” So I wrote to John Coatsworth, AHA’s president-elect, and informed him of what had occurred. He got on board, asked me to draw up a statement on Jews and the slave trade, and things progressed from there.

The point is, though, you have to confront anti-Semitism. You have to pick up the phone and you have to pick up the pen.

In the introduction to Antisemitism on the Campus, you write that anti-Zionism is nothing more than “born-again anti-Semitism.”

That’s right. I think anti-Semitism is being defined more and more narrowly so that almost nothing falls under that category.

Isn’t it possible, though, to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic?

Of course – in theory. But in practice, it’s usually just a mask for anti-Semitism.

Why is anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism tolerated on so many college campuses when racism and other forms of bigotry are not?

Because it’s anti-West. People have this ideology that anything western is terrible. When I teach about Native Americans, [I get the same reaction]: everything the Native Americans did was great, and everything the U.S. did was bad.

So Israel is supposedly white and aligned with the U.S. and therefore is bad, while the Palestinians are supposedly people of color and therefore are good. But people know nothing. When I go to Israel, I always tell people it’s the most heterogeneous society I’ve ever been in. But people are not interested in the facts.

You write that some professors are anti-Israel because they fill academic chairs endowed by Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. Are there many such endowed chairs in the U.S.?

They’re actually very common, but people don’t talk about it. Rachel Fish, who wrote one of the articles in this book, was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School when she heard that a chair was being endowed by the dictator of the United Arab Emirates. She stood up and protested. She got very little support from faculty and her fellow students, but she went public and it was public pressure that finally made Harvard return the money. But you see this all over the place – Columbia, Georgetown, etc.

Is it normal for foreign countries to endow chairs in American universities, or is this phenomenon restricted to Muslim countries?

That’s a great question. I think it is. I can’t [imagine] the Peruvian government giving money to a Latin American Studies department.

You argue that many anti-Zionist professors dispense with academic rigor when writing about Israel. Couldn’t one level that same charge at you and anti-Semitism? For instance, you write that Malcolm X was anti-Semitic even though this claim is, at the very least, debatable. Certainly Malcolm X himself always denied the charge.

I don’t see this [claim being debatable]. Malcolm X goes on and on about how 80 percent of businesses in the black ghetto are owned by Jews. That figure is absurd. He talks about money being ripped from the ghettos and sent over to support Israel and says Israel is built on the backs of exploitation of blacks. It’s terrible.

You deplore anti-Semitism on college campuses, but some right-wing Jews contend that Israel’s weakness vis-à-vis the Arabs makes this anti-Semitism almost inevitable. They argue that the average uninformed citizen looks at the Middle East and thinks to himself: “No country would ever relinquish territory that rightfully belongs to it. If Israel, therefore, is willing to abandon the West Bank, the Arabs must be right: the land was stolen from them.” What do you make of this claim?

It’s very interesting. I think Israel just wants to live a normal, peaceful life. But it is amazing how much it’s willing to give up.

If a college student asked you, “What can I do to fight anti-Semitism on campus?” what would you tell him?

You have to try getting the truth out there. I think that very often Jews on campuses respond to these anti-Semitic assaults by having “feel-good” fairs – “here’s some chumus and wonderful Israeli food.” But I think you have to respond directly and forcefully, and expose the libel.

Is it a winnable battle?

I think it is, but enough people have to risk standing up. People are going to condemn you, but you have to have the strength, you have to have a strong hide.

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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One Response to “‘Respond Forcefully, Expose The Libel’: Interview w. Prof. Eunice Pollack”

  1. Keith David Reitman says:

    Thanks for a delightfull and informative article.

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