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Reading Salaita in Illinois—by Way of Cary Nelson (part 1)

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Cary Nelson with a handful of offensive tweets from Steven Salaita (photo: Don Lavagne)
Cary Nelson with a handful of offensive tweets from Steven Salaita (photo: Don Lavange)

Ever since the news broke on Aug. 6 that Steven Salaita’s faculty appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) had been terminated due to tweets critical of Israel, the most prominent expert voice—indeed, the only expert mainstream voice—to emerge in support of the university’s decision has been UIUC English professor Cary Nelson.

Nelson’s reputation as an advocate of academic freedom, having lectured and written at length on the subject and having served as the president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has made him the go-to voice on the Salaita affair in reports featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, CNN, HuffPost Live, and elsewhere.

But last January, I wrote a lengthy study of Cary Nelson’s stance toward academic boycotts and Palestine/Israel, calling into question his ability to professionally assess issues of academic freedom when the region is involved.

As a follow-up to that piece, I shall demonstrate that Nelson’s authority to speak about Salaita’s termination is compromised on several counts:

  1. Nelson’s history of direct political opposition to Salaita, specifically on the issue of Israel and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions).
  2. Nelson’s undisclosed communications with the instigator of the attacks against Salaita—William Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection blog—specifically on the issue of Salaita.
  3. Nelson’s membership, and even leadership, in organizations that seek to “strengthen[] the pro-Israel movement on campus,” “advocate on behalf of the State of Israel,” and counter “the far left’s attacks on Israel.”
  4. Nelson’s now-contradictory stances on academic freedom that have even compelled the AAUP to distance itself from his comments.
  5. Nelson’s unfamiliarity with Twitter, which has led him to make embarrassingly ill-informed accusations.
  6. Nelson’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of any interpretation of Salaita’s tweets other than his own, leading to a refusal to argue for his interpretation.
  7. Nelson’s failure to disclose—and even his refusal to disclose at times—the conflicts of interest detailed above before offering a supposedly professional opinion on the matter.

This study is broken into two parts. Here in Part One, I focus on the accusations and misinterpretations made by Nelson against Salaita’s tweets. Tomorrow, in Part Two, I will situate Cary Nelson’s role in the larger anti-BDS campaign for which Salaita is being targeted.

Part One is broken into several sections:

In the course of this study, I sought a phone interview with Cary Nelson to give him the opportunity to respond to the issues I present below. He declined my request, so I emailed him a list of nine questions. Of those nine, Nelson responded to seven, from which I quote where appropriate.

• • •

In response to the initial Inside Higher Ed article that broke the story of Salaita’s termination, Cary Nelson submitted a comment to clarify what he found objectionable with Salaita’s tweets. Nelson’s comment stated the following:

[Inside Higher Ed] is interpreting my comments about Salaita to embody issues of “collegiality and civility.” I did not use those terms in anything I wrote about him and would not do so. Indeed I think it would be trivializing his social media presence to characterize it as uncollegial.

When Salaita tweets “If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being” he issues a judgment about his future students that would justify them believing they would be academically at risk in expressing pro-Israeli views in class.

When he gives us this definition—“Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948” he crosses a line into hate speech.

When he retweets a suggestion that a well-known American reporter should be met with “the point of a shiv” he crosses a line into inciting violence.

Nelson repeated these claims in subequent outlets, and so I take them to be representative of Nelson’s criticisms of Salaita’s tweets.

Below, I examine what Cary Nelson suggests to be the four most damning tweets made by Steven Salaita, using Nelson’s own criteria:

  • One tweet which Nelson claims is anti-Semitic
  • Two tweets which Nelson claims are incitement to violence
  • One tweet which Nelson claims creates an unsafe environment for students to excel academically(!)

The remaining tweets cited by Nelson are ones that he refers to as “sophomoric” and “bombastic.” As Nelson insists that “collegiality and civility” are not the issue here, I will skip them.

