Art Journal Pays Israeli Scholar $75K After Libel Lawsuit Threat

Article by Controversial Columbia Prof. Is at Issue

By Marc Perelman

Published June 20, 2008, issue of June 27, 2008.
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Read an updated version of this article here.

The publisher of a prominent academic art journal has paid $75,000 and committed to making a public apology to an Israeli scholar who was the subject of a critical review by a controversial Columbia University professor, the Forward has learned.

The College Art Association, publisher of Art Journal, made the payment as part of a settlement reached a month ago pertaining to an article written by Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics at Columbia who is embroiled in a tenure dispute and has been criticized by some Jewish students on campus.

The CAA had been threatened by a lawsuit in the United Kingdom by Gannit Ankori, chair of the art-history department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ankori objected to an article written by Massad that was published in the fall 2007 edition of Art Journal. In his article, which was titled “Permission to Paint: Palestinian Art and the Colonial Encounter,” Massad accused Ankori of “drawing heavily” on the works of a Palestinian artist in her book “Palestinian Art” without giving proper credit — allegations that Ankori disputed.

The Chronicle of Higher Education first reported on the existence of the settlement between Ankori and the CAA, but additional details of the agreement, in particular the financial compensation, were obtained by the Forward on Friday. In an e-mail, Ankori said that she will use the settlement money to pay for her legal bills and donate the remainder to the Parents Circle, a grass-roots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who lost loved ones in the conflict and are now working together for peace.

Massad, who could not be reached for comment Friday, told the Chronicle that the settlement was a “cowardly act.” He acknowledged that his article did contain a few errors but said that the CAA should have defended the right to an open academic debate.

Massad has been accused of harassing pro-Israel students — a charge he has denied — and has been embroiled in a battle over his bid for tenure at Columbia. His tenure was reportedly vetoed by a dean at the university but will undergo a second review next year. It remains to be seen whether the Art Journal flap will have an impact on the evaluation process.

In February, lawyers representing Ankori wrote a letter to Art Journal’s editor, Judith Rodenbeck, and to several CAA officials accusing them of publishing defamatory and false accusations. The 15-page letter explains that because Ankori’s book was published in the United Kingdom, and because of her scholarly reputation there, she was considering filing a libel suit in British courts, which are friendlier to libel lawsuits than are American courts.

CAA’s executive director, Linda Downs, told the Forward that the cost of a legal process in Britain was an important factor in pushing the board to settle. Downs would not comment on the payment to Ankori.

In addition to the payment, the parties agreed that the CAA would remove references to Ankori in the Massad article and send a letter to institutional subscribers and Internet readers of Art Journal urging them to withdraw portions of the disputed article from circulation. The CAA will also publish an apology in the Winter 2008 edition of Art Journal, send a personal letter of apology to Ankori and publish a response to the Massad article from Ankori or someone of her choosing within a year, according to a copy of a settlement letter obtained by the Forward.

“CAA provides a platform for intellectual debate for nearly 100 years, and this is the first time this has happened,” Downs said. “This is very unfortunate and we are very concerned that someone has chosen to take this to a legal realm.”






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