Historian wins fight over plagiarism claim

A leading Israeli art historian has forced two prestigious academic journals to withdraw claims that she plagiarised the work of a Palestinian artist after threatening to take action in the British courts.

Professor Gannit Ankori, the chair of the Hebrew University’s art-history department, reached a settlement with Art Journal, published by the American College Art Association (CAA).

Her lawyers also intervened over an article which appeared in The Art Book, published by the Oxford-based Blackwell Publishing.

The Israeli academic moved to protect her reputation following reviews of her book Palestinian Art, which was published in English two years ago.

It includes a chapter devoted to Palestinian artist Kamal Boulata with references to his work elsewhere in the book. According to Professor Ankori’s lawyer, Trevor Asserson, before publication she sent Mr Boulata drafts of part of the book for him to check but he reacted by accusing her of plagiarism and engaged in a “mudslinging” campaign.

Three years ago, Mr Boulata’s allegation appeared on a website, prompting another Israeli lawyer to write to him on Professor Ankori’s behalf to reject his claims and accuse him of an apparent “vendetta” against her.

In May 2007, a review of the book appeared in The Art Book, which alluded to “dark accusations of intentional plagiarism” made against it.

But after Mr Asserson’s firm wrote to the publishers, Blackwell, they agreed last summer to withdraw the offending passage and pay Professor Ankori  £15,000.

The author of the review, Susan Noyes Platt, in a letter to Professor Ankori, said that she had “intended to report on certain allegations” but not to suggest they were true. “If the wording can be read in this way, then I apologise for the error and for any embarrassment caused to you as a result,” she wrote.

A few months, later, however, another review of the book, in the autumn edition of Art Journal, accused Professor Ankori of “appropriating” Mr Boulata’s ideas. Its author was Professor Joseph Massad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, who is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University.

In a letter to the journal, Mr Asserson described the review as “highly defamatory”.

But now the CAA has agreed to publish a letter of apology in its forthcoming winter edition and pay Professor Ankori $75,000 (£37,000).

In a letter to Professor Ankori, representatives of the CAA wrote: “We acknowledge that the review contained factual errors and certain unfounded assertions. The CAA’s investigation also revealed no evidence whatsoever that would support the allegation that you plagiarised the work of anyone.”

Professor Ankori said she was “pleased with the settlement, which is a clear vindication. No one should have to go through the harassment and vicious barrage of libellous attacks to which I have been subjected”.

She has donated significant sums from her compensation to the Parents’ Circle, a group of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who work for reconciliation.

She had been encouraged by “the numerous colleagues from the Palestinian, Israeli and international community who have stood by my side”.

The case has raised questions in legal circles of “libel tourism” in which an action is brought in a different jurisdiction from the original country of publication.

But Mr Asserson said: “This is not a case about freedom of speech but rather about its abuse.”

    Last updated: 8:23am, July 4 2008