One caveat before proceeding: According to conventional understandings of academic freedom in the US, none of these tweets could be held against Salaita even if Nelson’s interpretations of them were true.

But by challenging Nelson’s interpetations of the tweets, I seek to demonstrate that Nelson is deliberately misleading the public and that the tweets would not be objectionable even by Nelson’s own standards. I also seek to rectify Nelson’s unwarranted attacks on Salaita’s charcter. Yet at no point below do I suggest that Nelson’s standards are legitimate or that the tweets could have violated academic freedom.

Tweet 1: Salaita’s “anti-Semitism”

Let’s examine what is allegedly the most offensive tweet—the one which Salaita’s detractors claim to be an endorsement of anti-Semitism as something “honorable”:

Despite the attempts of Nelson and others to spin this as apologetics for anti-Semitism, many people, such as political commentator Marc Lamont Hill and CUNY professor Corey Robin, have interpreted the tweet to mean just the opposite. In order to make the best assessment of this tweet, we must recognize it as part of a series of tweets that Salaita had sent within a narrow time period. Two minutes before the tweet in question, Salaita tweeted the following:

Here, Salaita criticizes the tendency of Israel supporters to label critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. Salaita believes that a “person of conscience” has no choice but to endure being labeled anti-Semitic if that is a consequence of “deplor[ing] colonization, land theft, and child murder.”

It is only then—within two minutes—that he follows up the tweet with the one that Nelson and others single out:

That is, the term “anti-Semitism” has been distorted by Zionists into a label hurled against those engaged in  something as “honorable” as “deplor[ing] colonization, land theft, and child murder.”

Three hours later, Michael Hessel-Mial, a self-proclaimed “Jewish anti-Zionist” expresses uncertainty or concern over the meaning of Salaita’s original tweet:

Salaita responds to Hessel-Mial by clarifying that “the discourses of Zionism … cheapen anti-Semitism by likening it to principled stands against state violence”:

That is, if it was unclear before, Salaita’s use of the word “honorable” was not referring to the idea of anti-Jewish oppression (the traditional meaning of anti-Semitism) but instead to “principled stands against state violence,” which were now being inappropriately labeled—and hence “cheapened”—by Zionists as “anti-Semitism.”

Hessel-Mial tags Salaita’s response as a “favorite” and replies that he “can get behind that.” Salaita immediately follows up with another tweet, again addressed to Hessel-Mial:

Taken in the full context, one cannot possibly construe that Salaita was endorsing anti-Semitism.

However, plucking this tweet from its context and embedding it in an article that describes Salaita and his tweets as “inflammatory,” “loathsome,” “sophomoric,” “irresponsible,” “bombastic,” “anti-Semitic,” “vehemen[t],” “outrageous,” and “crosses the line into anti-Semitism”—as Cary Nelson’s article in Inside Higher Ed does—in the context of a job termination that implies that Salaita had done something wrong—an unaware audience may be prepped to accept the tweet to be what Nelson and other opponents of Salaita want it to be—an unadulterated endorsement of anti-Semitism—rather than what it is: much ado about nothing.

I quoted to Nelson the additional tweets and asked him whether it was appropriate to isolate one tweet and interpret it to mean the opposite of what it was clearly meant to convey. His response:

My main context for his tweets—and I believe it’s the key one—are his published writings, both in print and on line.

Yet neither in print nor online does Salaita make any endorsements for anti-Semitism. In fact he does the opposite (for an example in print, see Israel’s Dead Soul, pp. 15–16). If it is true that Nelson has carefully examined Salaita’s tweeting record, surely he must have seen the tweets reproduced above, as well as the following tweets sent in the same time period, which profess a universalist respect for all peoples:

Salaita has also taken on anti-Semitism, as when the rapper Macklemore wore a disguise that resembled anti-Semitic tropes:

The existence of these tweets, which Nelson refuses to acknowledge, contradict his claim to Ali Abunimah that “The total effect [of Salaita’s tweets] seems to me to cross a line.”

