Antisemitism and Salaita

The following letter by Michael Rothberg originally appeared on his website. Rothberg is the Head of the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies. He is the author of Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation (2000) and Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009), and the co-editor of The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings (2003) and Cary Nelson and the Struggle for the University: Poetry, Politics, and the Profession (2009).

August 17, 2014
Dear Chancellor Wise,

I am sorry that I cannot join my colleagues in their meeting with you on August 18. I truly appreciate your making yourself available for dialogue with faculty members concerned about the university’s handling of the Steven Salaita case. Dialogue between the administration and the faculty is precisely what has been missing thus far.

I already wrote to you over a week ago to express my misgivings about the way shared governance and faculty autonomy were overridden in the decision to rescind a good faith offer of a tenured position to Professor Salaita. Here I want to emphasize my surprise that faculty members with expertise in areas relevant to your decision were apparently never consulted. The colleagues with whom you are meeting possess much of this relevant expertise, but I would have wanted to speak to you as a scholar working in Holocaust studies and Jewish studies as well as literary studies. Having published work relevant to this case on antisemitism, racism, and the Israeli/Palestinian issue, I feel I might have offered some insight into the nature of Steven Salaita’s tweets, which apparently lie at the core of this case.

While I continue to believe that political speech—no matter how controversial or extreme it might be considered—is protected by the First Amendment and the core values of Academic Freedom, I have also observed many interpretations of Professor Salaita’s protected speech about the Israeli bombing of Gaza that I consider misguided and that deserve to be refuted. I strongly believe that neither Professor Salaita himself nor the tweets that are at issue are antisemitic. I say this as someone personally and professionally sensitive to expressions of antisemitism. Indeed, Professor Salaita has stated repeatedly in numerous tweets and writings that have not been cited by his detractors that he opposes antisemitism and racism of all kinds. I find these writings to be sincere and observe that nobody has brought a single piece of evidence to bear that would contradict Professor Salaita’s explicit personal opposition to antisemitism. The tweets that have been reproduced again and again in reports on this case are not expressions of antisemitism but criticism of how charges of antisemitism are used to excuse otherwise inexcusable actions.

Nor do I believe that the tweets are—as some have claimed—incitements to violence. Such interpretations derive from poor readings of the record and also carry the additional irony of ignoring (or denying) that his tweets were written at a moment when the Israeli army—the IDF—was inflicting considerable violence on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza. I would not deny that Professor Salaita’s tweets are frequently expressed in strong language, and I share what I imagine is your preference for a civil tone in public discourse. But there are moments—like the recent bombing campaign—when we may need to expand our notion of what constitutes an acceptable tone so that it is commensurate with the events at stake. When we witness outrages, it may be more honest to express that outrage in our language than to pretend that we can maintain a calm and composed style.

Let me pose the question this way: Should Professor Salaita’s outrage at the siege of Gaza really be the center of our concern? Or should it rather be those who—much more frequently and from positions of considerable power—excuse or minimize that state-sponsored violence? Isn’t such minimization of violence much more dangerous to the goals of peace, civility, and reconciliation than anger over its perpetration?

I cannot know for sure why you made the decision you did—since you have not expressed yourself publicly on the subject, to my knowledge—but I suspect that concern over some of the issues I have addressed here played a role. I hope these very brief remarks might at least give you pause about the way that Professor Salaita’s remarks have been characterized by those hostile to his political convictions.

I feel I need to say one more thing that I am sure my colleagues will communicate to you powerfully: you should not underestimate the damage to the reputation of the university that has been done by the rescinding of Professor Salaita’s job. Over 1,500 of our most valued colleagues have already declared themselves unwilling to have dealings with our university. Some of the signers are our own former colleagues and many are distinguished past visitors to our university.

Whether this boycott will include turning down our invitations to visit or refusal to do necessary professional service for us, or will take other forms, only time will tell. I have in fact already experienced all of these responses in my role as Head of the Department of English. I am concerned about what will happen in the future, especially to my junior colleagues.

Not only our reputation in the world has been damaged, however. This decision has had an immediate and dire impact on the morale of faculty in the humanities and social sciences. Speaking personally, I can say that I have spent the last decade in administrative positions and in the creation of scholarly programs and opportunities for our faculty and students. A vital intellectual community is what has made being in Champaign-Urbana so rewarding. I now fear that the effort it took to create that community has been wasted. Like many colleagues I have heard from, I find myself forced to ask whether my professional future should remain tied to this campus where I have happily spent the last thirteen years.

