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Monday, August 25, 2014

3 or 4 (or 6) perspectives on Salaita

1. You should be able to judge this from a content-neutral point of view. In other words, he was screwed from contractual and 1st amendment perspectives. You should be able to say that whether you are pro-Palestinian or Zionist in your perspective. People defending him because they agree with his perspective, or attacking him because they don't, are putting forward irrelevant information. In other words, you should put it in the form of a hypothetical: a faculty member was hired, quit his previous job, and moved, and then had the appointment canceled because of tweets about X (where X is an unknown variable.) What do you think? Your opinion should not change after you discover the content of the tweets.

2. Why was he hired by a dept. of American Indian Studies when almost all his publications are on Israel / Palestine? I was told by someone in the American Indian field that two factors enter. In the first place, American Indian activists identify strongly with the Palestinian cause, because colonialism. Secondly, there are few Indians with PhDs. The field itself just doesn't have a lot of depth (quantitatively). That explains the way that the Ward Churchills can rise to prominence. Again, I think this shouldn't matter for discussing whether he should be lured with the promise of a job and then have that taken away.

3. Since the trustees meet after classes begin, nobody is technically hired until after they begin teaching. Hence the argument that he wasn't fired because he was never hired, or that the trustees are more than a rubber-stamp, is utter bullshit. No contract from UIUC is worth the paper it's written on anymore.

4. Why not give him Marrouchi's job? I think it should be opening soon. (Sorry, I don't mean to say that all Arabs are interchangeable!)

5. Salaita is anti-semitic (in my view). He tweeted that Zionism is (partly) responsible for people saying anti-semitic things, that it made Anti-Semitism "honorable." I know other people interpret those tweets differently, but I simply don't agree. (Wishing more kidnappings of Israelis was also ill-advised.) I think the point is that the sole responsibility for anti-Semitism rests with anti-Semites. It would be as stupid to say "radical feminists, making 'misogyny' honorable since 1968." No, misogyny is not the fault of feminists, even ones with whom one doesn't agree. The "correct" interpretation of his tweets is that he is pointing out that Israeli propaganda equates all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and thus robs the accusation of all force. The problem is that this interpretation is not obvious to all, needs to be pointed out, and still misses the fundamental point: anti-Semitism does exist and is harmful. The Spanish writer Antonio Gala, for example, published an article recently in which he said, basically, "those Jews again, they are good with money but is it a coincidence that nobody likes them, that they keep getting thrown out of everywhere? It's a wonder they are ever invited back." I kid thee not. So this is simply an anti-Semitic guy who would have that prejudice anyway, irrespective of Gaza. So some criticism really is motivated by anti-Semitism. Imagine that.

6. So what prejudices are legitimate? Is it really possible to have a content-neutral standard. Could it actually be shown that one's position on Palestine / Israel predicted, exactly, one's position on the question of Salaita? [I myself am highly critical of Israel, think Hamas is an absolute disaster, and that Salaita is a foolish anti-semitic blowhard who should sue the pants of UIUC.] I will cheer for him to win. I wouldn't cheer so hard if he were a Klansman or a misogynist.

7. No, I won't boycott the institution. I won't condemn your decision to boycott it, but I wouldn't refuse to have anything to do with it myself. I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe I wouldn't want to penalize my colleagues who probably disagree with the administration by refusing to talk in their department.

8. But really, all you have to know is #1.

21 comments:

profacero said...

I am kind of disappointed in Cary Nelson, too, and now see why it was important to vote Fichtenbaum for AAUP president.

Jonathan said...

Very disappointing. He simply derived his conclusions from his own ideological commitments, forgetting completely his previous belief in academic freedom.

Thomas said...

I was also disappointed by Nelson, though I only really knew of him from when I wrote a post on the problem of contingent faculty. I was strange to see him essentially suggesting that someone in Salaita's (strangely) "between jobs" situation should be careful about he says until the trustee approval goes through. Basically the anxiety faced by contingent faculty all the time.

