Plagiarism for Palestine

Posted: September 12, 2011 by Rex Brynen in plagiarism for Palestine
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A little over a year ago, the Aix Group published the latest stage of its research on the economics of Israeli-Palestinian final status issues. Part of this concerns the refugee issue, for which they have also released an associated working paper:

The Palestinian Refugees paper covers further mechanisms on both the national and international levels which are necessary to implement a solution, and the roles and responsibilities of each party in the implementation; In particular the paper elaborate the work of the Group in 2007 by proposing a more detailed structure for the International Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (IAPR) and explains that this agency should start working as soon as possible. click here.

As I read the March 2010 paper this weekend, I was struck by some of the analysis and background material. Not because it was particularly novel—on the contrary, because large chunks of it had been lifted directly, and without attribution, from my own June 2008 Chatham House briefing paper, The Past as Prelude? Negotiating the Palestinian Refugee Issue (itself based on an earlier paper of mine first presented in 2007).

Take, for example, this summary by the Aix Group on the work of the Refugee Working Group:

The Refugee Working Group (RWG) was established in 1991-92 as one of the five multilateral working groups of the Madrid peace process (the others are water, environment, regional economic development, and arms control and regional security). Canada was assigned the “gavel” of the group. Participation was open to any interested state. As with other multilateral working groups, Syria and Lebanon did not participate. Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan did, as did many other regional states and other members of the broader international community.

The RWG met in eight plenary sessions between 1992 and 1995. It also met in various other smaller “intersessional” activities undertaken either by the gavel or by the various thematic “shepherds” working in the group.

Because of its open character and broad-based membership, it was difficult for the RWG to address concrete political issues. Instead, the Palestinians tended to make broad declarative statements of Palestinian refugee rights, while Israel sought to direct the RWG into less political or apolitical efforts aimed at, as they put it, “improving refugee conditions”. The RWG did have some positive effect in focusing attention on refugee conditions, mobilizing some additional resources to address such conditions, and fostering a number of useful research and data-collection projects. It also helped encourage an Israeli undertaking to slightly (and temporarily) liberalize its family reunification processes.

Now compare that with my original piece:

The Refugee Working Group (RWG) was established in 1991–92 as one of the five multilateral working groups (refugees, water, environment, regional economic development, arms control and regional security) of the Madrid peace process. Canada was assigned the ‘gavel’of the group. Participation was open to any interested state. As with other multilateral working groups, Syria and Lebanon did not participate. Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan did, as did many other regional states and other members of the broader international community.

The RWG subsequently met in eight plenary sessions between 1992 and 1995. It also met in various other smaller ‘intersessional’ activities undertaken either by the gavel or by the various thematic ‘shepherds’ assigned with the group. These themes (and the corre- sponding shepherds) were databases (Norway), family reunification (France), human resource development (US), job creation and vocational training (US), public health (Italy), child welfare (Sweden) and economic and social infrastructure (the European Union). Later in the process, Switzerland was given special responsibility for the ‘human dimension’ in the RWG and other working groups.

Because of its open character and broad-based membership, it was difficult for the RWG to address sensitive political issues.2 Instead, the Palestinians tended to make broad declarative statements of Palestinian refugee rights, while Israel sought to direct the RWG into less political or apolitical efforts aimed at improving refugee conditions. The RWG did have some positive effect in focusing attention on refugee conditions, mobilizing some additional resources to address such conditions, and fostering a number of useful of research and data-collection projects. It also helped encourage an undertaking by Israel to slightly (and temporarily) liberalize its family reunification processes.

Yes, exactly my thoughts too. The Aix Group paper also plagiarizes much of its sections on the Oslo Agreement, the Tripartite Committee, the Beilin Abu-Mazen Understandings, the Ottawa Process, Camp David, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba Negotiations,the Beirut Arab Summit Declaration, the Roadmap, and more. At no point does it cite the source, and while a number of my publications are listed in the bibliography, neither the Chatham House paper nor its predecessor are.

Given how much of my stuff has been cut-and-pasted, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if much of the rest of the paper was also lifted from other scholars without proper attribution.

There are a number of excellent people who have worked on the Aix Group’s projects over the years, and they’ve done some valuable research. I don’t know who in particular is responsible for the plagiarism, and in a sense I don’t care. Rather, I’m publicly calling out this particularly egregious example of intellectual theft because this isn’t the first time that someone or other has done it to me or to other researchers.

To offer another example, I picked up a copy of Michael Chiller-Glaus, Tackling the Intractable: Palestinian Refugees and the Search for Middle East Peace (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007) a few years ago after hearing it praised for its very effective overview and summary of the Palestinian refugee issue. While the book certainly does provide that, large sections of it are simply paraphrased from the work of others (myself included) with missing or inadequate attribution. Still another case would be that of Simon Haddad, The Palestinian Impasse in Lebanon: The Politics of Refugee Integration (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2003) which also fails to adequately acknowledge its sources. Reviewing that book for the International Journal of Migration and Integration, I wrote:

Perhaps most seriously, Haddad appears to have “borrowed” material from other scholars without proper attribution. For example, this section of his book (pp. 143-144):

For Israel, however, whatever the legal and moral merit of the Arab claim of the “right of return,” this will not under any conceivable set of circumstances be realized. No Israeli government will ever agree to substantially change the demographic character of the Jewish state, since the state’s very raison d’être is its Jewish character. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has voiced the Israeli position on this point: [quote follows]…”

…bears striking resemblance to a 1997 article in the Journal of Palestine Studies, written by this reviewer:

Whatever the considerable and moral and legal weight of refugee claims, the right of return… is not one that will be realized under any conceivable set of circumstances…. no Israeli government ever will countenance substantially changing the demographic balance of the state, the raison d’être of which is its Jewish character…. Shimon Peres characterizes the right of return as [same quote follows].

One can only hope that other similar “borrowing” has not occurred elsewhere in the volume.

I particularly remember being sent a refugee manuscript to review by the Journal of Palestine Studies some years ago. As I glanced through the piece on my laptop at a conference (yes, I sometimes check mail during slow moments in conferences)  I soon recognized much of it as having been lifted from another scholar. The offending plagiarist, ironically, was sitting across the room from me at the time.

Since there seems to be some confusion among some in the field about what constitutes appropriate citation practice, I thought I would provide some handy PRRN guidelines:

  1. Don’t copy stuff without citing the original source. If you do, that’s plagiarism.
  2. Changing a few words here and there doesn’t somehow make it your work. See Rule #1.
  3. If you still feel the need to use my stuff without appropriate attribution, I’m pleased to announce the Plagiarism for Palestine programme. Simply donate $500 to the current UNRWA Appeal for each page of material you lift from me, and be sure to mark your contribution “Plagiarism for Palestine.” At least that way some good will come out of it.

* * *

See the update on this incident here.

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