Marilyn Katz's picture
Marilyn Katz

Katz: What Was Won and Lost in Steven Salaita’s University of Illinois Settlement

Salaita’s settlement is a victory for him and academic freedom. But will we ever know who was watching him—and us?


What the Salaita case most reminded me of was the rise of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which destroyed careers and lives through the very kind of manipulation of words and ideas seen here.

My heartiest congratulations go out to the Center for Constitutional Rights and their client Professor Steven Salaita, who deservedly was awarded $875,000—far less than the assumed amount of wages he would have garnered over the next few decades as a tenured professor—by the University of Illinois to settle the lawsuit brought against them.

But although I’m glad for his victory and all that it means for academic freedom around the country, I have to say that I am saddened that we will not see a full trial on this case—leaving so many important questions unanswered.

When the news that the University of Illinois had rescinded its offer of employment to Saliata due his alleged ”anti-semitic” remarks,” I was immediately suspicious. My own criticism of Israel had often earned me the disdain and ire of the crowd that sees defense of Israel—right or wrong—as the measuring stick of being a “real” or “good” Jew. I had to wonder whether the charge of anti-semitism was deserved or just another instance in which criticism of Israel’s policies was wrongly equated with anti-semitism.

I had read Salaita’s tweets in the New York Times and elsewhere, and while I could understand while some might have found them offensive, I certainly didn’t feel that they were anti-semitic. But I wondered if and why papers like the Timeshadn’t asked, ”Were these handful of tweets indicative of the sum total of what Salaita has said on Twitter? If not, were they indicative of his general writings and thoughts on the Internet?”

Going to his Twitter account, I found the answers. As of September 2014, around the time when he first wrote the controversial tweets, Salaita had written more than 9,000 tweets.  And among them, these few—all written during the Israeli bombing of Gaza—were the only ones that could even possibly be construed as anti-Israel, let alone anti-semetic. And of those few, almost all were written during the four days in July 2014, when thousands of Palestinians (mostly women, the elderly and children) had lost their lives and homes to an incessant Israeli bombardment—a bombardment that drew anger and opposition from millions throughout the world and the condemnation of  virtually every human rights group in the world. Salaita’s tweets were angry – but the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed civilians should make everyone angry.   

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