In my view there may be ways of filling in X (in 1) that could get you fired from a tenured position. But it would have to be a lot more disturbing than anything we can really imagine a tenured member of faculty doing. And if such a case ever happened, the firing could only come after a long investigation and careful interpretation of the tweets. I find it very hard to take seriously the idea that Wise could determine from a handful of tweets that Salaita's "tone" was out of line, especially without discussing the matter with him.

Spanish Prof said...

I agree with every point you make. Great post. And I will add that some people trying to defend him on the basis that he is not anti-Semitic are missing the mark, and doing a poor service to the cause of academic freedom.

Kwantlen Bob said...

A few points:

1. Cary Nelson has no understanding, none, of Twitter (believing that those who post 10 - 20 times a day are "obsessive," for instance"). He fails to see the irony in the tweets he attacks as anti-Semitic. ("Honorable" does not always 'mean' "honorable," for instance; ask Shakespeare's Brutus.)

2. Twitter is a form of publication. If you do not want your tweets to have an effect on your professional standing, use a pseudonym.

3. The rhetoric employed on Twitter is not what you might want to use in class or in a department meeting. Obviously. The rhetoric of Twitter is complex - indeed hard even for "experts" like me to sometimes understand - and evolving.

4. In particular, heavy irony and simplification are often used on Twitter as bait to invite conversation and debate. It is a rhetorical, and often friendly, way of saying "En garde!"

So, I must disagree with Jonathan and Clarissa regarding the charge of anti-Semitism against Salaita.

I agree with Jonathan that a boycott is unwarranted and that a successful lawsuit against the university is warranted.

Jonathan said...

It is true that the rhetorical situation of twitter is complex, (because simplistic?) but people without a sophisticated knowledge of twitter also read tweets and draw their own conclusions, often in self-serving ways. The dialogue is not limited to those in the know. People have been fired from other types of jobs because they sounded racist, incendiary, etc... That's not a bug of the medium but a feature: for things to go viral.

Kwantlen Bob said...

"Not a bug but a feature" - so true!

Cary Nelson was guilty of cherry-picking, which to my mind is a sign of bad faith. Also, there is an excellent take-down of Nelson, and a presentation of a much fuller context of Salaita's tweets, at http://mondoweiss.net/2014/08/reading-salaita-illinois-1.html/.

Kwantlen Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kwantlen Bob said...

I meant to write: My online "Bob Basil" identities are so nicely scrubbed that I have had people say that they like me much much better on Facebook, for example, than they do in real life. :)

Jonathan said...

I find it special pleading to defend those tweets at such lengths. For example, the tweet about how he wishes all the settlers would "go missing." If a tweet needs a 3,000 word defense and contextualization then it didn't say what it had to say in the 1st place.

Kwantlen Bob said...

I was kind of surprised, actually, that the "go missing" tweet even needed a "contextualization" - it was to my mind obviously a provocative way of saying that Israel should withdraw its citizens from the occupied territories - not a wish that these settlers be kidnapped and murdered. The occupation was the context.

At any rate, I should be clear on two things:

Being provocative in this manner on this topic will never get you anywhere with anybody. As John Lennon sang, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."

Being unwise is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic.

Kwantlen Bob said...

I was kind of surprised, actually, that the "go missing" tweet even needed a "contextualization" - it was to my mind obviously a provocative way of saying that Israel should withdraw its citizens from the occupied territories - not a wish that these settlers be kidnapped and murdered. The occupation was the context.

At any rate, I should be clear on two things:

Being provocative in this manner on this topic will never get you anywhere with anybody. As John Lennon sang, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."

Being unwise is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic.

Thomas said...

I agree with Bob, and I think Mondoweiss' post is very instructive, even if it doesn't teach me anything about Twitter I didn't already know. It would be a very a good post to get students to read in a class on social media (indeed, this is a great case).