I asked Nelson why he didn’t take such tweets into account. As I expressed it to him:

Rather than one tweet invalidating another, don’t these tweet[s], taken as a whole, contextualize one another? And if so, isn’t it misleading to cherry-pick individual tweets, thus taking them out of context?

Nelson did not respond. However, in response to a separate question I posed, which I will detail later, Nelson claimed that “Tweets are not just elements of a conversation; they are also coherent individual statements.”

Thus Nelson, a professor of English, not only demands that tweets become part of an academic’s “professional profile,” but he arbitrarily demands that each individual 140-character tweet stand on its own as a “coherent individual statement[]”—rather than be considered in the context of other tweets or of events that may have transpired at the time of the tweet—despite the fact that elsewhere Nelson faults Salaita’s tweets for their “total effect.”

By Nelson’s strictures, the only way a tweet may be interpreted is by itself and in its most literal sense. (As I shall demonstrate later, Nelson violates his own strictures when it suits him.)

This idea that “tweets are not just elements of a conversation” but are “coherent individual statements” also contradicts Nelson’s earlier assertion that he had found “context for [Salaita’s] tweets” in “his published writings, both in print and on line.”

“Honorable”

Subsequently, having been misled by critics such as Nelson, liberal Zionist commentator Mira Sucharov tweeted me and others to condemn what she believed to be Salaita’s praise of anti-Semitism as something “honorable”:

Sucharov’s obsession with the word “honorable” compelled me to look at how else Salaita has employed that term.

Example #1:

In this tweet, Salaita says that “FIFA is an honorable organization” in order to say that FIFA is not an honorable organization. To achieve this effect, he employs a special device known in Twitter jargon as “irony.” Example #2:

Here we must rely on street smarts to discern that Salaita does not quote the leader of the Sand Creek massacre approvingly.

However, if one were to cite this tweet in an article that suggested that Salaita was fired because of bigoted tweets and calls for violence, then one could mistakenly assume that Salaita was actually sending the tweet as a threat.

Both examples demonstrate that one cannot always interpret tweets literally and that they can be easily taken out of context—and I profess amazement at having to spell it out.

Tweet 2: Jeffrey Goldberg’s “shiv”

Let’s turn to the second of Salaita’s “bad” tweets, which was not a tweet by Salaita himself but a “retweet” from someone else:

In his comment in Inside Higher Ed, Cary Nelson describes the tweet—and slightly misquotes it—as follows:

When [Salaita] retweets a suggestion that a well-known American reporter should be met with “the point of a shiv” he crosses a line into inciting violence.

Two days later, in his own article in Inside Higher Ed, Nelson writes:

Academic freedom protects [Salaita] from university reprisals for his extramural speech, unless he appears to be inciting violence, which one retweeted remark that a well-known American reporter wrote a story that “should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv” appears to do.

First we must tackle the issue of “retweeting,” which is someone reposting someone else’s tweet. There are many reasons why someone might retweet, perhaps the most common of which are:

  • To post a tweet that one agrees with.
  • To post a tweet that one disagrees with.
  • To post a tweet that one wants to draw attention to, but is not necessarily an endorsement of the tweet.
  • To post a tweet that one intends to respond to.

Thus it is irresponsible to claim that a retweet is the equivalent of one’s own tweet.

Moreover, a retweeter’s interpretation of a tweet may differ from the original tweeter’s intention. Because there are so many possibilities, we would have to ask Salaita himself what he meant by retweeting the tweet rather than condemn him for it. In his absence, however, we can play the worst-case scenario to demonstrate that the even the worst case is not as bad as Nelson claims.

First, Nelson refuses to identify Jeffrey Goldberg as the subject of the tweet, referring to him merely as “a well-known American reporter.” Yet Goldberg’s identity is key to the meaning of the tweet, as the tweet refers to a “shiv,” which is prison lingo for a blade. During the first intifada, Goldberg served as an Israeli prison guard, the story of which he recounted in his book Prisoners—and thus “shiv” is a reference to Goldberg’s prison-guard stint.