I sincerely hope that you will listen to the pleas of your colleagues on the faculty and reverse your decision. The scheduled meeting on August 18 could be a first step toward such reconsideration and reconciliation.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Rothberg
Professor and Head of the Department of English
Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies

54 thoughts on “Antisemitism and Salaita

  1. I appreciate Michael Rothberg’s recognition that “the context,” which has itself become contested, includes the horrific spectacle of Israel’s bombing of Gazan civilians and civilian infrastructure that was widely reported across the globe. It is reasonable, indeed “civil,” to expect a shift in the “tone” of comments on twitter during that time period. I also support Rothberg asking us to consider that it would be far more dangerous to expect an “academic” tone on twitter during that moment, and especially from Palestinians. Indeed, there is something truly dangerous and racist about expecting that Palestinians would express outrage at Israeli actions during that time period. I do not believe that if Salaita had expressed that outrage differently, that the same organized political forces would not have been just as “concerned,” would have contacted the university, etc. We know Salaita’s tweets were being “read” by Cary Nelson for months prior to what Nelson and others claim was Salaita’s stepping “over the line.” We know that Nelson was an ICC fellow, and we know that the ICC is working to stop the BDS campaign on US campuses. We also know that Salaita was a public proponent of that campaign. We know that opposition existed to his public expression prior to the job offer from U of I. This is circumstantial evidence that no matter what Salaita tweeted, unless he became a Zionist, there would have been organized efforts to stop U of I from hiring him.

    What is more I agree with Rothberg that Salaita’s tweets were not anti-Semitic but have been read as such by those opposed to his hire and by extension, whether they want to be accountable to it or not, opposed to Palestinian existence on US university campuses.

  2. If only Professor Salaita could bring such a thoughtful and reasoned, as well as civil, tone to his statements about the Middle East, I feel quite confident that many of us concerned about the classroom envirornment he would create would be much less troubled by his appointment. Any number of academics strongly critical of Israeli policies and actions have been hired uneventfully, and I suspect that would have been the case with Professor Salaita as well.

  3. ‘He who controls the language controls the debate’. We all know this. Which is why one can never shirk when confronted those who maliciously (and vapidly) attempt to conflate reasoned critical analysis of Israeli state actions and antisemitism.

    • Singling out the ONE Jewish state in the world for false crimes and standards none of its neighbors are held to is Jew-hatred.
      Academia is so full of Jew-hating air it’s disgusting.

  4. I agree that the “making ‘antisemitism’ something honorable” tweet has been taken out of context.

    But what about the “Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit” tweet? Would you also defend him if he’d instead written: “By eagerly conflating criticism of feminism with misogyny, feminists are partly responsible when people say misogynistic shit in response to feminism”? Or: “By eagerly conflating criticism of affirmative action with racism, proponents of affirmative action are partly responsible when people say racist shit in response to affirmative action”?

    And how about the one where he declared that he wasn’t “too refined” to wish for “all the fucking West Bank settlers” to “go missing,” just days after those three Israeli teens were kidnapped? That tweet predates Operation Protective Edge by several weeks, so it wasn’t “written at a moment when the Israeli army—the IDF—was inflicting considerable violence on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.” Would you be defending him if he’d instead written: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking Ferguson hoodlums would be stopped dead in their tracks”? Sure, in casual usage, “to be stopped dead in one’s tracks” doesn’t literally mean to be killed, but, as you say, context matters, and you’ve conveniently ignored the immediate context of the “go missing” remark.

    It’s interesting to see Salaita’s defenders insist that it’s the *university* that’s unjustly brought political belief into a process where it doesn’t belong. Interesting because they’ll then turn around and write a paragraph like this:

    “Let me pose the question this way: Should Professor Salaita’s outrage at the siege of Gaza really be the center of our concern? Or should it rather be those who—much more frequently and from positions of considerable power—excuse or minimize that state-sponsored violence? Isn’t such minimization of violence much more dangerous to the goals of peace, civility, and reconciliation than anger over its perpetration?”

    Am I reading this right? You think that the university higher-ups *should* be in the business of deciding whether a job candidate is on the correct side of a political issue? Isn’t that precisely what you’ve all accused the administration of doing?

