Monday, September 15, 2014

University of Illinois dodges a bullet, is hit by a thousands more


     The media can have terrible tunnel vision, such as when it focused on the question of whether the University of Illinois was right in retracting its job off to Steve Salaita, who used the Anti-Semitism Empowerment Act, aka the Gaza War, to ladle contempt on Israelis and, by proxy, Jews. (Spoiler alert: they were correct).
      I resisted the impulse to jump in. Academic squabbles are so bitter, the saying goes, because the stakes are so small. But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that the problem isn't this guy. Oh that it were. The problem is he represents the standard lazy, evil-du-jour activism always popular on college campuses, with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned ivory tower anti-Semitism thrown in. As readers know, I hate playing the anti-Semite card: God knows there are reasons aplenty to criticize Israel and its frequent missteps. But Salaita plunged over the line into hate speech, as so frequently happens, which is not guaranteed speech, but shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater. We've seen this before. The far right tries to put a fig leaf over their hatred by claiming religious freedom. The left, no better, cites academic privilege as a shield for their noxious bigotry. Too bad for Salaita that he didn't wait three months to spout his hate; then he could have just blended into the crowd. 

     Kudos to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees for yanking back its invitation to would-be professor Steven Salaita, whose Twitter rants during the Gaza war said, in essence, that all Israelis living in the West Bank — different place, but close enough — should die, and that Israel’s existence justifies anti-Semitism.
     To be frank, I thought the board would wave him in to avoid a lawsuit and mollify the restive students, many of whom support Salaita, in the rampant ignorance that only half-educated young adults can muster.
     A tiny victory. Does anyone believe keeping Salaita off campus is going to squash the blindered myopia and easy hatred he represents? Jeez. Condemning Israel is a classic American college phenomenon, like binge drinking and date rape, and the U of I’s vote Thursday will have about as much effect as administrative acts against those problems.
     And no, I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. I can criticize Israel all day long, and do, right here in print, so strongly that the consul in Chicago gives me the cold shoulder because I don’t echo their own simplistic friend-or-foe thinking. Israel is in the grip of right-wing hawks, its religious fanatics exert far too much influence (just like ours!)      They were too long viewing the occupied territories as spare land and too slow to see them as the poison pill human-rights disaster they without question are....

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20 comments:

  1. " Free speech means the government doesn’t harass you for expressing your beliefs. It doesn’t mean that nobody can react to those beliefs. If I am hired by the U of I math department and then start tweeting that pi is really 3.0, even, it is not censorship if they revoke their offer. It’s prudence."

    Ok. Let's talk about this. It's not really a good argument. First, let's set the proper First Amendment standard. Well established US Supreme Court law holds that a government institution (like the U of I) can't fire an employee unless their speech interferes with the ability to do their job or if their speech is false. Thus your analogy is not a good one. A math professor who insists publicly that Pi is 3.0 even is making a statement that is i) factually untrue and ii) pretty clearly effects his ability to do his job.

    Saliata's reprehensible opinions are just that opinions and thus can't be considered 'false' under the law. Do they interfere with his ability to do his job? I think an argument can be made that they do. That the "unease" caused by the venom towards Jews would interfere with his ability to be a teacher to all. But it's a close call. And you have to engage in that analysis before shoving the First Amendment aside.

    (As you can tell I have no love or even like for this professor ...ok I have hatred for Saliata. But I do have love for the First Amendment and don't like to see it not given its proper place)

    Jara

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    1. I should also note that for First Amendment purposes the refusal to hire and firing for things said are considered no different. The analysis is exactly the same.

      Jara

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    2. It's not even a "close call." University of Illinois has foreign students, including from Israel. Saliata pined for the murder (and likely torture) of such students. Between this and the other tweets, it is inarguable that a Jewish student would be reasonable in thinking this teacher's classroom is a hostile atmosphere and/or biased against them, and decide to avoid it.

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    3. His speech certainly is false --Israel's actions do not justify anti-Semitism -- and of course it would interfere with his job. You argue against yourself,unwittingly. There's a lot of that going on.