However, comparing Nelson’s two statements above and an additional statement he gave to CBS, it seems that even he is unclear whether the “shiv” would have been intended for Goldberg or for a story that Goldberg wrote:

1. a well-known American reporter should be met with “the point of a shiv” [Aug. 6]

2. a well-known American reporter wrote a story that “should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv” [Aug.8]

3. [Goldberg’s] articles should be met on the point of a shiv [quoted on Aug. 7—all emphases mine]

This leaves one to ask how taking a knife to an article constitutes “incitement to violence.”

Again, taking the worst-case scenario, let’s assume the shiv was meant for Goldberg himself and not for his articles. Goldberg served as an Israeli prison guard more than twenty tears ago, and the tweet refers to the past (“should have ended”), not the present or the future.

Thus even if we take the tweet literally, it can only be construed as “inciting violence” if incitement could be performed retroactively. Taking these factors into account, we can measure the degrees of separation from an actual incitement to violence:

  • Time: Historical—over twenty years ago
  • Level of intent: A wish (“should have”)
  • Target: Inconclusive—an Israeli prison guard, the story of the Israeli prison guard, or
  • Agent: The person whom Salaita was retweeting from.

One would need to sidestep all these factors in order to conclude that Steven Salaita was even remotely inciting violence through a retweet of someone else who expressed a wish for Goldberg—or Goldberg’s story or articles—to have ended with a “shiv” over twenty years ago.

Tweet 3: Settlers “going missing”

Whereas the first and second tweets might be bad if they truly meant what Salaita’s detractors claim they mean (praise for anti-Semitism and a “horrible veiled threat”), this third “bad tweet” is so silly that I considered excluding it—except that I would then be accused of ignoring an inconvenient tweet, so here goes:

Nelson describes the tweet as such:

His June 19 response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers—“You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing”—also invokes a violent response to the occupation, since “go missing” refers to kidnapping.

Is expressing a “wish” that all West Bank settlers “go missing” truly “invok[ing] a violent response”—and more importantly, does it even matter?

After all, if Salaita had expressed a “wish” that the Israeli military eliminate Hamas, would it have caused as much consternation for Nelson? If a professor tweets in support of one war or another, would that not be “invok[ing] a violent response” in Nelson’s eyes, and would that be wrong? (This is not a hypothetical musing, as shall be seen in the section below on Cary Nelson’s support for Benny Morris.)

And once we ask these questions, is it not becoming clearer that citing this tweet as a potential threat is a stretch, and that it is a desperate attempt to find an excuse to shun Salaita?

At the very least, the appearance of this tweet as a late addenedum to the list of “hateful tweets” prepared by William Jacobson (whom Nelson had been communicating with) suggests that Nelson was not even aware of the tweet until someone pointed it out to him after Salaita’s firing. Thus one might suspect the tweet is being cited as retroactive justification for the firing.

Once again, Nelson commands only one possible interpretation for this tweet. Whereas before Nelson demanded that Salaita’s tweets be taken literally, here Nelson demands extrapolation: One must read “go missing” as a euphemism for kidnapping and nothing else.

But if “‘go missing’ refers to kidnapping,” why didn’t Salaita just write “kidnap”? After all, he prefaced his statement with the warning that it was “unrefined” and described the settlers with the expletive “fucking.” Why then, after all the build-up, would he resort to a euphemism?

Moreover, if Salaita had actually wished for the West Bank settlers to be kidnapped, would Nelson find it any worse than a wish for settlers to “drop dead” or “go jump off a cliff”?

By demonstrating the unlikelihood of Nelson’s reading, have I conclusively established Salaita’s intent? No, but neither does Nelson—an English professor—who imposes only one possible interpetation, which, even if correct, does not approach anywhere near a death threat or praise for anti-Semitism.

On strict legal grounds, it should be noted that Nelson’s two “incitement to violence” tweets do not pass the test for imminent lawless action established in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), which requires the offending speech to be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and “likely to incite or produce such action.”

