Firestorm Over Steven Salaita’s Sacking
by Stephen Lendman
Criticizing Israel publicly entails huge risks. Becoming persona non grata in politics, the media, business and academia may follow. It’s a career ender for most who try.
At most, short-term protests follow. They’re usually or entirely local. Salaita’s University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign (ULUC) sacking elevated public anger to a new level.
Thousands of scholars, students, colleagues, friends, Israeli critics and others rallied to his defense. They’re steadfast. They continue.
They want Salaita reinstated. They want him given full pay and benefits. They want damages paid for all he endured. He deserves it and much more.
Salaita broke weeks of silence. On September 9, he went public for the first time.
He defended his noteworthy academic/scholarly bona fides. He did so eloquently and effectively. He criticized UIUC’s academic lynching.
He explained his passion for equality, fairness and justice. He expressed gratitude for around 18,000 supporters. They signed a petition demanding his reinstatement.
He called the firestorm over his viewpoints on Palestinian human rights and academic freedom “a teaching moment.”
He urged his supporters “to make the most of it.”
Major/influential donor complaints got him sacked. The Los Angeles Times discussed how big monied interests control academia.
Especially at state universities and prominent private ones. Salaita’s firing wasn’t the first time they “manipulate(d) university administrations into doing their bidding,” said the Times.”
It won’t be the last. (I)t’s certainly one of the most disturbing examples of a bad trend.”
“For any university, but especially a public institution such as Illinois, the encroachment of donor pressure on the administration is a harbinger of the destruction of academic freedom.”
“Wealthy donors are able to step in and exert strong influence because public funding sources, such as the state legislature, have systematically withdrawn support for public universities.”
They “seldom have an interest in independent, objective academic study; they’re interested in advancing their own notions of how the world works or should work – in ideology, not ideas.”
Incidents like Salaita’s sacking happen when “questions of academic principle get reduced to dollars and cents – the university comes to believe it can trample (on) any principle, as long as there’s money to make it go away,” said the Times.
Israeli Lobby power works the same way and then some. It’s influence is broad and deep. It’s tactics include pressure, bullying and threats.
It’s relentless. It’s ruthless. It demands unconditional support for Israel. It does so at the expense of right over wrong.
It’s a cancer infecting America. It influences Western policy. It’s a blight on humanity.
It operates destructively. It promotes war. It deplores peace. It ignores popular interests. AIPAC is its best known entity.
The late Edward Said once called it “the most powerful and feared lobby in Washington.”
In a matter of hours, it can mobilize virtually unanimous Senate support for Israel. And at least most of the House.
US politicians deferentially bow to its will. They do so disgracefully. They betray their constituents in the process. Their personal beliefs don’t matter.
Last week, UIUC trustees upheld Salaita’s firing. They voted 8 – 1 against him. James Montgomery alone supported him.
Other board members backed Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s so-called “philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights.”
So-called “tempered” rights denies them. Wise and UIUC trustees gave chutzpah new meaning. They raised it to a new level.
They support what demands denunciation. They oppose what deserves high honor and praise.
In an open letter, the board of trustees disgracefully equated Salaita’s forthright criticism with “disrespectful and demeaning speech.”
They called it “malice.” It’s “not an acceptable form of argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education,” they said.
“If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made great sacrifices to defend.”
“There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.”
Democracies assure academic and speech freedoms. They defend them at all costs. Without them all other rights are threatened.
Voltaire once said he might “disapprove of what you say, but (he’d) defend to the death your right to say it.”
Western universities are hotbeds of conformism. Howard Zinn once said they teach students to be good citizens. They sacrifice important truths in the process.
America right or wrong is policy. It works the same way from pre-school through doctoral studies. UIUC is the latest example.
It’s been a battleground for weeks. It’s ground zero in the struggle for academic freedom.
The Center for Constitutional Rights represents Salaita. Its senior attorney Maria Lahood was clear and unequivocal saying:
What’s clearly “uncivil is the killing of more than 500 children Professor Salaita reacted to.”
It’s “terminating a tenured professor because he dared to speak out publicly and passionately about Israel’s actions.”
It’s lawlessness. Its ruthlessness. Its democracy in name only. Its contempt for Palestinian rights.
What’s uncivil “is yielding to donor pressure in making faculty decisions,” said LaHood.
“(T)he most uncivil action in this whole episode has been the university’s resistance and refusal to right the wrong (it committed) and reinstate Professor Salaita.”
He was victimized for truth-telling. He was academically lynched.
Chancellor Wise, UIUC’s trustees, big monied donors, and Israeli Lobby power falsely equate “legitimate challenges to Israeli government actions with anti-Semitism,” said Lahood.
“On campuses across the country, over the last year and half alone, there have been approximately 200 incidents (where) students and faculty (as well as) activists have been intimidated, maligned, investigated, and even prosecuted for speaking out in support of Palestinian human rights.”
It’s longstanding practice. It violates rule of law principles, standards and norms. It shows Israeli Lobby power works.
It reveals how Israel influences US policy. It works the same way from congressional halls to the media, to academia to grassroots groups and members.
