University of Michigan Press Drops Pluto Press Under Pressure from the Israel Lobby

War Hawks and the Ugly American: The Origins of Bush’s Central Asia and Middle East Policy. Pp. 47-66 and Beyond the Texas Oil Patch: The Rise of Anti-Environmentalism. Pp. 163-184 in Bernd Hamm (ed) Devastating Society: The Neo-conservative Assault on Democracy and Justice (London: Pluto Press, 2005). These are two chapters of mind (the latter co-written with Laurel Phoenix) that are now no longer carried by the University of Michigan press.

When controversy flared last summer, the executive board of the University of Michigan Press defended its relationship with Pluto, saying reservations about the content of a single book shouldn’t interfere with an existing business relationship, and that stopping the book’s distribution would be a blow to academic freedom and free speech. The University of Michigan Press does not review content of the books it only distributes. 

But under pressure from Jewish advocates and three regents, the executive board announced in January that it would re-evaluate all of its distribution deals based on newly created internal guidelines. Pluto was the only independent publisher that didn’t measure up. Last month, the university sent a two paragraph letter notifying Pluto executives that the distribution contract would be terminated in six months, effective Dec. 31. A six-month notice is required by the distribution contract. 

“It wasn’t just one book,” said Betsy Kellman, regional director of the Southfield-based Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, who said Jewish advocates read all of Pluto’s titles. “You can certainly criticize Israel, but when you set them up for a different standard of criticism than any other nation, that’s when we get into trouble,’’ she said. 

Losing the revenues from distributing Pluto books will have an impact on the University of Michigan Press, but it’s too early to be specific, she said. The press received $918,000 in revenues from distributing Pluto Press books in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007. That was 16 percent of the its total revenues that year.

The upshot is that I no longer have chapters published in a university press book.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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