#ReinstateSalaita at #UIUC

I’ve been meaning to write about this for over a month now, but a variety of circumstances has made it impossible for me to find the time. For those who don’t know, a friend and colleague, Steven Salaita, has been fired (by the Chancellor, not the faculty) from a tenure-track position in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign because of a few tweets that he wrote expressing the rage that he felt at Israel for the genocidal rampage it unleashed on Gaza over the past couple of months. This is, of course, goes against the norms of how universities operate and the freedoms they are supposed to uphold (namely the freedom of speech).

Tomorrow the trustees will be meeting to discuss this once more so the university has an opportunity to do the right thing. I sent them the following letter today:

10 September 2014

Dear Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees at the University of Illinois:

For the past month I’ve been following the news about Professor Steven Salaita with great interest. He is a tremendous colleague and scholar, one who I feel fortunate enough to have worked with in various academic contexts over the past several years—from American Studies to organising with the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Although I am no longer an academic, I want to lend my support to Professor Salaita’s case because I think that the teachers and students alike will suffer without his presence on campus. His congenial and collegial nature—which only a brief meeting can reveal—make him an important asset to any academic institution. Moreover, Professor Salaita an invaluable scholar—indeed he single-handedly created this subfield of indigenous studies in which he compares Palestinian and American Indian histories and cultures.

When I did teach and conduct research I found his scholarship to be quite influential, especially The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan, which I taught in my American Zionism course at the American University of Beirut. His work was deeply appreciated by my students and they certainly gained a new framework for understanding the dual contexts of colonialism in West Asia and North America.

As a public intellectual, I find his writing deeply moving and significant. He’s one public intellectual I continue to read and follow in my post-academic life. From his online presence on Twitter to his active life as a voracious book reader and reviewer on Goodreads, he helps spread knowledge and ideas in a variety of venues. It is refreshing to see an academic speaking freely about issues affecting real people’s lives, whether in Palestine or in the U.S., in ways that illuminate the nuances and contextual aspects of whatever issue he lends his pen to. How ironic that Professor Salaita’s fearless behaviour led to his firing from an institution that is obligated to uphold the values of free speech.

I urge you to reconsider your decision to fire Professor Salaita. At this juncture maintaining your stance will only harm your institution, as you must be aware of the petitions and boycott campaigns already receiving tremendous support. But as Professor Salaita stated so eloquently in his address at UIUC yesterday, the issue is far larger than him if you proceed down this path. You are sending a dangerous precedent for academia as a whole. Please do the right thing and reinstate Professor Salaita.

Yours truly,

Dr. Marcy Jane Knopf-Newman

This case is significant for a number of reasons–not the least of which is the type of precedent it could be setting for how universities act not only in relation to the subject of Palestine, but in terms of free speech more generally. Here are a number of excellent articles on the subject that can give some terrific background and insight, including Steven’s appearance at the university for a press conference today along with his attorneys from the Centre for Constitutional Rights (their letter to Phyllis Wise may be read here). There are also links to a site to show you what you can do to support Steven from sending funds for his legal fees to boycotting UIUC until it reinstates him. Also, there is a petition at Change.org that, as of today, has over 18,000 signatures! Click here to add your name to it.

Jakeet Singh’s “Why aren’t we talking about racism and colonialism in the Salaita affair?” (Electronic Intifada)

Christine Des Garennes and Julie Wurth’s Who is Steven Salaita? (The News Gazette)

Marjorie Heins’ “Untangling the Steven Salaita Case” (Academe)

Corey Robins’ “Academic Mores and Manners in the Salaita Affair” 

Corey Robins’ “Chancellor Wise Speaks”

“The Racist Professor at the University of Illinois” (Academe)

American Historical Association’s “Letter of Concern to University of Illinois Chancellor Regarding Salaita Case”

Mark LeVine’s “Dehiring at University of Illinois threatens tomorrow’s scholars” (Al Jazeera)

Corey Robin’s “More Votes of No Confidence, a Weird Ad, and a Declaration of a Non-Emergency”

Breaking Through to the Hindu and other recent developments

I was a bit surprised to learn that The Hindu newspaper carried coverage of the American Studies Association boycott resolution in its pages. It hardly seemed like international news to me. But what was more surprising is that it came in the form of Zionist articles by American columnists David Brooks (New York Times) and Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post). Both articles repeat stale propaganda about Israel and the boycott movement, which if they had been even fact checked some of that could have been reduced. In any case, I wrote my own response to them, which was published in today’s paper, although it was edited so I’ll post the original version below:

