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Fired professor voiced "legitimate outrage" over Gaza attack, say University of Illinois colleagues

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A house destroyed by Israel in Rafah, southern Gaza, over the past few days; Steven Salaita has been sacked for condemning such acts of aggression. 

(Abed Rahim Khatib / APA images)

Professors from within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have called on the college to rescind its firing of Steven Salaita over the academic’s Palestine solidarity activities. 

As reported previously on The Electronic Intifada, revelations from various sources have strongly suggested that the University of Illinois was lobbied by Zionist groups opposed to Salaita’s hiring as an associate professor in the Department of American Indian Studies. The sacking was condemned in an open letter by senior professors from around North America, and by the American Association of University Professors.

Now, in a statement sent to members and posted as a PDF file on its website, the executive committee for the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign has spelled out its opposition to its own management’s actions.

The statement — which is reproduced in full below — makes it clear that Salaita’s new department was not consulted on his firing, and calls the move “a breach of the principles of shared governance and academic freedom.” It warns of:

instances on our campus and elsewhere in which ardent supporters of Israel have engaged in malicious and unethical actions in order to suppress criticism of Israel and public revelation of the realities of its policies in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, policies that violate international law and outrage moral conscience.

The statement then adds that “The University of Illinois must resist political pressures to silence voices of legitimate outrage” and warns of the potential repercussions for the academic life of the university of being seen to have taken a political decision on hiring and firing staff.

“Chilling effect”

An email message accompanying the statement, addressed to “faculty, friends and students of CSAMES” and signed by the center’s director, Valerie Hoffman, read:

You have probably all heard about Chancellor [Phyllis] Wise’s decision to cancel the contract of Dr. Steven Salaita, who was to join the Department of American Indian Studies as an associate professor this month.  A number of faculty members affiliated with CSAMES have protested this decision, as has the Illinois branch of the American Association of University Professors. CSAMES’ executive committee, which consists of four members elected by our affiliated faculty (two representing the Middle Eastern studies and two representing South Asian studies), has decided to issue a statement on the matter.

The statement in full:

Statement by the executive committee of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies on the firing of Dr. Steven Salaita


We are dismayed and disturbed over the unilateral revocation of Steven Salaita’s contract by the university administration, without consulting the Department of American Indian Studies, in which he was to be appointed, apparently on the basis of his open opposition to Israel’s military onslaught against the civilian population in the besieged Palestinian Gaza Strip.  This action is a breach of the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, and its implications are alarming.  Irrespective of one’s position on the conflict between Israel and Gaza, it is essential to affirm academic freedom as the cornerstone of our scholarly vocation, without which true critical inquiry ceases to exist.  We are deeply concerned about what such decisions will do to free and frank scholarship on the Middle East on our campus in these critical times.

Political views and comments expressed as a private citizen have nothing to do with one’s competence and qualifications as a scholar. There is nothing anti-Semitic in Dr. Salaita’s comments on Twitter; the targets of his criticisms are Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the illegal and unethical assault on Gaza, and those who support it. There have been instances on our campus and elsewhere in which ardent supporters of Israel have engaged in malicious and unethical actions in order to suppress criticism of Israel and public revelation of the realities of its policies in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, policies that violate international law and outrage moral conscience. The University of Illinois must resist political pressures to silence voices of legitimate outrage.

The firing of Steven Salaita has aroused indignation among academics around the world.  At least one senior scholar considered cancelling plans to visit our campus, lest that visit be construed as an endorsement of the university, and specifically of the firing of Dr. Salaita. This indicates the potential repercussions of the university’s action for its standing among academics worldwide.  For upper administration to rescind an offer that had been approved by an academic unit and college sends a clear message: that the chancellor’s office is willing exert its power to suppress work valued by expert faculty. This administrative oversight of opinion cannot but have a chilling effect, sending a clear message that professional recognition on this campus is contingent upon the expression of permissible thought.  It is also in direct opposition to the administration’s frequent proclamations that diversity is a major value informing campus policy.

We call on the university to take the ethical and courageous stance of affirming the principles of academic freedom and shared governance by honorably reinstating Professor Salaita as associate professor in the Department of American Indian Studies, ensuring that the key principle in recruiting for our wonderful campus is not political views but academic qualifications.

Comments

This open letter from Valerie Hoffman is a welcome contribution to efforts in defense of Professor Salaita's rights. It's time to end McCarthyite tactics on America's campuses.

