Academic freedom for me but not for thee

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita

A Palestinian-American academic named Steven Salaita was offered a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne, IL. This offer was withdrawn when some of his anti-Zionist tweets got some heightened public attention. (They weren’t secret in the first place, just never noticed by some people.) Corey Robin has been beating his erudite drum on this, so visit his blog for the back story.

Though I’m no lawyer, it seems Salaita has the makings of a decent legal case. I am not qualified nor have the interest to evaluate his scholarly credentials. I just want to deal with the anti-Semite canard, which is encapsulated in this oped by Northwestern law professor Steven Lubet. (Another rejoinder to Lubet here.)

The Steve Lubet piece (repeated by leading Salaita critic Cary Nelson) says this:

He once retweeted a vile suggestion that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg ought to get “the pointy end of a shiv.”

Whereas the tweet actually said:

“Jeffrey goldberg’s story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv”

Not quite the same, is it? Lubet also mangles the context of the “making anti-semitism honorable” tweet, perhaps because in his outrage he neglected to do any deeper investigation (due diligence, Counselor?). I spent a bit of time reading Salaita’s tweets myself and I don’t buy the anti-Semite accusation. Maybe he scrubbed his Twitter feed. As far as I know, it’s still up in all its glory.

Quoth Michael Rothberg, Head of the Department of English at UIUC and the Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies:

I have reviewed a large number of tweets sent by Professor Salaita during recent weeks. While I understand that they are partisan and angry messages—and therefore may be considered controversial—I do not agree that anything written there warrants firing or rescinding an offer that was already promised. Indeed, if academic freedom and the right to free speech do not guarantee controversial and offensive political expression—and especially expression outside the classroom—what are they good for?

The tweets I read are certainly vitriolic regarding Israel and Zionism. I did not see one that went over the line, by my lights, as far as The Jews are concerned. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, though rhetoric of the former often slips into, or boldly goes into, the latter. So it does pay to choose one’s words carefully. I would think a real anti-Semite would slip in an overtly anti-Semitic tweet now and then. In fact as the linked MondoWeiss piece shows, Salaita offers a slew of anti-anti-Semitic tweets. If anybody wants to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in principle, then sure, Salaita is an anti-Semite and so am I. Thus endeth the conversation, see ya, don’t want to be ya, don’t let the door hit your toches on the way out.

The most notorious tweet quoted by critics — the one quoted accurately — refers to the kidnapped Israeli settler kids. It’s bad. I don’t think there is any excuse for it, but not because it’s anti-semitic, because it’s eliminationist. If I expressed murderous thoughts about Chris Christie for oppressing my home state of NJ, it wouldn’t make me anti-Italian, though I could be criticized on other grounds.

Salaita is part Palestinian. One wonders how temperate others would be in the face of a comparably lethal and prolonged military assault on whatever ethnic/religious/other group they might identify with.

There are various petitions circulating. Corey has some for particular groups of academics. Here is one for the great unwashed masses.

— Yrs from beyond the Pale


Academic freedom for me but not for thee — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Summing Up On Salaita and Academic Freedom - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

  2. Pingback: "I'm Not Sure About Academic Freedom, But I Do Know A Field I Know Nothing About Is Worthless." - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

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