University of Illinois Rescinds Professor's Appointment
Why? For Daring to Criticize Israeli War Crimes!

September 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

In early August Professor Steven Salaita was set to join the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) as a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies Program. Salaita had been a professor at Virginia Tech University and written a number of well-regarded scholarly books and articles on the situation facing indigenous peoples. Based on this track record, UIUC had sought him out and his appointment was overwhelmingly approved in a vote by the American Indian Studies Program there.

But on August 1, before he had even set foot on the Urbana-Champaign campus, Salaita was notified by UIUC’s Chancellor that she wouldn’t be completing the final step (normally a formality) of bringing his appointment before the university’s Board of Trustees, and so he had no job.

The university initially acted like rescinding Salaita’s job was merely an administrative decision. But it’s come to light—through Freedom of Information requests and leaked university emails—that Salaita was fired because he joined thousands of people worldwide who took a morally principled stand and condemned the war crimes committed by Israel during its July-August onslaught against Gaza—an onslaught that killed over 2,200 people, a large number of them women and children, thanks in part to Israel’s deliberate targeting of schools, hospitals and refugee camps. Salaita had sent numerous messages on Twitter condemning these crimes. He is also the author of a number of books and scholarly work on the history of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people and has been a regular contributor to the pro-Palestinian website “Electronic Intifada.”

A leaked email to faculty written by UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise about the firing of Salaita made the statement that “What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

These are deliberate lies aimed at covering up the fact that the university—supposedly a bastion of free speech, critical thinking, and the search for truth—is suppressing, censoring, and punishing scholars who expose the crimes of Israel (and in the process, point to the predatory role played by the U.S. in the Middle East). First, there is no evidence that Salaita made any kind of insults or threats against any person whatsoever. What he did do, and correctly, was to passionately call out the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and to vigorously challenge all those who either endorse those crimes or remain silent in the face of them.

Secondly, this charge by the university honchos echoes what has been identified as a systematic campaign by pro-Israel Zionist groups in the U.S., such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to target academics. In letters to their branches and to other university administrators around the country, ADL warns that those educators and scholars who speak out against the crimes of the state of Israel are disruptive of campus “civility.” This is essentially the same charge made against Professor Norman Finkelstein, who in 2007 was denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago because of his forthright exposure of the structure of Israeli and Zionist oppression of the Palestinians.

And here’s the most essential thing: When these utterly spurious and unfair charges against Professor Salaita were initiated by forces that are uncritical supporters of Israel’s crimes, rather than stepping in to uphold supposed principles of academic freedom, rejecting the charges, and defending Professor Salaita, the university powers-that-be enforced the witch hunt. And that has been a repeated pattern when Zionists wage these kinds of attacks on academics. This is not essentially because Zionists have undue influence in academia. Criticism of Israel is all-but-banned in higher education because of the deep linkages between the interests of the U.S. empire and the state of Israel.

But the outrage of the firing of Steven Salaita has not gone unchallenged. Over the last month, a boycott by academics against UIUC has been growing. Thousands of educators have signed various statements in which they pledge not to visit the UIUC campus, or to refuse to participate in seminars and in the university’s tenure review process, or to refuse to accept visiting scholar positions, until the job offer to Salaita is restored.

At a September 9 press conference during a University Day of Action to protest his firing, Salaita said:

As hard as this situation is on me personally, the danger of the university’s decision has farther-reaching implications. Universities are meant to be cauldrons of critical thinking; they are meant to foster creative inquiry and, when at their best, challenge political, economic or social orthodoxy. Tenure, a concept that is over 100 years old, is supposed to be an ironclad guarantee that university officials respect these ideals and do not succumb to financial pressure or political expediency by silencing controversial or unpopular views." (Democracy Now!, September 10)

Steven Salaita and other academics and public figures like him who come under fire for opposing the U.S.-backed Israeli murder, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of the Palestinian people, must be supported and defended. This is crucial not only in terms of opposing U.S.-backed Israeli crimes against the peoples of the region, but also to prevent the suppression of dissent and critical thinking on university campuses and in society more broadly.

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