John Dixon/AP
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students protest the firing of Dr. Steven Salaita on August 26.

Salaita Firing Is ‘Israeli Attack on Palestine Coming to Our Campus’

Gale Courey Toensing

Although Wise and trustees have denied that Salaita’s criticism of Israel had anything to do with his firing until her statement on September 4, hundreds of documents and emails released to Inside Higher Education and the News-Gazette under the Freedom of Informatio Act have confirmed the deep political and financial ties between the university’s leadership and Israel. Additionally, they show that wealthy pro-Israel donors threatened to stop giving money to the university if Salaita was kept on the faculty. The senders’ names were redacted.

"Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years, I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses," wrote one UI business school graduate.

"I have consistently believed that our flagship state university is a treasure that deserves our continued support and contributions. No more. We will now cease our annual contributions to the university and will let our fellow alumni know why we are doing so," wrote another graduate.

Others called Salaita anti-Semitic and a racist, and accused him of “hate speech, incitement, and support of terrorist activity.”

One writer equated the support of Palestinians’ human, civil and national rights with Nazism and accused Arab students “all over the United States” of persecuting Jewish students. “In my college days, I recall vividly the swastika that was painted with shaving cream on the door of my dorm room in 1979. This unearned, but learned, hatred continues today under the guise of ‘Palestinian causes.’ Present-day Jewish students on college campuses all over the United States are subjected to criticism, harassment, and taunting by Arab students,” the writer said. He or she told Wise “to prevent [Salaita] from being employed at the University” and urged her “to renounce” his statements.

Salaita's tweets were posted during what the United Nations Human Rights Council called “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 13 June 2014.”

After weeks of silence as to why Salaita was fired, Wise said in an August 22 blog posting that her decision “was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel.” Rather, he was fired to protect students from “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

But the Jewish community members rejected that claim. “In no way do Professor Salaita’s words, tweets, or presence on campus make us feel unsafe, disrespected, or threatened, as your public letter indicated,” their letter said. Instead, they said, it is Wise’s “unjust” action that endangers them.

“Your decision to fire Professor Salaita is in fact what threatens us as Jews. By pointing to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in an attempt to obscure politically and financially-motivated University actions, you minimize the Jewish voices of those who have resisted real and violent anti-Semitism,” they wrote. “By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine.”

The group supports the right of Palestinians and others to oppose “the brutality” of Israel’s actions in Gaza and all of Palestine “with sharp interrogation and anger,” the letter said. “To brand this opposition as uncivil or unsafe enough to warrant the dismissal of a faculty member is not only a violation of academic freedom, it is a clear devaluation of Palestinian existence and personhood, with implications for others whose lives similarly have been and continue to be systematically attacked through state-sanctioned violence.”

Salaita’s firing mirrors the conflict in historic Palestine, the group said. “The firing of Professor Salaita is the Israeli attack on Palestine coming to our campus,” they said. “Just as we work tirelessly to oppose Israeli ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians taking place in our name, we will ensure that the silencing of Professor Salaita and others like him does not take place in our name either.” They insisted that Wise reinstate Salaita immediately.

The Electronic Intifada reported September 5 that UICU Board of Trustee member James D. Montgomery has criticized the decision to fire Salaita. “I think it would have been far better had it been dealt with differently and had it been done with more consultation with faculty,” Montgomery told The Electronic Intifada. He also acknowledged the “adverse” impact that a growing boycott was having on the university’s ability to function.

The trustees are scheduled to meet on September 11, but it’s not clear if they intend to act on the Salaita issue.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
It's a travesty that a nation that proudly promotes itself as the defender of free speech would do something like this. If it were up to me, I would hold those responsible under criminal charges. Of course most minorities know how hypocritical this country can be - the men who once penned, ". . . hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created," were slave owners and Indian killers.

andre's picture
Submitted by andre on
Yes, Dr. Steven Salaita, got the short end of the stick. Courtesy of the powerful Israeli lobby which is well entrenched in business and academia here in America. Israel receives more than $3.7 billion a year in American foreign aid. This is more than any other country receives and it dwarfs the whole budget for the BIA. Follow the money..

laura's picture
Submitted by laura on
This man Salaitas is a racist & hatemonger. He has no place teaching young impressionable minds. Ever read some of his tweets? I am disgusted to see how easily influenced some people are by a one-sided view of this propaganda.

Ryanbellerose's picture
Submitted by Ryanbellerose on
Gail, do you even do any basic research before writing this excrement? seriously I found several innacuracies before I even made it to the bottom of the first page. Lets begin shall we? 1- Steven Salaita is not in fact a "scholar in native american studies" he has a degree in english. 2- his work in comparing Palestinians to native americans is hardly groundbreaking, its actually based on historical inaccuracy and a slick use of language. There is nothing original let alone factual in his comparisons, he struggles when asked to display anything deeper than superficial similiarities because in fact all of his work is based on the surface rather than the deeper commonalities between actual indigenous peoples. 3-the reason some people defend him is that they do not understand that he has misused his position in order to indoctrinate people who simply wanted to study OUR history with anti Israel hyperbole, actual native people have called him out for this. 4-You write that he was fired for speaking his mind, but he WAS NEVER HIRED, his application simply never got through the hiring process, simply put, after seeing his ridiculous hate speech against Israel, they decided not to hire him, and they have every right. 5- the religion and ethnicity of the donors who stated strongly that they would not support the school is immaterial and irrelevant, in fact I know for a fact that at least one of the largest is not jewish. 6- You might be buddies with this person but using your position at ICTM to constantly whine for him is unbecoming, frankly he is not one of us, he tries to use us and our struggles as a weapon against another indigenous people and some of us are getting sick of you useful idiots allowing people like him to perpetuate false narratives to native people. at this point there is no point in even bothering to try to educate you, your jew hatred is ridiculous, im sure you will tell us all about your "jewish friends" who hate Israel, as though that makes it ok, so I will leave you with one thought, if the palestinians are indigenous, what actually makes them indigenous? Blood quantum? and who came up with blood quantum as a measurment for indigenous status? why?

Martin Edwin Andersen's picture
Martin Edwin An...
Submitted by Martin Edwin An... on
Those interested in a fair and lasting two-state solution, see "Pyrrhic victories and glass houses: the Palestinians, the Jewish State of Israel, and the Wobbly Ceasefire" @ The indigeneity of both peoples currently in conflict is what can make the necessary difference.