I don't see how Wise's decision will ever stand after this.

If Wise continues and does not redact it, Salaita should sue and publicize this obscenity until Wise has no alternative but to fold.

In fact, I hope she doesn't fold, and all this is dragged through the courts and placed squarely on front page news. These Zionist tactics should be shown to the general public.

UTOPIAN ONE STATE SOLUTION BY PETER COHEN

The so-called “one -state solution” is also based on a utopian vision, in which the impoverished Palestinians will acquire, by some miraculous means, the same rights as the colonists. How anyone can believe in the one-state solution is incomprehensible to me. No colonial power has ever relinquished its domination without a massive struggle. Could such a struggle succeed in Palestine? Could the Palestinians ever acquire enough people, weapons and allies to make this a realistic possibility? Of course not. The one-state solution is a deluded fantasy.

The same applies to the “two-state solution.” As long as the Zionists are left in charge they will never share the country; it was given to them and to them alone, by God and the atom bomb. They have used the past sixty years to make this crystal-clear. This leaves only one realistic solution: the complete dissolution of the colony, and the ending of the expulsions and land dispossession that was initiated in 1948. The only way to achieve this is by offering incentives for current and later generations of Zionists to resettle elsewhere, while removing the Western foundations of that colonization: the military, ideological, and economic support that sustains it.

This vantage point has the effect of redefining criticism of Israel: instead of criticism aimed at Israeli policies, it becomes primarily criticism of the inhumane policy pursued by the West. An “improved” Israel is a contradiction in terms. We must have the courage to finally end the Second World War, and to dismantle Israel in a sensible way.

Editor’s note: The author is a retired sociologist from the University of Amsterdam and a Jewish-Dutch World War II survivor. He does not consider the latter relevant to his view on this topic, but we found it pertinent to include.

Translated from the Dutch by Beverley Jackson, July 23, 2014.

Many thanks to Thomas W. Adams for his views.

Many of the ideas about a one-state solution are indeed utopian. They are ,however,
headed in the right direction. The basic premise that there can ever be a
"two state" solution is absurd.

With all due respect, I suggest a reformulation of Mr Adams' contribution.

1. Palestine was never "given" to Zionists/Israelites "by God". For a thorough
examination of this read carefully Michael Prior CM's THE BIBLE AND
COLONIALISM: A MORAL CRITIQUE (Sheffield Academic Press).

2. The Israelites/aka Zionists will never "resettle".

3. For the role of the US see: Naseer H. Aruri's DISHONEST BROKER...
(Caveat: Aruri's description of policy is excellent. His thoughts about
remedies are filled with myths and illusions about how nations actually
work. Aruri was born in Jeruselum, formerly of Palestine now according to
the Israelis, a part of Israel. This is relevant to his analysis and indeed a positive
in its formation. His focus is the American role and a description of diplomatic/
policy implications and in these areas he is perceptive and incisive. This work
lacks an analysis of policies of the current US Administration due to the
time of its publication.

(In other words both the above-cited works need addition in the light of recent
developments.)

4. I would also recommend works of the late Gabriel Kolko re: how power
actually functions. His views were not always popular with others as he often
confronted views which today form a foundation of so-called liberal/"progressive"
pundits (my point of view).

Kolko died of assisted suicide in the Netherlands.

I deeply appreciate your contribution and the work of its translator.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

Wondering where the UIUC Faculty Senate is on this; they no doubt haven't met yet, since the academic year hasn't started, but I would expect to hear something from them fairly soon, if this decision isn't reversed.

It is obvious to everyone why its Zionist president fired the professor. There is no free speech anymore in America if it is critical of Israeli crimes. If the faculty of the universities is not capable of standing up to this then who will? Please show courage and go on strike until this insult to free speech is taken care of.

It looks like UIL is a pathetic lost cause. I never realized to what a huge degree both our private and public institutions of learning are beholden to AIPAC and other Zionist organizations.
It would be fantastic to see a good college/university in the US, not beholden to Israeli interests, offer Dr. Salaita a tenured job.

"This action is a breach of the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, and its implications are alarming":
What more is there to say? Chancellor Wise has severly damaged the reputation of her university, and even if she were to resign, or be removed from office, tomorrow, it would take a long time for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to recover from this.

not many zionists at those places

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