In the print edition of The Hindu on 11 January 2014, a column by Charles Karauthammer appeared from the newswire about the American Studies Association’s (ASA) recent resolution to boycott Israel. As a member of the ASA for almost twenty years, and as the person who initiated this move towards boycott in the spring of 2005, I find it a bit odd that such an article (the second, actually, as The Hindu published a wire piece by David Brooks a couple of weeks ago arguing more or less the same point) would appear in the pages of an Indian newspaper given that the bone of contention is from quite an American point of view. Moreover, Indians know from experience what the power of boycott can do when fighting a foreign colonial power on one’s land.

Brooks and Krauthammer may offer readers many opinions, but there is very little grounded in facts, which a quick perusal of the ASA’s website would reveal. For example, Brooks, for example, thinks that the problem is only the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; curiously Gaza doesn’t come into his frame. Both writers paint a portrait of an Israel that looks like it’s a beautiful, democratic society with just a few minor flaws that need to be worked out. Let me offer your readers a different American viewpoint, and one that comes from an American Jew who has spent several years teaching at Palestinian universities in the West Bank cities of Jerusalem and Nablus; there I had a front-row seat to the myriad ways that Israel actively interfered with the lives of Palestinian scholars and students, making teaching, conducting research, or merely going to school next to impossible.

Any way one examines the conditions of Palestinians, including access to education, there are problems whether in the West Bank, Gaza, or Israel itself. Israel has a segregated school system (similar to the “separate but equal” system the U.S. created for African Americans) as detailed in a recent Human Rights Watch report. Israel routinely targets schools in its invasions of Palestine (and Lebanon); during its 2008 war against Gaza, Israel targeted a United Nations school and the Islamic University of Gaza. In the West Bank, where I spent most of my time, students were routinely kept from attending university and school because of the checkpoint and Jewish-only road system. Last summer the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report detailing the extent to which Palestinian children between the ages of twelve and seventeen are kidnapped from their homes at night, detained in military prisons where they are tortured, often until they agree to become informants on their family and community. If I had more space to write, I could produce a dissertation on the ways in which Palestinian youth are singled out by Israeli soldiers, abused, and prevented from pursuing their education.

Instead of exploring the reality of Palestinians, Krauthammer and Brooks deflect attention by either asking why Israel is “singled out” (answer: because as a state it singles itself out out as in its special relationship with the U.S., for which it is handsomely rewarded financially, militarily, and through UN vetoes). Those who pay taxes in the U.S. and who are part of the boycott movement do not want our tax dollars to continue funding these activities. In Israel, as in South Africa under its apartheid regime, universities are state-run and help produce the knowledge that undergirds the practices and policies that further the occupation and colonization of Palestinians.

But Brooks and Krauthammer would have it that the ASA operated out of either anti-Semitism or discrimination against Israeli scholars. In fact, the resolution, in keeping with the Palestinian call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, calls for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions only. Neither the movement in Palestine nor the West nor in India targets any individual on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or nationality. In fact, the ASA resolution also acknowledges the fact that Israeli scholars are a part of this movement as well.

The false claim of “anti-Semitism” is often trotted out by Zionists—Christian and Jewish alike—who wish to remind their audience of violence perpetuated by Europeans against European Jews. But in the history of West Asia this charge is ironic given the fact that Arabs are far more Semitic than European Jews like me and given the fact that the people living under a brutal colonial regime are Palestinians, Syrians (in the Occupied Golan Heights), and Lebanese in the remaining five villages that Israel continues to illegally occupy.

Those of us active in the boycott movement around the globe do so out of a desire to see Palestinian people achieve justice meaning the right of return for Palestinian refugees and compensation as per UN Resolution 194. We believe that there shouldn’t be any nation with special status. We believe that when the UN makes a resolution all nations must abide by them not just countries bullied by the powers governing the Security Council and their allies.

Marcy Newman is an independent scholar and author of The Politics of Teaching Palestine to Americans and a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

There have been some more terrific pieces about the boycott in the press in the last couple of weeks, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) resolution, which doesn’t go as far as the ASA, but at lest it is taking the correct steps in that direction.

First, here is a terrific action alert from Adalah New York for people who want to respond and support the ASA. There is also a petition to sign to support the ASA, but you must be a member. This is especially essential since yesterday Forbes had the audacity to publish an openly ad hominem attack by Richard Behar about several of my colleagues and friends in the ASA who have been working tirelessly over the last several years to make this resolution happen.

