Since Corey Robin has done such a fine job of reporting and commenting on the Steven Salaita affair (Prof. Salaita’s job offer was revoked by the President of University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign after some pro-Israeli donors had complained about some of his tweets that offended them), I have only a few things to add.
1) First, I have yet to see a single person defend the President’s decision who is not pro-Israel. One would expect that advocates of civility codes would be the first who feel that universities have a right to monitor the social media of professors to see if anything they say or write is deemed offensive to a particular group of students. Mind you, I am not talking about what they say in the classroom, although I tend to be fairly conservative here in my commitment to freedom of expression. I am talking about what they say and write outside the classroom.
2) Prof. Steven Plaut at Haifa University denies that there are Palestinians (he places the term in “quotes”) but considers them all to be terrorists! Does that offend some Palestinian students? I suppose it does. But the offensive claptrap that Plaut writes is his own damn business – unless it presents an imminent danger to individuals or groups. I realize that this is my American meshugas, that there are hate speech laws in European countries (and in Israel). But what can you do, I’m an American and believe in those values. That is why I opposed banning Meir Kahane’s Kach party many years ago, and I still oppose banning it today. That is why I opposed banning the vile book Torat ha-Melekh or Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
3) I have no way of assessing Salaita’s quality as a scholar, but two universities have offered him tenured positions based on his teaching, service, and scholarship. So even his critics have to admit that he is admired and respected within his profession (or at least I haven’t heard anything to the contrary).
4. Finally, I would like to address the content of what one writer considers Salaita’s “most hateful tweets”, and, as an intellectual exercise, pose the following question to his detractors.
Had Salaita tweeted or blogged the following:
a. By conflating Jewishness and Israel, Israel is partly responsible when their disproportionate attacks on civilians are followed by regrettable anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.
b. If criticizing Israeli treatment of and attitudes towards Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then insofar as that criticism is justified, and indeed, commendable, so is anti-Semitism. But of course, criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is “anti-Semitism” only in the eyes of the Zionists, who conflate Judaism and Zionism.
c. The IDF spokesperson appears to justify violence committed against the Palestinian people, using techniques that are reminiscent of apologists for ethnic cleansing.
would his detractors still have argued that he is unfit to teach at the University of Illinois? No doubt many would. But I agree with much of those sentiments. So why do they go after Salaita and not go after me?
Either because Salaita’s language is more blunt and vulgar than mine, or because he is a Palestinian American, rather than an American Israeli. I have the creds that he lacks, and so I am protected in ways that he isn’t.
I have the feeling that the latter explanation is more accurate. Being part of a powerful minority, with Jewish and Israeli creds, has its advantages.