David Palumbo-Liu reported on Saturday: If you did not know that this weekend some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world will meet in the Las Vegas desert to plot a massive and well-financed campaign against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, it’s not your fault. At the time of this writing, none of the mainstream media had covered it. You would have to be a reader of news sources such as the Jewish Daily Forward or Haaretz, or Mondoweiss, to find out anything about this “secret” conference.
As the Forward reported, “Leading Jewish mega-donors … summoned pro-Israel activists for a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses. The meeting … is hosted by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and was organized by several other top Jewish funders, including Hollywood entertainment mogul Haim Saban, Israeli-born real-estate developer Adam Milstein and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman.”
Most important, “The initiative … did not come from students on the ground, nor did it emerge from work of the many organizations involved in pro-Israel activism on campus. Instead, it is an idea coming from wealthy Jewish philanthropists who have decided to take action.” This is not at all dissimilar to how Adelson and others have tried to combat BDS via national and state politics, as I have reported previously. As such it connects up with many instances of these and other outsiders trying to stifle discussion of Israel-Palestine on college campuses. [Continue reading…]
Sheldon Adelson’s ‘secret’ desert conference to plot against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement
Politico reports: CIA Director John Brennan reportedly says the preliminary framework around the nuclear deal with Iran does what had once seemed impossible, calling some critics of the agreement “wholly disingenuous” and expressing surprise at the Iranians’ concessions.
“I must tell you the individuals who say this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous, in my view, if they know the facts, understand what’s required for a program,” Brennan told an audience at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics on Tuesday night in his first comments since the outline was announced last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to Agence France-Presse.
Brennan said that while critics worry that lifting sanctions on Iran will “cause more trouble throughout the area,” the framework is “as solid as you can get” when it comes to blunting the Islamic Republic’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]
ThinkProgress: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program, suggested on Tuesday that armed conflict with Tehran could be easily contained to “several days of air and naval bombing” and would not require the deployment of American ground troops. The comments eerily echoed the false predictions of Bush administration officials on the eve of the Iraq invasion.
Appearing on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch radio show, Cotton slammed Obama for suggesting that military confrontation was the only alternative to diplomacy in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“This president has a bad habit of accusing other people of making false choices, but he presented the ultimate false choice last week when he said it’s either this deal or war,” Cotton said, before adding, that “Even if military action were required…the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case.”
The New York Times reports: As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.
One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.
But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.
Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed for The New York Times by a second nonprofit, MapLight. The Republican advantage was the first in more than a decade. [Continue reading…]
Jessica T. Mathews writes: By definition, a negotiated agreement is imperfect. This one in particular entails risks, costs, extended vigilance, and a significant chance of future failure. Judging it begins and ends with clarity about what choices are truly before us. That has a simple answer: there are only two alternatives to a negotiated deal.
One is a return to the situation that prevailed for a decade before negotiations began and before an interim agreement was reached at the end of 2013. In the best case (in which Iran is seen to have been the cause of negotiating failure), punishing multilateral sanctions would continue. Iran’s leaders would respond as they have before, standing up to foreigners’ pressure by continuing their nuclear program—adding more advanced centrifuges, stockpiling enriched uranium, completing a reactor that produces plutonium, and taking Iran to the threshold of a nuclear weapon and perhaps beyond. There might continue to be some international inspectors on the ground, though with far less access than at present.
We know where this option leads, for it has been well tested. In 2003, the US rejected an Iranian proposal that would have capped its centrifuges at 3,000. By the time the current negotiations started a decade later, the standoff created by more sanctions and more centrifuges had resulted in costs of nearly $100 billion to Iran from sanctions and its production of 19,000 centrifuges. The lesson of sanctions — from Cuba to Russia and beyond — is that they can impose a cost on wrongdoing, but if the sanctioned country chooses to pay the price, sanctions cannot prevent it from continuing the sanctioned activities.