    The answer to the question you pose is, of course, a resounding YES. Salaita’s publicly broadcast “outrage” (nice euphemism, by the way) is an immediate concern to the hiring administration. The correctness of his political beliefs isn’t—or shouldn’t be. You can’t have it both ways.

  5. The most important thing that happens at a college is debate. That debate is useless if it is not capable of uncovering truth and building consensus.
    Discussing effectively is an art. It requires respect, and a belief that the right approach is to be open minded, and to clarify facts rather than hiding or distorting them. Winning is not the point. The point it to fairly weight all ideas on the table regardless of who put them there.
    Knowledge, experience, and passion all help someone be a good professor, but none of those qualities are as vital as a devotion to objective respectful truth seeking debate. Slanderous accusatory attack speech is the opposite of this. It will never lead to consensus and it covers the truth.
    One can discuss zionism, nationalism, respect for life and peace and all those issues respectfully, with tolerance and patience. I don’t think free speech was the issue. Salaita’s opinions, antisemitic or not, were not the issue. This is about his suitability as a tenured professor, in light of his ability to participate in civilized dialogue.

    • I disagree with you that the point of debate on a college campus is to “build consensus.” Often the point of debate is to clarify what cannot be agreed upon. I’m tired of discussing the “tone” of the tweets, since I think that they’re largely a distraction from what’s going on here. The evidence that came to light and is published at Inside HIgher Ed today demonstrates that this circus that the University of Illinois has now become is a result of political flexing behind the scenes. This isn’t about twitter but the power of “pro-Israeli” lobbying to get what they want, when they want it. Universities are not places where people have universal respect for all issues; academics have scathing viewpoints on other scholars’ research and viewpoints and often voice those on campus in public in highly uncivil ways. No one blinks an eye.

      • If the pro-Israel lobby is so strong, how come universities keep hiring so many professors who are not only anti-Israel but even anti-Zionist (advocating the elimination of Israel)?

      • I love how it’s conspiratorial “political flexing behind the scenes” when the people lobbying the university happen to have views that differ from your own. If the lobbyists were, say, the NAACP and private donors who didn’t want to give money to a cause they felt supported racism, would it still constitute “political flexing behind the scenes”? Or would that just be good old-fashioned “free speech,” freespeechlover?

        I agree that students shouldn’t always be comfortable. And frankly I thought the chancellor really screwed the pooch in her letter when she said that the university wouldn’t tolerate speech that demeans “viewpoints themselves.” That’s just stupid (did I just demean her viewpoint?). But there’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable and having a legitimate fear that your professor will regard you as a “horrible human being” if you disagree with him.

        It’s within the the purview of the chancellor and the trustees to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for the job. Recent public statements by the candidate are fair game. The tweets themselves are only a “distraction” if you’ve convinced yourself that there’s nothing a candidate could possibly say that would warrant a retraction of the offer—or if you’re letting your personal political beliefs cloud your assessment of the situation.

  6. Pingback: Message to WPA-L | Rhetoric, Composition, and Communication Scholars Supporting Professor Steven Salaita

  7. The University Illinois has a fine tradition of professors who are soft on groups that espouse genocidal hatred of Jews (cf. that late, unlamented, Revilo Oliver). When pro-Israel academics, Jewish groups on campus, etc., are attacked, will the haters return the favor?

  8. Guestus Aurelius, your analogy would make more sense if Feminism or Affirmative Action were in the service of nationalism, which they are not.

    • Viewster wrote: “Guestus Aurelius, your analogy would make more sense if Feminism or Affirmative Action were in the service of nationalism, which they are not.”

      Sounds to me like you’re just confirming my point about double standards: you want university administrators to disregard a job candidate’s public douchebaggery, but only if said douchebaggery is motivated by *righteous* outrage (as defined by *you*) over a contentious political issue that *you* personally care a lot about.

      At least you’re upfront about it.

      Of course, any public university that adopted your approach would be in violation of the First Amendment. If you’re confused about this, I’d recommend reading Michael Dorf’s post on the Salaita case over at Justia Verdict. (Don’t worry, Salaita defenders—he’s on your side.)

      But hey, why let that stop you? Legal facts we don’t like are just technicalities, right? At least, that’s what I keep hearing from so many of Salaita’s defenders who insist that he was “fired” from a tenured job and that board approval is “pro forma.” Contracts schmontracts… Constitution schmonstitution…

      Sorry for the snark. It’s just that I believe in public higher education and hate to see it shooting itself in the foot. Taxpayers already resent and distrust the academy. You know what doesn’t help? Closing ranks around someone who publicly writes things like “Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit” while waiting for his hiring to be finalized.

