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Steven Salaita case recalls blacklisting of Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita was reported to have lost an academic appointment at the University of Illinois yesterday over his outspoken criticism of Israel for its onslaught on Gaza. This letter below from the Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism has been posted here. The Illinois academic freedom committee of the American Association of University Professors has also filed a statement on behalf of Salaita here, including this passage: “Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East….we affirm that fitness to teach can be enhanced with conviction, commitment and an engagement with the outside world. As a professor who was proffered an appointment in American Indian Studies, we are particularly concerned if a university would void a contract of a professor exercising a right of citizenship in protesting actions of another country that much of the global community including the U.N. Secretary General and even the U.S. State Department have found ‘disgraceful.’” –Ed.

August 7, 2014

Dr. Phyllis M. Wise
Chancellor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Swanlund Administration Building, MC 304
601 East John Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820

Dear Chancellor Wise:

The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ) is a group of academics, lawyers, physicians, actors and other professionals and laypersons concerned with the suppression of critical discussion of Zionism and Israel’s foreign and domestic policy, in academia and other public forums.

CODZ strenuously objects to your decision to rescind the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita to the faculty of the American Indian Studies Program because of statements critical of Israeli policy made by Professor Salaita outside of his academic duties.

To our knowledge neither the faculty of the university nor the Chair of the American Indian Studies Program, both of whom had approved Professor Salaita’s appointment, were consulted regarding this decision.

The decision to withdraw the appointment was prompted by informal, but forceful statements, critical of Israeli policy made by Professor Salaita in his personal Twitter account. The statements were made during the recent invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces, in which thousands of Palestinian civilians, including hundreds of children, were killed and tens of thousands more injured or made homeless.

Professor Salaita’s political statements, made during his free time, are protected speech, and cannot be the basis of adverse action by a public institution, such as non-hiring, firing or rescission of an academic appointment.

“Civility” or “collegiality” concerns based on administrators’ personal dislike for political views or statements expressed by a prospective faculty appointee in his private life cannot justify the rescission of a faculty appointment by a public university. This is a bedrock principle of academic freedom. Your unilateral action, taken without prior consultation with and support by the faculty of the concerned department, also appears to violate the University’s departmental academic freedom. Your action in Professor Salaita’s case smacks of the McCarthyism that nearly destroyed political freedom in this country in the second half of the last century, when we nearly lost such beloved artists as Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, and did lose, in many, many cases forever, rich contributions to our cultural life and political discourse in the blacklisting scourge of American artists, writers, actors, scholars, and college faculty who advocated communism as an expression of their social and egalitarian ideals.

We demand the immediate reinstatement of Professor Salaita’s appointment to the University’s American Indian Studies program.

(affiliations listed for identification purposes only)

Dennis James, Esq.

Abdeen Jabara, Esq.
former National President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Barbara Harvey, Esq.
National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee

Michael Smith, Esq.
Co-host, Law & Disorder radio show

Joel Kovel, M.D.

Terri Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Board member, International Council for Middle East Studies

Carl Schieren

Professor Harriet Malinowitz
Long Island University-Brooklyn

Jonathan House, M.D.
Columbia University

Professor Bertell Ollman
New York University

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party

–– for the Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism

Terri Ginsberg
About Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist based presently in Cairo. She is author of Visualizing the Palestinian Struggle (2016), co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012). Her co-edited collection on cinema of the Arab world is forthcoming.

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20 Responses

  1. DaBakr
    DaBakr on August 7, 2014, 3:04 pm

    precious: loud proponent of academic boycott and censorship of Israel (BDS too, probably) gets the axe. supporters crying “mccarthyism” with no sense of irony

    • Chu
      Chu on August 7, 2014, 4:30 pm

      Did he want to censor Israel?

    • Donald
      Donald on August 7, 2014, 6:49 pm

      No reason to feel irony. If a rightwing Israeli were not hired for political reasons, it would be just as outrageous from the academic freedom standpoint. You don’t seem to understand the issues, either of the academic boycott or what happened here.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr on August 8, 2014, 12:50 am

        i understand perfectly. and you do too, i suspect. i did not say i support the action taken. but i am no fan of bds either.