The second alternative is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even supporters of this option do not believe that it would do more than delay Iran’s progress by more than two to four years. It would certainly unite all Iranians around the absolute necessity of having a nuclear deterrent. It would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, radicalizing its politics and probably prolonging clerical rule. While the bombed facilities were being rebuilt, with more of them being put securely underground, there would be no inspectors or cameras. Outsiders would know far less than they do now about what is being built and where or how close Iran had come to producing a bomb. Soon another round of bombing would be necessary.
Is there a third alternative, namely a tougher deal that requires no enrichment in Iran and the destruction of its nuclear infrastructure? Prime Minister Netanyahu promised in his appearance before Congress that the US can get such a deal by “call[ing] their bluff.” Simply walk away from the table and “they’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.” If sanctions brought Iran to the table, this argument goes, more sanctions and more pressure will get us everything we want. It sounds reasonable, but it fails on closer inspection.
First, of course, the argument ignores the essence of negotiation — that neither side gets everything it wants. Also, although it is true that sanctions are imposing real pain on the Iranian economy, there are many in Iran’s power elite, especially in the Revolutionary Guard, who profit from the country’s isolation and would welcome continuing sanctions. Others oppose a deal for ideological reasons. The balance in Iranian politics that brought negotiators into serious talks for the first time was long in coming and remains precarious. If the US were to reverse course, abandoning negotiations in hopes of a winner-take-all outcome, Iran would follow suit.
Moreover, if other nations found America’s reasons for rejecting a deal unreasonable, support for multilateral sanctions would quickly erode. Soon we would be back to ineffective, unilateral sanctions.
The question, then, is whether proponents of this approach have diagnosed fundamental weaknesses in the deal that has been reached and genuinely believe that renewed negotiation could strengthen it, or whether they are counting on both sides walking away from the table and not returning. The fact that so many of them — emphatically including Netanyahu — trashed the deal before it existed and make demands they know to be nonnegotiable strongly suggests that the insistence that the US “negotiate a better deal” is phony. [Continue reading…]
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship write: Everything you need to know about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress Tuesday was the presence in the visitor’s gallery of one man – Sheldon Adelson.
The gambling tycoon is the Godfather of the Republican Right. The party’s presidential hopefuls line up to kiss his assets, scraping and bowing for his blessing, which when granted is bestowed with his signed checks. Data from both the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity show that in the 2012 election cycle, Adelson and his wife Miriam (whose purse achieved metaphoric glory Tuesday when it fell from the gallery and hit a Democratic congressman) contributed $150 million to the GOP and its friends, including $93 million to such plutocracy-friendly super PACs as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund, Winning Our Future (the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC) and Restore Our Future (the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC).
Yet there’s no knowing for sure about all of the “dark money” contributed by the Adelsons – so called because it doesn’t have to be reported. Like those high-rise, multi-million dollar apartments in New York City purchased by oligarchs whose identity is hidden within perfectly legal shell organizations, dark money lets our politicians conveniently erase fingerprints left by their ink-stained (from signing all those checks) billionaire benefactors.
But Sheldon Adelson was not only sitting in the House gallery on Tuesday because of the strings he pulls here in the United States. He is also the Daddy Warbucks of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu is yet another of his beneficiaries – not to mention an ideological soulmate. Although campaign finance reform laws are much more strict in Israel than here in the United States, Adelson’s wealth has bought him what the historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg calls “uniquely pernicious” influence. [Continue reading…]
Philip Weiss writes: In the Emperor’s New Clothes, only the little boy can say that the emperor is naked. The good news about yesterday’s speech by Netanyahu to a joint meeting of Congress is that lots of media are taking on that boy’s role, and pointing out the nudity: exclaiming over the fact that a foreign leader came into our house of government to try and overrule our president on foreign policy. Chris Matthews was especially forceful, describing it as a takeover. While a New York Times article said that Democrats have to choose between “loyalty to the Jewish state” and the president.
But journalists have a bigger job than merely exclaiming. They must explain to readers why this outrage took place. Why did Netanyahu get this platform? The answer is the power of the Israel lobby inside our politics. And while there was some talk about the Christian Zionist component of the lobby compelling Republicans to show up, no one could explain why so many Democrats– about 175 of them– sat still for this insult to the president. They did so because of the importance of the Jewish part of the lobby inside the Democratic Party, epitomized by Alan Dershowitz in the gallery. This was surely obvious to viewers. But the media were silent on that score. [Continue reading…]
Netanyahu addressing Congress in 2002 and 2015 — same script, but then it was Iraq, now Iran.