      Here are some other things that don’t help, all of which I’ve seen Salaita’s defenders do:

      -Making up rules about job *candidates* being protected by academic freedom.

      -Selectively quoting the AAUP’s statement on academic freedom in order to imply that it gives professors license to say whatever they want however they want without consequence, even though it specifically states that professors have a responsibility to “exercise appropriate restraint” and “show respect for the opinions of others” when “they speak or write as citizens.”

      -Dismissing concerns about political bias while A) defending Salaita because you share his politics, and B) boycotting U of I because its administrators didn’t act in accordance with your political beliefs. (Does anybody honestly think it’s just coincidence that most of the professors now boycotting Illinois were already boycotting Israel?)

      -Neglecting to consult the University of Illinois Statutes before (wrongly) accusing the school’s chancellor of breaching contract by not submitting a recommendation for appointment to the Board of Trustees. (“All appointments, reappointments, and promotions of the academic staff, as defined in Article IX, Section 4a, shall be made by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the chancellor/vice president concerned and the president.” Article IX, Section 3a:

      Yeah, I can’t not be snarky about this. Sorry. There’s just too much dishonesty, ignorance, and misdirection surrounding this debate, and virtually all of it is coming from ideologues on the academic left. Rothberg’s piece was a breath of fresh air for the first few paragraphs, until he made it clear that he actually *does* want the administration to consider political beliefs in its decision making—*his*.

  9. Guestus Aurelius—what a pseudonym,

    Let us take note of the following:

    (1) The fact there was an unfit-to-hold-office decision by the University Trustees regarding the appointment of a Philosophy Professor on account of his unsolicited anti-Semitic tweets. This is “balanced” against the legislated right to say whatever crosses your mind that day regarding whatever it pleases you to tweet extra-murally.
    (2) Let us say the wording of said extra-mural tweets by a prospective candidate for a Philosophy position is multiply interpretable.

    • I have not finished yet. My computer froze, so this is a continuation of what was said before: (BRIEF, since it may freeze again).
      (3) My one and only point is not that said wannabe professorial candidate has politically correct or incorrect views on GAZA. Nor do I care what he may or may not have expressed in his on-line persona. It is much more simple.
      (4) ONE, AND the MOST IMPORTANT OBLIGATION a philosopher has to anyone, the general public in particular, is to follow the directives of W V O Quine: [If my memory serves me, then between the desiderata of Simplicity and Generality there was something akin to CLARITY—remind me, please].
      (5) Should the interpretation and thereby the intended meaning of missives you send out to the world be in any doubt, you have no place in a Philosophy Department; you have no right to draw a wage at the expense of candidates who refrain from using expletives to make a point, for a start…

  10. I would like to see the tweets published with this letter. If you are unwilling to do this, doesn’t this say something about the University’s position endorsing free and open debate?

  11. It’s an old story; any criticism of Israel is deemed as anti-semitic. But any nation-state must be subject to scrutiny and criticism. The recent report by the Presbyterian Church on the history of Zionism is worth reading.

    • I think it’s time you opened your heart and mind to what is really going on. There is a barbaric horde on the move and Hamas is just its baby toe. If you think the Jewish People do not have a right to live in their homeland then you are a good German just like the German “bystanders” in WWII.

  12. You express a political view we don’t like on a controversial issue? No academic job for you.

    That’s fucked up, homes.

    Yes, I am fully capable of expressing myself differently. However, I have successfully extracted the ivory tower from my rectum and now live in the real world, where, when discourse exists, it certainly is not constructed, and the attempts to drape not-particularly-sophisticated arguments with the trappings of intellectual wealth here are unbecoming. This is really quite simple. The man lost an academic position because he expressed an unpopular view. That is not how academia is meant to work; full stop. If his ideas offend you, win the argument; don’t stoop to attacking his material well being. And no, I don’t think the rules are different in addressing the fine traditions of academic racism.

    Oh yeah, Guestus? Pro tip (from an actual pro): even if Salaita’s defenders were motivated by pure politics, that wouldn’t undermine his First Amendment claim in the slightest, which you would have seen were your reading of Dorf’s article not so selective.

    • Meh?

