Salaita’s public statement yesterday, his first since his de-hiring as a tenured professor at the University of Illinois, has gotten a lot of attention. “I have devoted my entire life to challenging prevailing orthodoxies, critiquing architectures of power and violence in the US and abroad and surfacing narratives of people – including Palestinians and Native Americans – who are subject to occupation, marginalization, and violence,” he declared, adding that “the decision to terminate me is a result of pressure from wealthy donors….part of a nationwide, concerted effort by wealthy and well-organized groups to attack pro-Palestinian students and faculty and silence their speech….
This risks creating a Palestinian exception to the First Amendment and to academic freedom. The ability of wealthy donors and the politically powerful to create exceptions to bedrock principles should be worrying to all scholars and teachers.
Salaita, it seems to me, is getting more sympathy from his fellow academics and the public at large than Norman Finkelstein did when Alan Dershowitz spearheaded a successful effort to deny him a tenured professorship at DePaul University because, a la Salaita, of his deficient “collegiality.” An academic boycott against the University of Illinois is building steam; Chancellor Phyllis Wise has not exactly disavowed her decision, but has expressed regrets about its “unilateral” nature.
Though Dershowitz, the ADL, and AIPAC still have access to all the media platforms and elected officials that they did a few years ago, they would probably have a harder time discrediting the likes of Mearsheimer and Walt than they did in 2006, when the ADL characterized the article that was the nucleus of their book The Israel Lobby as “an anti-Jewish screed in scholarly guise,” and “a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.”
Defenders of the University of Illinois’s decision angrily denied that it was influenced by threats from rich donors–even though it quickly became clear that precisely such lobbying had taken place. Others justified the decision by deploring Salaita’s scholarship (“Steven Salaita’s Academic Work is Just as Hateful as his Tweets“), in much the same manner that right wing websites posthumously attacked Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s reputations ( “St. Michael the Thug: Media Bias in Ferguson,” by Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips).
But what about the Tweets? How vile were they really? To tell you the truth I hadn’t looked, but I assumed they were pretty bad. I may be anti-Zionist myself, but I know how anti-Semitic a lot of anti-Zionism (and a lot of anti-Zionists) can be. Anyone with a name like Goldwag who writes about “conspiracy theory” will learn that soon enough from the comments he attracts on the Internet. Just read my Metapedia entry, for goodness sake, which identifies me as, of all things, a “Jewish propagandist” and a “Jewish supremacist”!
This morning, what with all the news about Salaita’s statement, I decided to look at the worst of the worst of his Tweets, just so that I would know. CIF Watch, a blog that “monitors anti-Semitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at The Guardian and its blog Comment is Free” seemed like a good place to start. Here is what they selected this morning:
“By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”
“Zionists: transforming anti-Semitism from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”
“It’s useful to connect underdevelopment in American minority communities to the over development of Israel’s economy with American tax money.”
“The IDF spokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize genocidal violence. Goebbels much?”
“Israeli Independence Equals sustenance of the European eugenic logic made famous by Hitler.”
Strong stuff, but frankly there’s nothing there that strikes me as even a little bit anti-Semitic except maybe the second one, which doesn’t offend so much as fall flat rhetorically. What I think he meant to say is that the wrongs committed in the name of Zionism since 1948 have put Judaism’s name into disrepute as well. That’s what I think myself (Corey Robin parses it a little differently here), but if people choose to read it as a blanket endorsement of anti-Semitism then I suppose there’s nothing I can do to convince them otherwise.
But is it anti-Semitic to say that Israel is as avid to conflate its identity with Judaism as its enemies (and the enemies of the Jewish people) are? I can remember when David Gregory called Netanyahu the “leader of the Jewish people” on Meet the Press. Though Gregory clarified himself in a Tweet a few hours later, it’s notable that Netanyahu didn’t correct him himself. As for Jewish eugenics, consider the efforts that the Jewish state expends on the maintenance of Jewish purity. Here is how Haaretz describes them:
There is no civil marriage. Jews can only be married in a religious ceremony, by an Orthodox rabbi under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, the top religious authority for Jews in Israel. This means there is also no interfaith marriage between Jews and non-Jews, since Orthodox Judaism does not allow mixed unions. Israelis who belong to other streams of Judaism, such as Reform or Conservative, must still tie the knot in front of an Orthodox rabbi in a traditional ceremony if they want their marriage to be recognized by the state.
As this op ed in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post notes, “Israel’s marriage laws not only refuse hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens the right to marry, but….the laws place Israel in the unenviable fellowship of the world’s fundamentalist Islamic countries as the only democracy in the world that denies its citizens this basic right.” If there were a world-wide pogrom against the Jews, Israel would recognize me as a citizen and accord me more rights than a Palestinian whose family lived there for centuries, but they would pull up the ladder if my children or my wife tried to get in.
As I’ve said many times, listening to the likes of a racist like Jared Taylor hold up Israel’s “ethnostate” and Hasidic separatist communities like Kiryas Joel in New York as models for white supremacists to emulate is nothing if not disquieting. As for the Nazi analogies….Well, I deplore them too: they’re ugly and anything but collegial; they hurt feelings and close off the possibility of constructive discourse.
But give me a break. If you’re going to go on TV and justify the carnage in Gaza, then you’d better have thick skin. When you use overwhelming force against civilians, most people won’t see you as the underdog. As Salaita said in a Tweet that the CIF Watch people didn’t choose, “Only Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.”