Salaita’s sacking opened a new debate on Israel/Palestine. Various faculty groups formed “camps.” They faced off for or against Salaita.
Various organizations, their members, and academics intend refusing invitations to lecture on campus.
They condemned last week’s board of trustees vote. The American Association of University Professors said:
(A)borting Salaita’s appointment “without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process.”
Modern Language Association council members called on UIUC trustees to “redress (an) unjustified situation.”
The Organizing Collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) expressed outrage over his firing.
It called doing so “a blatant violation of (his) academic freedom and an insidious assault upon him and those who uphold the right of honest and ethical critique in the academy.”
It demanded his reinstatement. UIUC’s American Studies Program faculty voted no confidence in Chancellor Wise. So did 10 other UIUC departments.
Her action trashed First Amendment rights and academic freedom, they said.
Hundreds of UIUC students protested on behalf of Salaita. Scores boycotted classes.
The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Department of Asian American Studies, Art History, and Gender and Women’s Studies released statements condemning Saliati’s firing.
On September 11, hundreds gathered on UIUC’s campus supporting him.
They included Campus Faculty Association members, others from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), University of Illinois Chicago faculty, as well as various other groups.
The American Studies Association (ASA) is the nation’s oldest and largest organization involved in the interdisciplinary study of US culture and history.
In 1951, it was chartered. It has 5,000 members. It’s affiliated with 2,200 libraries and other institutional subscribers.
Members include academics, researchers, librarians, and public officials and administrators. They represent many academic disciplines.
They include history, literature, religion, art, architecture, philosophy, music, science, ethnic studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, education, and gender studies among others.
Last December, they voted more than two to one for academically boycotting Israel.
They called doing so “an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action.”
They justified doing so for the following reasons:
US military and other support for Israel.
Israel’s violations of international laws and resolutions.
Longstanding occupation harshness.
“The extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”
Strong ASA member support.
Their vote is symbolic. It’s binding “until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law,” said ASA. It bars official collaboration with Israeli institutions.
It doesn’t apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in “ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication.”
ASA issued a statement on behalf of Salaita. It called his sacking “a de facto assault against the Program in American Indian Studies at UIUC.
It sets a “dangerous precedent.” Its statement in part said:
ASA “protests the decision of University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise to rescind the offer of a tenured faculty position in American Indian Studies to highly regarded ASA member Professor Steven Salaita.”
“This last minute top down decision with no faculty consultation and no reason provided violates the tenets of faculty governance.”
“Alarmingly, these actions constitute as well a de facto assault against the Program in American Indian Studies at UIUC despite its carefully earned status as one of the leading intellectual programs nationally in its field.”
“This decision if not overturned is sure to erode the confidence of scholars and students of American Indian and Indigenous Studies that UIUC is an open and welcoming institution that values equally their social, cultural and intellectual contributions.”
Salait’s “offer was rescinded based on (his) twitter feed and opposition to the Israeli invasion of Gaza…”
“(T)he university’s actions constitute a clear violation of the principles of academic freedom, contravene the University’s self-proclaimed valuing of diversity, and suggest an intolerable anti-Arab bias.
“We call upon you to restore faculty governance, to respect the Department of American Indian Studies and the faculty peer review process in evaluating faculty for tenured positions, and to begin to rebuild the UIUC’s reputation as an institution of academic excellence by restoring Professor Steven Salaita as a tenured associate professor of American Indian Studies at UIUC.”
In early September, Ohio University Student Senate president Megan Marzec endured death threats and other vicious harassment for supporting Palestinian rights.
Yale University chaplain Father Bruce Shipman was pressured to resign because of his brief NYT letter to the editor.
He discussed “the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.”
He urged “Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”
Chicago area Rabbi Brant Rosen resigned on his own initiative. He did so because he “gradually became a Palestine solidarity activist rather than liberal Zionist.”
Yale chaplain/longtime peace activist William Sloane Coffin Jr. (1924 – 2006) engaged in anti-Vietnam war civil disobedience protests. He encouraged young men to burn their draft cards.
He founded the Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam. He led resistance against Lyndon Johnson’s escalation.
He challenged segregation. He organized freedom rides. He led The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy.
He used pulpit power as a platform for likeminded activists. In October 1967, he signed an open letter titled “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.”
Yale established the ’56 Award for Peace and Justice in his name. It called him one of the 20th century’s most significant religious leaders.
He supported right over wrong. He refused to be silenced. On April 1, 1982, he co-signed a letter supporting Arab/Israeli citizen Elias Ayoub.
He faced deportation for supporting human rights. He was active in the Palestine Human Rights Campaign.
He was wrongfully called “subversive.” He lost his student status. He did so despite maintaining an excellent academic record.
Coffin “shudder(ed) to contemplate the implications of such arbitrary deportation given the present political leadership of our country and specifically of Israel.”
Salaita supporters demand he be reinstated. UIUC officials remain hardline.
Principle, honor and justice don’t matter. They’re sacrificed on the alter of supporting Israel right or wrong.
Doing so makes universities like UIUC complicit in its crimes. They’re longstanding. They’re horrific. They’re too egregious to ignore.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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