      I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say about the First Amendment. I was probably being unclear, so let me try again.

      I *agree* with Dorf that it would be a violation of the First Amendment for a public university to make hiring/firing decisions based on a candidate’s political beliefs. My point was that if they disregarded or excused a candidate’s public douchebaggery because they *sympathized* with the candidate’s political position, that would be a violation, too.

      In other words, when Salaita’s defenders urge the administration to reconsider on the grounds that he has the correct stance on Israel (i.e., all this “why is the administration focusing on Salaita’s tweets instead of Israel’s wrongdoings?” business), they’re actually urging the administration to violate the First Amendment. Public universities aren’t allowed to consider the *correctness* of a candidate’s political stance, whether it would work to the candidate’s benefit or detriment.

      Did I express myself a little more clearly this time?

      Of course, the administration is perfectly entitled to take all sorts of other things into consideration. For instance, does this candidate have foot-in-mouth disease? Does this candidate have a tendency to word statements in ways that beg to be interpreted as bigoted, to the point where one has to go through some serious mental gymnastics to defend them? Has this candidate recently called those who disagree with him on a contentious subject that’s bound to come up in his classroom “horrible human being[s]”? Did this candidate appear to support or revel in the kidnapping of three teenagers? Does this candidate often come off as intolerant, unprofessional, and immature when expressing himself in public?

      But sure, stick your fingers in your ears and convince yourself that criticism of Israel is simply forbidden in the academy. Because no professors criticize Israel. Ever. I mean, there’s no way you could scroll up to the top of this very page and find a tenured U of I professor fearlessly criticizing Israel in a letter to his school’s chancellor. And there’s no way that thousands of professors across the US openly boycott Israel without losing their jobs.

      Pro tip: nobody likes people who say “pro tip”

  13. Fine job there on the argument that Salaita can’t be defended on First Amendment grounds using the (fairly silly) reasoning that his views are right and should be enforced by the university, though I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone other than you argue it. However, that isn’t at all the First Amendment issue here. You’re not doing so well when you go on to say that it would be fine for a state institution to take adverse action against him on the basis of a range of conduct plainly protected by the First Amendment – saying things you consider putting his foot in his mouth, having called others “horrible human beings,” saying things you believe “beg to be interpreted as bigoted,” etc. That is not, in fact, how the First Amendment works. People get to offend you, and the state doesn’t get to stop them. Finally, Dorf clearly (and rightly) concludes that you are wrong and “it appears likely that either as a matter of state law or the federal Constitution, Salaita was entitled to keep his position at the University of Illinois” (not “would be…if”), so I’m pretty comfortable saying you are reading both Dorf and the Constitution quite selectively – and at least in Dorf’s case, in a manner that is so obvious as to raise questions of bad faith. And yes, if you’re that disingenuous, at that length, and that condescending to others to boot, you get a pro tip – I’m glad you took it in the spirit it was intended.

    It is of course completely irrelevant that there may be others who criticize Israel and are not punished. That’s not the point at all. It is equally irrelevant whether you, I, or anyone else likes what Salaita has to say. Salaita’s First Amendment rights are not satisfied if someone else gets to speak, nor do they depend on how popular or unpopular they are. This really isn’t complicated, unless you’re trying to find a way to say that a state university can and should retaliate against someone who says things you find offensive.

    For those who are interested, Dorf and a number of other constitutional law professors authored the following letter:

    • The “silly argument” you accuse of me pulling out of thin air comes directly from the OP, the commenter Viewster, and several other commenters I’ve seen endorsing double standards re discrimination based on political beliefs on the part of administrators. In my first comment here, I quoted the relevant Rothberg paragraph where he asks why the university is focused on Salaita’s “outrage” rather than Israel’s sins. Do you see what I’m getting at? On the one hand, it’s “how dare the administration discriminate against Salaita’s political beliefs?!” On the other hand, it’s “the administration should disregard Salaita’s douchebaggery because he’s right about Israel.”

      Dorf’s 1A argument rests *entirely* on the assumption that Salaita’s offer was revoked because of his POLITICAL BELIEFS. You are the one misreading Dorf, who explains quite clearly that public universities ARE allowed to consider a wide range of factors when hiring for a specific job, including a candidate’s public statements. They just can’t discriminate based on political belief or affiliation.

      I disagree with some of Dorf’s conclusions, but I honestly don’t think I’ve misrepresented him. If you’re going to accuse me of that, I’d appreciate some specifics.