Steven Salaita has a brilliant piece in Electronic Intifada called “Ten Things We’ve Learned About Opposition to Academic Boycott,” which pretty much responds to Behar and whatever other Zionist hack wants to do to try to belittle our work. Also, USACBI posted a brilliant piece this week called “This is What an Academic Boycott Looks Like” for people who are sincerely interested in understanding our work. Also here is the Indian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (InCACBI) statement of solidarity with the ASA.

Second, the U.S. Green Party issued a press release supporting the ASA’s resolution.

Then there are a couple of great pieces in university newspapers from Bowdoin, Syracuse, and Tufts. Bill Mullen did a radio interview about the resolution and Democracy Now! hosted a debate, although the choice of debaters isn’t great.

Meanwhile at the MLA annual meeting, another one of my former academic homes, a resolution was passed, although it focused on the lack of human rights and academic freedom. A petition is here for people who want to sign it (you don’t need to be a member to do so). Here are some articles covering the MLA resolution and what transpired at the various panels there:

Liz Schulman’s “Boycott Panel at MLA Draws Applause and Fearful Questions”

Alex Kane’s “MLA Delegates Pass Measure Against Israel Denying Entry to Academics”

Bruce Robbins’ “‘Common Sense Has Moved On’: Report from MLA Debate on Israel”

David Palumbo-Liu’s “Modern Language Association Prepared to Talk Seriously About Palestine”

Finally, in the midst of all this, Ariel “the butcher” Sharon died. But instead of publishing an article from an Indian point of view, once again The Hindu resorted to a Zionist writer, Ethan Bronner, from the news wire. Many people have torn this and other whitewashed obituaries to shreds already, but today The Hindu also published a terrific, contextually rich piece by Vijay Prashad that highlights the damaging work that Sharon did, along with the BJP, to erode a history of solidarity between Palestinians and Indians:

In 2003, Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. He had been invited by the BJP-led government to cement the newfound ties between India and Israel. At that time, The Hindu wrote, “New Delhi has sent out wrong signals by playing host to Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at this particular juncture… Even if it was possible to set aside [Sharon’s] appalling personal history, his apparent distaste for a just and permanent settlement with the Palestinians cannot be ignored. Even moderate constituencies in Arab countries are convinced that Mr. Sharon was largely responsible for scuttling the Oslo process. The policies Israel has implemented under his stewardship have aggravated the violent confrontation with the Palestinians.” Nonetheless, the Bharatiya Janata Party and later the Congress endorsed Israeli policy by its new attachment to Tel Aviv. India quickly became the largest importer of Israeli arms, unwittingly helping the Israeli economy in its principal task — to pursue the occupation of the Palestinians.

Not all of India embraced its leaders’ camaraderie with Sharon. “Katil Sharon se yaari, sharam karo Atal Bihari [shame on you, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for befriending the murderous Sharon],” and similar slogans echoed across the country at Sharon’s death, despite the warm condolence message crafted by the Prime Minister’s Office. India’s government, which once led the Non-Aligned world to defend the rights of the Palestinians, is now reticent to be critical of Israel and allows itself to celebrate the life of a man whose day in court was postponed because of his Western allies.

For other excellent coverage, which doesn’t include much of Al Jazeera’s shameful, borderline hagiographic tributes, see these pieces:

Democracy Now!’s interviews with Rashid Khalidi, Noam Chomsky, and Avi Shlaim

As’ad AbuKhalil’s “Ariel Sharon: International War Criminal Remembered”

Jonathan Cook’s “The Legacy of Ariel ‘the bulldozer’ Sharon”

Max Blumenthal’s “How Ariel Sharon Shaped Israel’s Destiny”

Ahmed Moor’s “Ariel Sharon: The Architect of Terror”

David Samel’s “Bronner Whitewashes Sharon’s Atrocities”

Peter Hart’s “How the Big Papers Remember Ariel Sharon”

never before

rania sent me these videos from a new lebanon-based group called the “never before campaign.” the videos are very powerful. i don’t know any other details about this new group, but it looks promising.

and rami sent me this the other day from beirut, which also seems promising as it articulates so many of the strategic resistance discussions we had when i was there a few weeks ago:

From January 16 to 18 an international gathering of trend-setting importance took place in Beirut, Lebanon. About 1.000 delegates from Lebanon, the Arab world, Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia from the most divers resistance organisations found together in the “Beirut International Forum for Resistance, Anti-imperialism, Peoples’ Solidarity and Alternatives” vibrantly exchanging experiences and forging a common struggle.