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    4. Whether Israel's actions justify anti-Semitism is an opinion under our legal system not a fact. I am personally of the opinion that it most certainly does not so justify. And one needs to say WHY they interfere with his job not 'of course'. As I said though an argument can be made either way. It is legally a close call given what universities allow in the name of academic freedom.

      How exactly do you think I argue against myself??? All I was doing was setting the standard and showing why your analogy was bad.

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    5. To be clear on the "fact/opinion" thing. The law takes a narrow view of what is a 'fact'. "This justifies that" is almost always going to be an opinion not a fact.

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    6. Sorry anon, at some point I have to move on to the work at hand, and this is it.

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  2. Even if we take the anti-Semitism out, the professor's remarks were unprofessorial and their violence wouldn't be tolerated even from lesser folk.

    John

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  3. I am from a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors. This professors statements were not anti-Semitic--they were righteous and truthful, and the zionists are acting towards the Palestinians just like the Nazis acted towards my family. israel must be defeated and end. Here is a link to a letter from 28 Jewish students, faculty, and staff of the University of Illinois supporting Professor Steven Salaita. Increasingly, the ADL AIPAIC, etc., do not speak for many U.S. Jews. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/leadership-palestinians-professor

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    1. You state your family credentials as if they somehow indemnify them. They don't. I'm a J Street Jew myself -- AIPAIC isn't doing anybody any favors. You notice how I can say that without saying that Israel justifies anti-Semitism, which is what Salaita said. Sad that you agree, but then, some Jews survived by collaborating with the Nazis and aiding in the Holocaust. You do them proud.

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  4. "Anti-Zionist Jews" always dismiss the experience of Sephardic Jews always written out of "Zionism'. Let alone the history of Pan-Arabism. The Jim Crow-to-worse like experience Sephardic Jews lived under would justify establishing a Jewish state somewhere in historic Palestine whether or not the Holocaust had happened. Of course, if the writer above believed what he writes, he or she would donate his land to the ancestors of the Native Americans it was taken from and emigrate to someplace where native populations were not displaced. Or would he/she declare a convenient "statue of limitations" in that case.

    I'm not comfortable with some things J-Street does, but I do boycott goods made in the Occupied Territories and think the U.S. could take a much stronger approach in dealing with Israel over the settlements. But I find it's pretty easy to distinguish between good faith critics of Israel and anti-semites: the latter never rail against China, weren't against MFN status to China, etc. and when you call them out on that, they'll invariably make an argument to the effect that they can't walk and chew gum at the same time and to demand that they criticize the occupier of Tibet and enabler of genocidal Sudan is the same as a demand they don't criticize Israel. This is why a person like Mia Farrow or Nick Kristof has infinite more credibility than the Saliatas of the world.

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  5. (Mr. Steinberg, either your web page can't handle non-standard browsers like Opera or Opera has some serious design flaws!)

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    1. Can't help you there. Though you've been here a while, and this is the first time you've brought it up. What does that even mean?

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    2. What does ANYTHING from this guy mean?

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    3. Mr. Steinberg, I'm hurt you don't remember - I've brought technical difficultiest up a couple of times (double posting, missing passages - this time it was failure to edit correctly). But I'm going to bookmark the page on my IE browser and post from there, so hopefully no problems after that.

      Unknown: To paraphrase the professional wrestler Jeff Jarrett, to those who understand no explanation is needed, to those who don't no explanation would suffice.

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    4. Sorry Anon -- I didn't say you never brought up technical things, I said it's the first time you brought up non-standard browsers. I've been living without knowing so far.

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    5. I'm guessing group #1 consists of you, and group #2 consists of the rest of the world.

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    6. Unknown - I suspect you do a lot of that. Guessing, I mean.

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  6. I would agree with you except that the U of I, for all intents and purposes, already gave him the job. Jerking it back on a technicality (the board didn't approve it or whatever), after he had already given notice and sold his house, is just a jerkass move.

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    1. Which, give the man involved, would seem apt.

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