This is deeply disturbing. The lobby never sleeps. “Another Professor Punished for anti-Israel views.” Steven Salaita, an English scholar who has done excellent work for us and is the author of Israel’s Dead Soul, a critique of Zionism, has reportedly lost an appointment at the University of Illinois in American Indian studies because of his criticisms of Israel.
From Inside Higher Ed, reported by Scott Jaschik:
Salaita… was to have joined the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this month. The appointment was made public, and Salaita resigned from his position as associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. But he was recently informed by Chancellor Phyllis Wise that the appointment would not go to the university’s board, and that he did not have a job to come to in Illinois, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation….
Salaita did not respond to numerous calls and emails.
As recently as two weeks ago, Illinois said that Salaita would be teaching there.
The sources familiar with the university’s decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza. While many academics at Illinois and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita’s tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior.
For instance, there is this tweet: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza.” Or this one: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Or this one: “Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”
I also went to Salaita’s twitter feed, and want to quote some insightful messages from the last week. Many of them liken the Palestinian experience to Native Americans here. Many touch on the Gaza slaughter:
#Israel is a great example of how colonization impairs ethics and compels people to support shameful deeds in the name of atavistic ideals.
“Hamas” is the biggest red herring in American political discourse since Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction.”
I just got an email condemning my “slander of holy Israel.” I reckon I can accept “slander,” but “holy” seems a bit out of place.”
#Hamas makes us do it!” This logic isn’t new. American settlers used it frequently in slaughtering and displacing Natives.
Pro Tip: when a majority of a state’s prime ministers were born in another country, that state is a settler colony.
#Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.
Jaschik had an email exchange with Cary Nelson, an English professor at the University of Illinois who has spearheaded actions against the academic boycott of Israel, and Nelson applauded what he called the university’s decision.
“I think the chancellor made the right decision,” he said via email. “I know of no other senior faculty member tweeting such venomous statements — and certainly not in such an obsessively driven way. There are scores of over-the-top Salaita tweets. I also do not know of another search committee that had to confront a case where the subject matter of academic publications overlaps with a loathsome and foul-mouthed presence in social media. I doubt if the search committee felt equipped to deal with the implications for the campus and its students. I’m glad the chancellor did what had to be done.”
Loathsome and foulmouthed presence in social media. How many of us would pass that test in the eyes of our political opponents?
Corey Robin (who alerted us to this shocking story) writes on his blog about the withdrawal of the offer and says that many of our writings would expose us to the same type of blacklisting:
I have no doubt that an easily rattled administrator would find some of my public writings on Israel and Palestine to have crossed a line. If you’re in favor of Salaita being punished, you should be in favor of me being punished. And not just me. On Twitter, many of us—not just on this issue but a variety of issues, and not just on the left, but also on the right—speak in a way that can jar or shock a tender sensibility. We swear, we accuse, we say no, in thunder. That’s the medium. Though I’ve never really thought twice about it, it’s fairly chilling to think that a university official might now be combing through my tweets to see if I had said anything that would warrant me being deemed ineligible for a job. Or worse, since I have tenure, that an administrator might be doing that to any and every potential job candidate.
He points out that Cary Nelson has been given to satirical thrusts of his own:
a champion of academic freedom but as an especially acerbic—some might even say uncivil—commentator willing to throw a few elbows at his fellow academics. One time, he even compared a fellow English professor to a vampire bat, and proceeded to make fun of his bodily movements and facial gestures. In an academic publication subject to peer review.
Robin urges friends to
do something for Steven Salaita. Write a note to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise (best to email her at both firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com), urging her to rescind her rescission. As always, be polite, but be firm. Don’t assume this is a done deal; in my experience, it often is not.
One comment on the discourse of the Salaita story. Corey Robin describes Salaita’s views as “anti-Israel.” I agree, they are. And they are completely legitimate views: a human being could come to them after reflection and study. We are seeing a deep polarization in our discourse that reflects the polarization in Israel and Palestine, where one side approves by 95-5 the pulverization of a civilian population (and the other side harbors great hatred too). This polarization will only deepen and rankle, so long as US policy remains the same. The center does not hold. This is what happens in an intractable struggle where the political powers are corrupted.