Columbia University's Middle Eastern Studies faculty, once the home of the notorious Edward Said, has become dominated by politicized "scholars" and has been subject of much controversy over classroom indoctrination. Particularly controversial now is the case of Nadia Abu El-Haj, who will soon be considered for tenure, the lifetime job guarantee that enables future Ward Churchills to thrive.
El-Haj's doctoral dissertation-turned-book, Facts on the Ground, has been particularly controversial. It is an attack on archaeology as conducted by Israelis. Hugh Hamilton at Front Page Magazine quoted one admiring reviewer who wrote,
...the book offers "an anthropology of colonialism and nationalism, which follows Foucault and Said" in which "she points to the convergence of archeology's project with that of colonialism."
This is no dry academic exercise. Archaeology brings the abundant evidence that Jews inhabited Israel since biblical times to light, contradicting Arab claims to be the rightful owners.
Because El-Haj will soon become tenured, if politics is in its usual commanding position at Columbia, an ad hoc group was formed to investigate her "scholarship. At National Review's Phi Beta Cons blog, Candace deRussy reports on the inquiry's findings.
A Brief Evaluation of Methodology and Use of Evidence in Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society by Nadia Abu El-Haj
Command of the Hebrew Language
El-Haj has undertaken to write an anthropology of Israeli attitudes towards archaeology and their role in "self-fashioning in Israeli society," yet there is no indication in the text that she either explored these topics in conversation with Israelis in a systematic way (she cites only conversations with tour guides) or by reading materials published in the national language. Indeed, there are indications in the text that she was not capable of doing so due to her apparent unfamiliarity with Hebrew. Even when following a source (p. 95), El-Haj repeatedly mistakes neve (settlement) for nahal (stream), misnaming, for example, Nahal Patish as Neve Patish (writing, roughly, the town of Patish in place of Patish Creek, a stream valley named for its hammer [patish]-shaped rock formation.)
On the next page (p. 96), she accuses Zionist pioneers of naming Tell Hai, Tell Yosef, and Tell ha-Shomer in a manner intended to mislead, that is, by implying that these new villages were built on tells, that is, on sites "of the remains of ancient settlements." El-Haj not only condemns such misappropriation of the word tell but asserts that the government Committee on Place Names (Va'adt ha-Shemot) "insisted" that "such improper terminological uses could not be continued."
Throughout this remarkable passage, Abu El-Haj appears to be entirely unaware that tell (tel) is a common Hebrew word meaning both "hill" and "artificial hill created by the remains of an ancient settlement." A direct translation of Tel Aviv, for example, is Hill of Spring, a hopeful name for a city that makes no pretense to antiquity. El-Haj's assertion that the names of these towns were condemned by the Va'ad ha-Shemot is sheer untruth.
A lack of familiarity with the language of a nation disqualifies a scholar from attempting certain projects. Lack of Hebrew disqualifies a scholar from undertaking a technical discussion of Hebrew and Arabic place-naming.
A study of "archaeological practice" in Israel could be carried out without a working knowledge of Hebrew. It would require the investigator to master the fundamentals of archaeological field research. There is no indication in the text that El-Haj has conducted such a study.