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Punishing a Professor's Criticism of Israel

By       Message Dennis Bernstein       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Consortium News

As bombs rained down on the people of Gaza this past summer, Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita shared his outrage and horror about the Israeli assault via Twitter. Then, as he prepared to move his family and start his new job as a tenured professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois, Salaita was abruptly un-hired.

Wealthy donors had objected to his tweets and pressured the university to keep him out, part of a broader campaign to silence people advocating for Palestinian rights, as Salaita described in a recent interview on Pacifica's "Flashpoints" program...

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DB: Before we get into the ugly details. Tell us a little bit about your own background. You were going to be teaching Native American Studies. Tell us about your history as a teacher.

SS: I was set to teach in the American Indian Studies program. I specialize in Native Literatures, Native politics, and Native decolonization and so I got my PhD in Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, in 2003.

I've been working at the intersections of Palestine and North America, and the similarities of the colonial discourses between the two spaces for quite some time. And so that was, I think, what lead the American Indian Studies Program to their interest in me.

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DB: Our senior producer for this show, Miguel Gavilan Molina, is indigenous Chicano and he always makes the connection, and in fact, now we've got the Israelis securing the borders not only here at the Mexican border, but all the way down between Mexico and Guatemala. I mean, you see the Mexican military, it looks like the Israeli army. ... So, you were hired as a tenured professor? Why tenured?

SS: Because I had already been tenured at Virginia Tech.

DB: That must have meant that there was a great deal of respect in bringing you on, giving you the tenure, and letting you carry that across. So they must have really wanted you.

SS: Absolutely, correct. And it came along with an extra intensive round of vetting. A tenured hire always passes through a lot more committees and external referees than an untenured hire.

DB: And then came the latest slaughter in the Gaza Strip and you were not happy about that. You were speaking out.

SS: Of course.

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DB: What was on your mind?

SS: The images of destruction, the many war crimes that reporters and human rights organizations were reporting. ... What ended up being the murder of around 519 children. The bombing of the shelters to which so many people had been displaced; just the overall horror of the situation.

DB: It was a rather abject slaughter. It wasn't a war, it was a slaughter. There was ... not even a close sense of equal power on both sides.

SS: Exactly. It was a colonial power ... raining death and destruction on the colonized population.

DB: So, you were outraged. I guess you have friends there, maybe family?

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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