Tweet 4: Value judgment against supporters of Israel’s war on Gaza

The final “bad tweet” under consideration is this:

As the tweet was sent on July 9, the “right now” most likely refers to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip. This is how Nelson describes the problem:

When Salaita tweets “If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being” he issues a judgment about his future students that would justify them believing they would be academically at risk in expressing pro-Israeli views in class …

First, Salaita had already indicated that he had no problem debating the issue of Palestine/Israel with those he disagreed with, and that he even “sometimes enjoy the arguments”:

Admittedly he draws the line on justifying the killing of children, but that is a low bar to overcome.

More importantly, however, Cary Nelson’s criticism of the tweet abandons academic freedom altogether in favor of keeping students “safe” from fears of what a teacher might be engaged in outside of the classroom.

The argument is spurious. After all, would a professor who frequently tweets contempt for Republicans instill unnecessary fear in students who might believe they would be penalized for expressing pro-Republican views?

In fact, it is telling that Nelson does not even pay any attention to Salaita’s tweets against Republicans:

I asked Nelson if Salaita’s anti-Republican tweets would pose a problem for Republican students. His response:

This is too speculative and general. Each case is different. But I could easily find anti-Arab tweets objectionable.

The problem with this answer is that it offers no guidelines with which to apply Nelson’s revised ideas of academic freedom. If “each case is different,” and if there are no guidelines, then one has no means to judge whether a social media comment that is addressed to a vague “You” somewhere out there in the Twitterverse will make a student too uncomfortable to function academically—that is, except by Nelson’s own personal judgment.

And according to Nelson’s personal judgment, we only have two examples to go by: Steven Salaita’s tweet and a claim that Nelson “could easily find anti-Arab tweets objectionable.”

But even the “anti-Arab tweet” test is not guaranteed, as can be seen in the case of Benny Morris.

Nelson’s defense of an “ethnic cleansing” advocate

Benny Morris
Benny Morris supports ethnic cleansing but not on Twitter.

In his book No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom, Nelson offered an anecdote about how the Israeli ultranationalist historian Benny Morris had been rejected from consideration for a faculty position:

On yet another major research university campus, a faculty member was severely chastised and financially penalized for arguing on behalf of Israeli scholar (and admittedly polemical public intellectual) Benny Morris for a position in a Middle East studies department and against the less widely published pro-Palestinian scholar whom the search committee had recommended.

Nelson found the rejection of Morris unfair, stating that

While Morris’s increasing conservatism is not in doubt … neither is his status as a major historian in question … His appointment would be a coup for any university.

I mentioned this story in my previous piece on Nelson, and I pointed out that “increasing conservatism” was an understatement: Morris had publicly endorsed “ethnic cleansing”—both of Arabs from the land of Palestine, and of Native peoples from the Americas—on the grounds that “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs … There are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruel deeds.”

Later, in his book One State, Two States, Morris made the fatuous claim that Muslim Arabs possessed an alien “mindset” that made them more likely than Jews to commit crimes, including rape—and he attempted to ground this claim on a clearly skewed interpretation of Israeli police statistics.

Unlike Salaita, Morris publicly embraced ethnic chauvinism and ethnic cleansing, and he based his racism on poor scholarship. Citing these examples, I asked Nelson how he could justify Salaita’s firing for reasons that would be more compelling in the case of Benny Morris, whom Nelson had defended.

Nelson’s response was, in its entirety: “I admire Benny Morris’ books.”

It should be noted that this response was expressed to me by Nelson immediately following his claim that he “could easily find anti-Arab tweets objectionable.”

Nelson’s unfamiliarity with Twitter

Throughout his comments on Salaita’s tweets, there is an impression that Cary Nelson is clueless about Twitter as a medium for social interaction—perhaps willfully so. Thus I posed the question to Nelson:

Am I correct in assuming you don’t have a Twitter account yourself? I ask because just reading tweets, without participating in the medium itself, does not give one a clear idea of how this form of online communication works. Thus someone who is not on Twitter is less likely to understand the nature and context of tweets—both how they are formulated and how they are read by others on Twitter.