    • jon s
      jon s on August 8, 2014, 4:12 am

      Right. Like the Jews who support a boycott of Israel, and then complain that the community boycotts them.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on August 8, 2014, 7:31 pm

        “Right. Like the Jews who support a boycott of Israel, and then complain that the community boycotts them.”

        “jon s” I have never claimed to be an expert on Judaism, but I know you are, being a Zionist. How does one Jew “boycott” another? If you think the “community” will boycott those who boycott Israel, what will that boycott look like? Who will it be effected?

      • jon s
        jon s on August 9, 2014, 4:01 am

        Mooser, a while ago, here on MW, there was a discussion that focused on the “blacklisting” of various anti-Zionist Jewish individuals and groups, by the community establishment. They were not being invited to speak, etc. At the time I pointed out the hypocrisy , since those same anti-Zionists were supporting the bds campaign, a boycott of their fellow Jews.

        I realize that you were probably being sarcastic, attributing to me expertise “as a Zionist”..
        So I’ll take you up: you may -or may not- know that today, the shabbat after Tisha B’Av, is “Shabbat Nachamu”, the “Sabbath of Consolation”. How appropriate, after the recent, and ongoing, death and destruction.
        The haftarah is from Isaiah ch.40, and the first verses are:

        1 Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.
        2 Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim unto her, that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off; that she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
        3 Hark! one calleth: ‘Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the LORD, make plain in the desert a highway for our God.
        4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain;
        5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

        Incidentally, Rashi’s commentary on verse 3 is :”In the desert”- the way to Jerusalem.

  2. bopfromthedarkside
    bopfromthedarkside on August 7, 2014, 3:24 pm

    And don’t ever forget what the new nazies did to Professor Norman Finkelstein.

  3. tokyobk
    tokyobk on August 7, 2014, 3:32 pm

    Professor Salaita’s un-hiring (which is worse than firing) is unfair and perhaps illegal. I hope he takes them to court because his speech should be protected legally even if he should, imo, watch his tone out of respect for his role as a teacher. Frankly, employers even at public corporations do get some say in how their employees comport with their brand. There are some professors who are just as anti-war and even anti-Israel as him who maintain a dignity in their public dealings that Salaita may have fallen short of. Academics has rules, maybe unfair, but no one gets to break out completely until after tenure and even then you will find professors moderate their public thoughts.

    The comparison to Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson is a stretch, to be kind. Specious really. Both men were absolute masters of calm, poise and dignity in the face of a horribly racist society that subjected them both, especially Paul Robeson, to countless indignities as they marched, spoke and sang for absolute equality.

    Both were blacklisted for speaking out for the dignity of all humans not for edgy talk. Their blacklistings were purely political. The speed and severity of Salaita’s sacking is with out a doubt political, but also a predictable response to his own behaviour. Neither Seeger nor Robeson, two of the greatest and most magnanimous Americans would ever jestingly fantasise that a reporter they did not like should meet “the point of a shiv” as did Salaita.

    “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948″ might be run of the mill here in comment sections but its not the kind of comment a professor can make without administrators worrying.

    “Islamists: transforming ‘Islamophiobia’ from something horrible into something honorable since 2001.″ does not hunt either, and if it does that is a hypocrisy that should be addressed.

    As I said while the Professor probably should have been spoken to about the problems his twittering might raise for his employers and as a university representative and someone with the responsibility to manage an open classroom dialogue, I believe the un-hiring is wrong and probably illegal. I think someone should start a kickstarter campaign for his fund which I would gladly give a few dollars.

    • Chu
      Chu on August 7, 2014, 4:39 pm

      ““Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948″ might be run of the mill here in comment sections but its not the kind of comment a professor can make without administrators worrying.”

      When people see an injustice and killing of so many civilians, they often act erratic and angry. If we witnessed 1600 civilians of Israel (many Jewish women & children) killed in this last pummeling onslaught, I am sure that many American professors would have said many harsher things against Palestinians (or whatever they’ll say i.e. Hamas, Arabs, Islam), and it probably would have gone without reprimand. But he criticized the ascending powers of the establishment, and they don’t take kindly to that.