Salaita's tweet don't "need 3,000 words of contextualisation". Rather, Nelson needs to have someone explain to him that a individual tweet can indeed be taken out of context, specially, the context in which the tweet gets it meaning. Just like any utterance. It's entirely correct to say that Nelson is an incompetent interpreter of Salaita's tweets. He doesn't understand how the medium works, i.e., how any given is always contextualized, and understanding it requires an investigation of that context.

Unfortunately, I think this critique also sticks somewhat to Jonathan. (Sorry.) Until reading the Mondoweiss post, I was willing to be agnostic about whether or not Salaita had in fact uttered something anti-semitic. Now I'm convinced that there's nothing anti-semitic about his interventions.

Jonathan said...

What percentage of people would see it as anti-semitic, whether in context or not? If you're agnostic first about whether something is anti-Semitic, then it takes an act of further investigation and interpretation. Which means the answer is not all that obvious. Tweeter lends itself perfectly to de-contextualizations of various types: for example, when something is re-tweeted, not everyone goes back to look at original context. That's part of the volatility of the medium, in fact. Now I'm leaning to the position that Salaita explicitly disavows anti-Semitism (in some posts) while expressing himself in ways that are, in fact, anti-Semitic de facto. It is a volatile way to express oneself. Once again, I will cheer for him to prevail in a suit, not because I want to defend his tweets, but because I defend his right to tweet whatever he wants.

Spanish prof said...

I've been interested in anti-semitic reactions to Israel massacre in Gaza since before the whole Salaita affair started. As a result, I had been reading his tweets (and others) regularly. When the scandal erupted, Salaita deleted a lot of his activity on Twitter. Including "favoring" (do you say it like that?)this Tweet: https://twitter.com/boun0479/status/489881841785008128/photo/1

That, for me, was all I needed to know, and why I consider him anti-semitic (if somebody doesn't understand the image, I'll be glad to explain).

Because Salaita scrubbed a lot of his Twitter activities (and I don't blame him for that), it is hard to have this discussion, since not all the information is available. But I remember my amazement at him favoring that Tweet. I never thought Salaita made it to the level of Max Blumenthal. I was wrong.

For me, the difference between anti-zionism and anti-semitism could be exemplify by the difference between David Palumbo-Liu and Salaita. I don't agree with most of hte things Palumbo says, but I would never consider him anti-semitic. Somebody who favs a picture of Theodore Hertzl giving birth to Hitler is a disgusting SOB. But I will still defend his academic freedom

Jonathan said...

I was influenced by "Spanish Professor"'s view of Salaita and Blumenthal, which I knew about from FB and from her blog. I don't think she uses that accusation lightly.

Spanish prof said...

Thanks Jonathan, I am honored. And you are right, I don't make that accusation lightly

Thomas said...

My point is that I very rarely draw any conclusions about what anyone means on Twitter from a few tweets. Spanish Prof's example does give me something more to think about. (Including the question, which is also touched on by Mondoweiss, of how much "scrubbing" Salaita has been doing.)

I do agree with Jonathan and others that the question of Salaita's opinion of Jews or, perhaps, attempts to win the approval of anti-semites, has nothing to do with the injustice that's been done him.

Jonathan said...

This is probably the most intelligent Israel / Palestine comment thread in the history of the internet.

Kwantlen Bob said...

I very much like Jonathan's use of the word "volatility" to describe Twitter posts / discussions. The term gets at what distinguishes Twitter from other social media. Posts / comments on FB and blogs, for instance, can be "incendiary"; but the platforms themselves are not "volatile" the way Twitter is.

Thomas said...

I just read Clarissa's post about this, which is in complete agreement with Jonathan. I still don't feel convinced. Maybe I need to read Spanish Profs FB post (but I'm not on FB). To me, if the Mondoweiss post is not simply making things up, I can't work myself up to calling Salaita a "raging anti-Semite". Even without the "raging", I can't apply that label to him so confidently.

It'd be interesting to develop a kind of methodology for making judgments about a person's beliefs based on their Twitter activity. After all, whatever method we come up with must minimally have been applied by Wise at UIUC.

For my part, I can't really see any judgment about, say, me, based (solely) on what I say on Twitter, as being valid.