Nelson responded:

I do not have a twitter account. But I have visited [Salaita]’s twitter page 3 times. Tweets are not just elements of a conversation; they are also coherent individual statements.

One hopes that Nelson is aware that a 140-character limit does impose barriers to “coherent individual statements.” It is not uncommon for tweeters to express an idea through a series of tweets, as Salaita has done in some of the examples I provided earlier. Moreover any regular Twitter user will attest to the prevalence of unintentional misinterpretation as a result of Twitter’s technical limitations. Twitter is not a medium responsive to nuance.

However, to truly appreciate Nelson’s unfamiliarity with Twitter, one can examine a recent video interview of Nelson by Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live, wherein Nelson accuses Salaita’s Twitter usage of being

obsessive. So sometimes he tweets several times a day. He’s been doing it for months …

To me “uncivil” isn’t enough [to merit penalty]. People have the right to vent and be uncivil sometimes, and I’ll defend faculty members for being uncivil … Part of what’s at stake is the obsessive-compulsive character of this activity and the relentless character of it. [My emphases]

This leads to an amusing exchange between Hill and Nelson:

HILL: You talk about the “obsessiveness” of it … Looking at his Twitter page … it doesn’t seem to me that he tweets any more often than the average person.

NELSON: That’s because over the weekend, he eliminated almost all of his tweets.

HILL: But even what he has left. I mean, nine, ten-thousand tweets over the course of a few years doesn’t strike me as—even if it were twice that. I mean, I tweet ten, twenty times a day. I’m not sure I’d call it obsessive…

NELSON: Are you telling me you have a full-time job and you can still do that?

HILL: Yeah, I work here [at HuffPost Live] and I’m a full-time faculty member, and I still manage to do it … “Compulsive” might also strike me as an unfair characterization.

NELSON: Maybe. I mean, I’m making a value judgment and, you know, that’s my impression. But, you know, I’m not gonna, you know, guarantee that I’m correct. But when I say he’s obsessive, it’s the repeated tweeting at great length over the Arab–Israeli conflict—with repeated profanity, with a high degree of anger, with tweets that cross a line into unacceptable discourse.

First, Nelson’s claim that Salaita had “eliminated almost all of his tweets”—which he declared with some smugness on the video—is untrue. I compared Salaita’s current Twitter page to archived versions and could find no discernible difference in quantity. Moreover, all of Salaita’s tweets that Nelson cites are still visible on his account.

Cary Nelson to Marc Lamont Hill: “Over the weekend, [Salaita] eliminated almost all of his tweets.”
Cary Nelson to Marc Lamont Hill: “Over the weekend, [Salaita] eliminated almost all of his tweets.”
I asked Nelson to explain how he concluded that Salaita had gone on a tweet-deleting spree, and I also asked him if he knew of any tweets that Salaita had deleted. Nelson did not answer.

Second, Nelson sought to criticize Salaita’s “obsessive-compulsive character” by nothing that he “sometimes … tweets several times a day,” unaware that that is typical Twitter practice.

Marc Lamont Hill to an incredulous Cary Nelson: “I tweet ten, twenty times a day. I’m not sure I’d call it obsessive.”
Marc Lamont Hill to an incredulous Cary Nelson: “I tweet ten, twenty times a day. I’m not sure I’d call it obsessive.”

Third, after expressing surprise that Hill tweets ten to twenty times a day, Nelson adjusts his argument:

when I say he’s obsessive, it’s the repeated tweeting at great length over the Arab–Israeli conflict—with repeated profanity, with a high degree of anger, with tweets that cross a line into unacceptable discourse.

So here, the obsessiveness relates to a claim of incivility, though earlier Nelson stated that incivility was not the issue. Recall the comment Nelson made in Inside Higher Ed:

Actually, [Inside Higher Ed] is interpreting my comments about Salaita to embody issues of “collegiality and civility.” I did not use those terms in anything I wrote about him and would not do so. Indeed I think it would be trivializing his social media presence to characterize it as uncollegial.