      Here is where I think Dorf is mistaken:

      -in his section on promissory estoppel, he states without any evidence that Salaita was assured by the university that board approval was just a formality

      -in his section on 1A, he’s very quick to assume that Salaita’s offer was revoked because of his political beliefs

      -he’s also very quick to dismiss the offensive/insensitive nature of Salaita’s tweets, but he only considers one or two of them, and his analysis of one of them is silly (i.e., because Salaita uses the phrase “antisemitic shit,” it’s unreasonable to interpret the tweet as antisemitic)

      • Oh, and Dorf’s argument that Salaita was protected by academic freedom hinges entirely on the promissory estoppel business, which, as I mentioned above, hinges entirely on the unevidenced assertion that the university assured Salaita that board approval was a rubber stamp.

      • Wise’s critics imply that they and Salaita don’t need to be hamstrung by such academic niceties as civility but they want to be protected by the academic nicety of tenure and “good faith”, etc.. What does that remind you of?

        The leaders of the Islamist movement (e.g., Erdogan of Turkey, Meshaal of Hamas) have described democracy as a useful street car good for taking them to their desired destination, the Caliphate.

  14. “I love how it’s conspiratorial “political flexing behind the scenes” when the people lobbying the university happen to have views that differ from your own. If the lobbyists were, say, the NAACP and private donors who didn’t want to give money to a cause they felt supported racism, would it still constitute “political flexing behind the scenes”? Or would that just be good old-fashioned “free speech,” freespeechlover?”

    “Conspiratorial?” That’s your fantasy about my expression, but it doesn’t represent what I think. Which I suppose proves the point about why we don’t fire or unhire or rescind hires in the first place based on some tweets.

  15. The courts have interpreted and ruled over two hundred years that there are limits to free speech. This is one of those examples where a university wisely chose NOT to allow distorted, hateful, extremist “fighting words” speech. Allowing this looney tune professor his “free speech” would allow him to completely compromise Western normative standards of university freedom. What the author above fails to understand is that if one’s mind or even an institution is simply too open and too permissive, all hell will break loose, to use a technical term. When a mind or university or society is so open as to allow everything, it plants the seeds of its own demise and allows everything to fall through the ever widening cracks. How a specialist in Holocaust Studies could defend this nutcase under the guise of free speech is..well, it’s mind boggling for. He’s worried more about being liked and about the reputation of the university than he is about the reputation of and potential damage and threat to Jews everywhere–and to lovers of tolerance and free speech. There have to be some limits. Please Professor Rothberg, elaborate for those of us unable to come to terms with your ivory tower instincts.

  16. I am concerned with the intimidating impact Professor S’s speech and attitudes have on students. What pro Israel or Jewish student would dare disagree with him after reading his tweets? The university is supposed to serve students, and I think their rights and needs have been ignored. When a professor is aggressive in announcing his political views it has a chilling effect on the students in his classes who know he will be grading them. To have such professors denigrates the university’s reputation. Refusing to allow him to come is a brave and honorable act.

    • “What pro Israel or Jewish student would dare disagree with him after reading his tweets?” We can only speculate, in part, because “pro-Israel” and “Jewish” are not uniformly held positions or sets of beliefs. Some students might take his courses to argue with him; that’s certainly been the case at other institutions. The assumption that intimidation rather than curiosity or wanting to join in controversy is the most reasonable response of a “pro-Israel” or “Jewish” student seems to me troubling.

      • I can’t speak for observer, but my point isn’t about what’s “the most reasonable response.”

        My point is that I think it’s fair to ask questions like these: given that Salaita has publicly declared that people defending Israel are “awful human being[s],” might you reasonably think twice before taking a class with him if you were a student who supported Israel? If you were already in a class of his, might you reasonably think twice before voicing disagreement with him, particularly if the topic of Israel (one of his main areas) came up?

        What’s troubling me isn’t that Salaita’s defenders are answering those questions with a “no.” What’s troubling me is that so many are insisting that the tweets themselves are irrelevant, and that questions like those shouldn’t even be asked, end of discussion.