    • aiman
      aiman on August 7, 2014, 9:47 pm

      Why if it’s not tokyobk, acting judge while pretending to analyse. Start with a positive and then do the usual passive aggressive thing with a good dose of paranoia. The only thing that’s specious and vulgar here is your passive aggressive comment routine on the face of Israel’s ongoing genocide. Steven Salaita said what any conscientious academic ought to say. He should be applauded. A big part of harassment against him owes to his identity. Zionist academic routinely defend genocide and torture and are in fact promoted and lauded.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on August 8, 2014, 7:13 pm

        “The only thing that’s specious and vulgar here is your passive aggressive comment routine on the face of Israel’s ongoing genocide. “

        aiman, I don’t think that is a concept ‘tokyobk’ is equipped to grasp. Not in the slightest.

    • Donald
      Donald on August 7, 2014, 10:10 pm

      I wrote an email on his behalf, but I wish he exercised better judgment in his comments. If this controversy does hit the mainstream press, I can well imagine the sort of coverage those comments will get. Yes, there’s a context and it’s sarcasm and so forth. And the press is so great at conveying context.

  4. Chu
    Chu on August 7, 2014, 4:29 pm

    Another case of killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.

    Zionism is great at intimidation. Every professor with a
    family & children, got the message loud & clear.

  5. bilal a
    bilal a on August 7, 2014, 7:11 pm

    The guardian: The media’s coverage of the Israeli thirst for Palestinian blood invokes the old antisemitic canard of the thirst for gentile blood,.

    Obsessive Gaza coverage is fanning antisemitism,
    Sometimes the hyperbole gets close to incitement. When people accuse Israel of “genocide”, invoking the Holocaust or likening Gaza to a “concentration camp” or wielding placards that equate the Star of David – a Jewish symbol as well as an Israeli one – with the swastika, they reveal a deep ignorance of both the past and present. As Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust has argued: “It’s a totally false comparison that plays on Jewish sensibilities in order to provoke a reaction. Another word for that is Jew-baiting.”

    It is no less disturbing to find the casual use of classically antisemitic tropes for example accusations that the Jews control the media or governments or that they thirst for gentile blood. The Everyday Antisemitism Project, which I established two weeks into the current round of conflict to expose this phenomenon, overflows with examples of anti-Israel rage expressed through traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes and tropes.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on August 8, 2014, 7:17 pm

      “The Everyday Antisemitism Project, which I established two weeks into the current round of conflict to expose this phenomenon, overflows with examples of anti-Israel rage expressed through traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes and tropes.”

      I’m glad to see somebody knows what’s important right now! And the heroism and courage required to do such a thing. I’m overcome with admiration.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on August 8, 2014, 7:21 pm

      Aiman, watch what you say, don’t trip over any tropes or the “The Everyday Antisemitism Project” noted by “bilal a” (as noted above) will come down on you.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on August 8, 2014, 7:24 pm

      “Obsessive Gaza coverage is fanning antisemitism”

      Thank G-d it’s nothing Israel is doing might have something to do with it! Thank G-d our hands are clean. It’s just that damn “obsessive coverage” which is creating all the trouble. What a world! Can’t a Jewish State kill thousands and displace tens of thousands of Palestiniansa without everybody making such a goddam fuss over it?

      That was some article in the Guardian!

      • jayn0t
        jayn0t on August 9, 2014, 12:32 am

        “The Guardian” has shown its true colours in the last couple of weeks. There’s been almost as much coverage about the rise of “anti-semitism” as there has been about the massacre of the Palestinians. Normally, it’s a bit more subtle than the American Zionist press, but now Israel has provoked an exceptional degree of hostility, the liberal Zionists are trying to help out. But the articles about “anti-semitism” are so inept, it isn’t working.

  6. aiman
    aiman on August 7, 2014, 9:59 pm

    This is an example of Zionist racism against someone, particularly a non-white Palestinian and Gentile, who dared speak up. It is an example of Zionist pressure on academia to conform to its compass. That’s all. What is chilling is how the words and actions of Zionist journalists and academics helps buoy up the apartheid state. Not the human, authentic protest of Salaita against the blood-curdling massacre of children.

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