In the opening session Hezbollah’s deputy-secretary Sheik Naim Kassem excellently expressed the common spirit: Today there are only two camps in the world. The one of US imperialism and its allies and the other one of the resistances regardless of their ideological, cultural or religious affiliation. The resistances must be unified against its common enemy which is only possible by respecting the diversity.

All of the speakers from the European anti-war and anti-imperialist movements, from Venezuela (which had a massive presence), form India and even from the United States in person of former US attorney general Ramsey Clark strongly confirmed this idea of an anti-imperialist alliance – which is an achievement of utmost importance. Only some years back this had been unthinkable. The resistance movements were mistrusted especially the Islamic ones and the Western antagonist forces still believed to play a global protagonist role.

Although planned long ahead of the Zionist aggression on Gaza, the entire event was marked by the deep support to the Palestinian resistance struggle in Gaza. Nobody, also the forces from non-Islamic countries, took the leadership by Hamas as a pretext to reject the support to the resistance as it had been common in the past. On the contrary, also in Europe massive solidarity demonstration with Gaza with hundreds of thousand participants took place indicating a clear shift in important sections of the antagonist forces. (Which should not deceive us from the fact of a powerful and growing anti-Islamic campaign and sentiment in the West.)

An indicator for the changed climate in favour of anti-imperialism was the participation of what could be called the left wing of the Social Forum. One should recall the times when the vicious formula “no war, no terror” was predominant equating imperialism with the resistances and taking “politically correct” equidistance. Those forces which still hold such a position have decisively lost their influence and do no more lead mass movements.

Careful participants of the Beirut Forum could, however, notice a certain wariness of some participants to lend the same support to the Iraqi and Afghan resistance as they do for Palestine. This might be due to the interests of Iran as a regional power which do conflict with these resistances. In this sense the message by the Iranian president to the forum rightly denouncing the Arab regimes which follow Israeli and US interest as traitors appears somewhat vapid given Iran’s record of support to the Iraqi regime installed by the US occupiers.

Next steps

The signal sent by this conference to form an international anti-imperialist front was already very bold given the fact that it was the first such event of that scale. Nevertheless the organisers were keen to develop some concrete agreements for the next steps. It is clear that new activities and meetings will be needed to go ahead on that track. As Anti-imperialist Camp we draw following conclusions and put forward following proposals in the spirit of the forum:

1) Insist on the campaign to boycott Israel on all levels.

2) Send brigades and delegations to Gaza and other places of resistance to build solidarity from below and allow a direct touch to the reality on the ground in order to counter the distortions of the Western corporate media.

3) Hold an anti-imperialist conference in support of the resistances in Europe as a continuation of Beirut forum. The main axis could be:

a) give voice to the resistances

b) rebuff raging Islamophobia which provides the ideological backing to the ongoing imperialist war

c) propose as the only solution to the Palestinian problem on single democratic state.

4) Build a permanent but open body of global co-ordination of anti-imperialist forces.

Anti-imperialist Camp
January 24, 2009

in contradistinction i received another email from several friends this week about a new campaign in jordan called “voices for palestine.” here is the text of their website:

Dear Friends,

Welcome to our group ‘Voices for Palestine’. We are Arab women from Jordan who have come together in response to the appalling attacks of Israel on Gaza and its people. We are women who come from different backgrounds and affiliations, to speak against the violations that are taking place against the Palestinians and give voice to the victims of these atrocious and disproportional attacks.

Through both our website and our youtube channel, we plan on reporting the realities on the ground in Gaza and share with you our thoughts on how you can make a difference.

We, like many of you, have been glued to our television screens, trying to grasp what in the world is happening over there and why the whole world is silently watching as Palestinian children, mothers, and male civilians have been killed in the hundreds over the past three weeks.

As believers in human rights and dignity, Voices for Palestine, seeks to present what is really happening in Gaza. To speak about this issue with no reservations is our goal, hoping that after you hear what we have to say, you will feel compelled to stand up and speak against what is happening, and act in whatever capacity you can to end the destruction of a nation and its people. We cannot idly watch and allow this genocide to take place.