  17. Pingback: Tweets Cost a Professor His Tenure | The Ugly Truth

  18. Guestus Aurelius is right, and Prof. Rothberg is oddly wrong. Many of the tweets express antisemitism, and I say that as someone not particularly sensitive to antisemitism, but sensitive to racism in all its forms. He is absolutely right and it is very visible in comments, even here, that those who defend Salaita often rest on a particular interpretation of history in which Israel is something like a “colonial enterprise,” which allows them not to construe this situation exactly the way they would one involving groups they do consider oppressed. Personally, I think the worldwide history of anti-Jewish racism is absolutely clear, and were I a student of Jewish descent, based solely on Salaita’s tweets, I would not simply avoid his classes, but I would be very disinclined to attend UIUC.

    This case should and will be adjudicated through the proper channels, but UIUC was not wrong to be very concerned about what it had done. Had Salaita tweeted almost identical things about Zimbabwe, or the ANC, or feminists, or any number of other groups his fans (and I!) support, there would have been no parallel deluge of support for him, and Guestus is absolutely right: challenges to academic freedom have to make sense across the board, not in the particulars of this case.

    It may well turn out that Salaita was, in fact, legally hired, and therefore his academic freedom may have been violated–not by the firing (which actually STILL may have been justified) but by failure to provide him due process within UIUC’s employment structure. He deserves all of that. But some of what he said is inexcusable; it is designed to produce outrage in the other side; it perpetuates exactly the black-and-white thinking about “the other” that is a major cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict itself (on BOTH sides), and UIUC would have been justified in starting such a proceeding internally, even if it turned out not to be able to fire him, but perhaps to issue some other sort of internal penalty.

    Guestus is right: had Salaita tweeted something like “Robert Mugabe: giving hatred of blacks a good name since the 1970s,” UIUC would be facing the same issue, and Salaita would have many fewer supporters than he does now.

  19. Pingback: Dehiring at University of Illinois threatens tomorrow’s scholars | Top Education

  20. Hi Michael,

    Prof Salaita’s tweet that may come across as antisemitic and supporting violence is the following one from June 19: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the West Bank settlers would go missing.” This was a few days after three young men “went missing” (and as it turned out later were abducted and killed) and a few weeks before the military conflict with Gaza.

  21. Dear Mr Michael Rothberg,

    I am a student from the International School of Prague and I read your letter during one of my classes. I agree with your statement that Professor Salaita’s tweets are not an issue serious enough for displacement from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.You as a director of the Initiative in Holocaust and Genocide have experience with issues similar to this one, therefore your opinion should be considered with more weight in faculty decision. In my opinion, if Mr. Salaita expressed his thoughts about the current situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only through his Twitter account and not during the lessons, that way he does negatively affect the thoughts of the new generation, therefore he should not be fired from his job. Also there is an expectation of freedom of speech of the speech in general in the world, and it is such a debatable topic. Based on these points there is no way of judging fairly and to have a truthful verdict. Hopefully your arguments will count as a valid defence and Professor Salaita will not be fired from his job.

  22. Dear Mr. Rothberg.
    Hello, Mr. Rothberg. I am a student at International School of Prague, and I read your letter during our academic writing class. I am writing this letter to express my feelings regarding the way you suggested Chancellor Wise to change his decision about the position to Professor Salaita. On the top of that, I would like to emphasize the point that I was astonished from the action that Chancellor Wise did, and I am fully supporting your opinion. In your letter, it is mentioned that Professor Salaita had been fired because of his comment on his tweets about anti semitism. I know this religious issue is a lot sensitive in several countries. However as you stressed, he only posted on his private tweets and all humans have a freedom of speech no matter who they are. As a view of student of high school, I do not think the decision was fair. Therefore, I wouldn’t say he deserved to be fired from his job.
    Once again, I would like to fully support your idea, and I really appreciate your letter to Chancellor Wise.

  23. Dear professor Rothberg,

    I would like to express my agreement with all the aspects of your letter considering the matter of Professor Salaita. From my perspective of an International School student, Mr. Salaita did use social media in slightly unpleasant way; however, he did nothing to offend anyone apart from voicing his opinion. I am very glad that you, as an expert on Holocaust and Genocide recognize the fact that Mr. Salaita’s tweets were not to be a solid reason to deny him the position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The tweets are his personal opinion and although they might have been expressed in a harsh manner, they were not disrespecting or insulting Israelis or Jewish people in general. Those were not particularly the tweets of Mr. Salaita that caused such concern amongst your colleagues, but the way they interpreted them. As we know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for quite awhile and points of view on it differ. There is no such a thing as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ in terms of the conflict; you don’t have to take someone’s side in it but Mr. Salaita has Palestinian background and of course he would be strongly opposed to the actions from the Israeli side as he, personally, feels attacked. Such matters as this one should be considered and not be interfered with professional career. Mr. Salaita was unfairly judged based on his personal opinion and it is not what a civilized country should be doing. Of course there is a possibility of expressing concern due to the fact that Professor Salaita could’ve not been competent enough to be teaching a class in appropriate manner; however, if there was no background of him actually doing so, then the concerns should not be taken that seriously. Therefore I agree with all the points you made in your letter to Chancellor Wise regarding the case of Mr. Salaita and his impassioned tweets.

