Salaita Case, cont’d

Excerpt from a letter today regarding the Salaita case, written by Jewish students, faculty, and alumni of U Illinois:

Your decision to fire Professor Salaita is in fact what threatens us as Jews. By pointing to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in an attempt to obscure politically and financially-motivated University actions, you minimize the Jewish voices of those who have resisted real and violent anti-Semitism. By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people.

Furthermore, we insist that you not minimize the context within which Professor Salaita’s firing has taken place. It is within Palestinian right and that of us all to express opposition to the brutality to which we are and have been bearing witness in Gaza and all of Palestine, and to do so with sharp interrogation and anger. To brand this opposition as uncivil or unsafe enough to warrant the dismissal of a faculty member is not only a violation of academic freedom, it is a clear devaluation of Palestinian existence and personhood, with implications for others whose lives similarly have been and continue to be systematically attacked through state-sanctioned violence.

Corey Robin has extensive coverage and discussion of the Salaita case, as does Phil Weiss here. The case boils down to a simple episode of McCarthyism, in which unpopular views are being silenced by people holding power within institutional structures.

This is becoming an interesting case study of how institutions function internally, how they can be pressured in both conservative and liberating directions. It is also a story of hope, since this sort of thing would almost certainly not have happened only a decade or two ago. Indeed, the denial of tenure to Normal Finkelstein followed similar lines, but in the other direction–in that case, the enforces of doctrinal orthodoxy easily and quickly prevailed, while in this instance there is a growing academic boycott of the university over its decision to censor Salaita’s viewpoint by firing him.

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