Conclusion to Part One

Though Nelson claims Salaita had “crossed a line” into hate speech and incitement to violence, I have demonstrated that those claims are baseless. By evoking “profanity” and “a high degree of anger,” Nelson actually hoped to blur the line between incivility and hate speech in the absence of identifiable hate speech.

When Inside Higher Ed emailed Cary Nelson for comments on the Salaita termination, Nelson “emailed back two answers,” he told me, “both of which they published in their entirety in their news story.” Nelson’s quotes in Inside Higher Ed consisted of about seven sentences, wherein he managed to cram in the following descriptors of Salaita’s tweets to justify UIUC’s decision:

venomous
obsessively driven
over-the-top
loathsome and foul-mouthed
hostility to Israel
extremist and uncivil
hostility to Israel (used twice)

And yet Nelson would later claim that he was not talking about “collegiality and civility.” When put to the test, Nelson failed to identify an instance of hate speech except for a tweet that was actually critical of anti-Semitism. He failed to find incitement to violence. He failed to offer consistent guidelines for “student-safe” tweeting.

What he has managed to do, however, is attack Salaita’s character by publicly accusing Salaita of disseminating hatred and bigotry. Such claims, however unsubstaniated, have a permanance on the internet. Regardless of whether Salaita finds justice, he may be forever branded as the hate-filled anti-Semitic professor.

Nelson can alleviate some of the harm by publicly apologizing and admitting that Salaita never considered anti-Semitism to be honorable. Yet Nelson refused to acknowledge it when I brought it up with him, as well as when Marc Lamont Hill brought it up.

Moreover, the controversy surrounding Salaita’s terminationcoupled with Nelson’s selective dissemination of tweets out of context but coupled with descriptors such as “inflammatory,” “loathsome,” “sophomoric,” “irresponsible,” “bombastic,” “anti-Semitic,” “vehemen[t],” and “outrageous”—have fostered a false impression that such tweets constitute the whole of Steven Salaita’s Twitter presence.

Contrary to Nelson’s findings, what I found in Salaita’s twitter timeline is no less colorful than most other twitter timelines, with wit:

cooking tips:

a surprisingly endearing conversation about his son’s penis:

and a willingness to engage with people outside the confines of Twitter:

Having established that Steven Salaita’s twitter history is not what Cary Nelson projects it to be, we can proceed to investigate the real reasons behind the campaign against Salaita, which will be discussed tomorrow in Part Two.

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Ironies abound as this esteemed professor of poetry and poetics gets more than a dose of poetic justice for what is increasingly looking like his egregious, intentional tort against Prof. Salaita. I hope Prof. Michael Dorf reads Phan Nguyen’s article here. Dorf’s defense of Salaita is the best I’ve yet read, and Phan’s dissection of Prof. Nelson’s perfidy is something that must be making Prof. Cary Nelson’s colleagues squirm at the thought of having to… Read more »

BRILLIANT. This should be sent to Robert Warrior, the head of the Native American studies department, who is working at U of I to reinstate Prof. Salaita. Cary Nelson had an agenda and admitted he was targeting Salaita.

Actually, at the May 13 AAUP meeting at U of I discussing ASA/BDS, Nelson expressed the hope that the settlers would return inside the green line. Not sure if that could be construed as “gone missing.”

“Go missing” isn’t a euphemism. It means disappearing under suspicious circumstances: it can mean kidnapped AND/OR killed. As Salaita wished for all West Bank settlers to “go missing” in the aftermath of the kidnapping (and what later proved to be the murder) of three Israeli teens, it is clear he meant “go missing” like those three Israeli teens. Had he said, “I wish all the West Bank settlers would go back to Israel [proper],” that… Read more »

Bravo for Mondoweiss’s coverage of the Steven Salaita affair. This is Internet advocacy at its pinnacle.