  24. I have been thinking a lot about your letter. First of all, I would love to thank you for speaking up as it was brave of you.

    My name is Elina Mariutsa. I study at the International School of Prague, and I am Russian by nationality and mentality. I think I am not a person who can be easily offended, and I am not one who argues with people who have a different political positions than me. However, I do know what it means to be misunderstood based on my nationality.

    You have pointed to the problem of anti Semitism in your letter, and this is hard topic to discuss. I was thinking a lot about Mr. Salaita and his loss of position. I have also read a lot of opinions and, of course, I have checked all the tweets, which were causing the problem. However, I do not have a clear position of support Mr. Salatia. Yet, what I definitely know is that I have felt all the biased judgment of me being ‘anti Semitic’ just because I present the concrete nationality. As I already mentioned above, I am Russian living in Prague, Czech Republic, which is a former Eastern block country. And I also study in International school,
    meet people from all over the world. I believe, I have never allowed myself to say anything offensive to Ukrainians during the Ukrainian crisis, the same as: ”…nobody has brought a single piece of evidence to bear that would contradict Professor Salaita’s explicit personal opposition to anti semitism”. However, people feel that the nationality defines a personality, and judge others for being themselves. I am facing reverse prejudice because of the news and media and Crimea, similar to that in the Israel-Gaza situation and Mr.Salaita’s Palestinian background.

    I already mentioned that I am not sure whether Mr. Salaita actually did anything wrong, or not. I have never attended his classes, and I do not know if he could be offensive towards his Israeli students. Still I am one hundred percent sure that nobody has the right to judge a person just because of the politics in a his home country.

    Nobody chooses a place to be born. Citizens are not the ones who are guilty for the political situations. Nobody has to be judged for showing a compassion and caring about people of his country.

    Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your stance against the injustice.


  25. Dear Mr Rothberg,

    As a student of the International School of Prague (and future student of Maximilian-Ludwig University in Munich), I appreciate and fully support your point of view that you provided as a reaction over the controversial assumption of the University Board that Mr Salita is guilty of anti-Semitism. In that sense the University of Illinois acted unprofessionaly, contrasting your approach. I am currently studying at ISP, my fourth year in the school and second year in World and European History therefore I am familiar with the concept of tolerance and its historical appearances. From the student point of view I am able to provide personal criticism of the issue. Chancellor Wise of U of I had mentioned she supports the First Amendment in University, however she fired Mr Salita on the basis of his political statements which makes the situation hypocritical.


  26. Dear Mr Michael Rothberg,
    I am a student from the International School of Prague, and I read your letter during our academic writing class. I really appreciated your statement in support of Professor Salaita. I totally agree with your ideas. For citizens, the one most crucial thing is to have liberty in their countries. Professor Salaita has his own rights to express his feeling and make comments about the Israeli bombing of Gaza, no matter how frequently his tweets are expressed in strong language, at least he didn’t violate any laws, so does he deserved this punishments? Why should he be fired from his job. If we are living in a moral and just world, it must be this way, respecting each others opinions, encouraging people to deliver their ideas to public, and not trying to restrict human rights or crack down of expressing our own genuine thoughts in public. Also I suspect the case with Professor Salaita will gain more supports because he was trying to deliver his opinions to public without doing any immoral things. He is a genuine and unaffected person.
    Yours Sincerely.

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  28. Pingback: Reflections on the Salaita Case: Contradiction, Overdetermination, Mobilization | The Academe Blog

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  30. it would be interesting to see how someone who is clearly intelligent like Mr Rothberg, can be some completely unintelligent as to write something like this very well written, well very explained pile of steaming feces.

    I understand you are worried about academic freedom and tenure, you should not be willing to be an apologist for an antisemite to advocate for those things.

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