In solidarity,

Voices for Palestine

they are asking people to go to their youtube site and watch their videos. i’ll post one of them here:

i’m not going to comment on the difference in tone and strategy between this lebanese and jordanian initiative. those who know me know what i think.

oh, did i mention that jordan sent back its ambassador to the terrorist state of israel?

contrast this with the principled position of mohamed el baradei in response to canceling his interviews on bbc:

The head of the UN”s nuclear watchdog has cancelled planned interviews with the BBC in protest at the corporation’s decision not to air an emergency appeal for Gaza on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

In a statement to the Guardian, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner, unleashed a stinging denunciation of the BBC, deepening the damage already caused by the controversy.

meanwhile in qatar of all places a boycott campaign is underway:

Students of Qatar University will participate in an international campaign to mobilise the public for a boycott of goods produced by American and other Western firms that support Israel, a local Arabic daily reports.

Eleven countries are participating in the campaign.

The student co-ordinator of the campaign at Qatar University, Ibrahim Saad of the faculty of engineering, said there were six firms known to be outright supporters of Israel. “We will mobilise public support and see to it that these firms close down their business operations in Qatar.”

He said he had received overwhelming support from the university students. Starbucks and Coffee Shop are among the immediate targets, says the report. “How could these outlets exist in Qatar and do business with our money while it has been confirmed that they are funding Israel to build Jewish settlements? How could this happen when children are brutally killed in Palestine,” he said.

Starbucks has two outlets in the Qatar University campus, one each in the girls’ and boys’ wings.

However, a memorandum submitted by the students to the university administration seeking the closure of these outlets has received a response that the university is bound by official decisions taken by the government.

and there is yet another petition from the united states calling for a boycott. this one is from academics and cultural workers:

International Writers and Scholars Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel

by Steven Salaita / January 27th, 2009

We stand in support of the indigenous Palestinian people in Gaza, who are fighting for their survival against one of the most brutal uses of state power in both this century and the last.

We condemn Israel’s recent (December 2008/ January 2009) breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip, which include the bombing of densely-populated neighborhoods, illegal deployment of the chemical white phosphorous, and attacks on schools, ambulances, relief agencies, hospitals, universities, and places of worship. We condemn Israel’s restriction of access to media and aid workers.

We reject as false Israel’s characterization of its military attacks on Gaza as retaliation. Israel’s latest assault on Gaza is part of its longtime racist jurisprudence against its indigenous Palestinian population, during which the Israeli state has systematically dispossessed, starved, tortured, and economically exploited the Palestinian people.

We reject as untrue the Israeli government’s claims that the Palestinians use civilians as human shields, and that Hamas is an irredeemable terrorist organization. Without endorsing its platforms or philosophy, we recognize Hamas as a democratically elected ruling party. We do not endorse the regime of any existing Arab state, and call for the upholding of internationally mandated human rights and democratic elections in all Arab states.

We call upon our fellow writers and academics in the United States to question discourses that justify and rationalize injustice, and to address Israeli assaults on civilians in Gaza as one of the most important moral issues of our time.

We call upon institutions of higher education in the U.S. to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions, dissolve study abroad programs in Israel, and divest institutional funds from Israeli companies, using the 1980s boycott against apartheid South Africa as a model.

We call on all people of conscience to join us in boycotting Israeli products and institutions until a just, democratic state for all residents of Palestine/Israel comes into existence.

Mohammed Abed
Elmaz Abinader
Diana Abu-Jaber
Ali Abunimah
Opal Palmer Adisa
Deborah Al-Najjar
Evelyn Azeeza Alsultany
Amina Baraka
Amiri Baraka
George Bisharat
Sherwin Bitsui
Breyten Breytenbach
Van Brock
Hayan Charara
Allison Hedge Coke
Lara Deeb
Vicente Diaz
Marilyn Hacker
Mechthild Hart
Sam Hamill
Randa Jarrar
Fady Joudah
Mohja Kahf
Rima Najjar Kapitan
Persis Karim
J. Kehaulani Kauanui
Haunani Kay-Trask
David Lloyd
Sunaina Maira
Nur Masalha
Khaled Mattawa
Daniel AbdalHayy Moore
Aileen Moreton-Robinson
Nadine Naber
Marcy Newman
Viet Nguyen
Simon J. Ortiz
Vijay Prashad
Steven Salaita
Therese Saliba
Sarita See
Deema Shehabi
Matthew Shenoda
Naomi Shihab Nye
Magid Shihade
Vandana Shiva
Noenoe Silva
Andrea Smith
Ahdaf Soueif
Ghada Talhami
Frank X. Walker
Robert Warrior