Uri Avnery writes: Who is the ruler of Israel?
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, of course.
The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world’s tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting?
Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress.
He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu.
Adelson’s connection with Israel is personal. On a blind date, he fell in love with an Israeli woman.
Miriam Farbstein was born in Haifa, attended a prestigious high school, did her army service in the Israeli institute which deals with bacteriological warfare and is a multifaceted scientist. After one of her sons (from her first marriage) died of an overdose, she is devoted to the fight against drugs, especially cannabis.
Both Adelsons are fanatical supporters of Israel. Not just any Israel, but a rightist, supremacist, arrogant, violent, expansionist, annexationist, non-compromising, colonialist Israel.
In “Bibi” Netanyahu they found their man. Through Netanyahu they hope to rule Israel as their private fief. [Continue reading…]
Aaron David Miller writes: This time, the argument from some American pundits goes, the Israelis have gone too far. This time, to paraphrase Howard Beale in Network, we’re really not going to take it anymore. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress without even informing the Obama administration is an act that’s just too brazen to be ignored. Such blatant intervention in American politics crosses a red line that requires a tough response.
Only it’s not gonna happen. Whether Netanyahu ultimately does come or not, the United States will continue to take it. And for reasons of politics, policy and shared values, Washington will continue to accord Israel tremendous leeway in this Administration and in the years ahead regardless of opposition to some of its policies. And here’s why.
First, the Middle East is melting down at a rate nobody could ever have predicted. And despite the risks this turbulence may pose to Israel’s own Israeli security interests, the Middle East muddle is good for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The behavior of various Arab actors — ISIL, Assad, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, even Egypt — reinforces the value affinity that binds Israel and the United States and to a great extent puts them together in the same trench. When Islamic State terrorists are beheading Americans and Syria is murdering thousands of its own people with barrel bombs and chemical weapons, Israeli transgressions — settlement activity, occupation policies — pale by comparison.
Easy for Washington-based Miller to say — many would argue — but this surely ignores the experience of Palestinians — or does it?
For years it would be reasonable to observe that few populations in the Middle East lived under more oppressive conditions than Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, but that’s no longer true.
That’s no thanks to the Israelis, but even when their talent for brutality and destruction is seen at its worst, such as during the last assault on Gaza, it now turns out that Israel’s violence is routinely surpassed — and massively so — by others.
That’s no reason for Obama and Netanyahu to act like best pals or complement each other on their shared values. Nor can Israel be excused or its disregard for human rights be sanitized with euphemisms like “transgressions.”
But to continue insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core wound that afflicts the whole region more egregiously than any other, is to ignore reality.
Nahum Barnea writes: The invitation Netanyahu received from United States House of Representative Speaker John Boehner, to address a joint session of the two houses of Congress, is a brilliant electoral trick.
Netanyahu will deliver the speech on February 11, five weeks before Election Day. The room will be filled to the brim. The audience will interrupt the speech with rapturous applause 23 times, and diligent spokespersons will stress that this is a number which has not been seen since foreign leaders began addressing the Congress. Senators will praise and glorify the man and the speech, and will glance as they speak at the gallery of distinguished guests, to make sure that the billionaire writes the check.
Will the Israelis who watch the show on television, live from Washington, be impressed? Of course they will. Netanyahu knows how to impress. One of the Likud leaders once told me that even when Netanyahu had reached a low point, both among the broad public and in his own party, people were amazed when they heard him speak clear American, with all the manners. “Listen to that English,” they said. “Listen to that English. Just like an American.”
Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to be aided by the American political system on his way to the polls. It’s wrong and it harms the purity of the democratic process, but it’s the reality. There are pressing interests on both sides, and there is a lot of temptation. One can only take comfort in the fact that in most cases these attempts fail.
But Netanyahu is taking it one step further this time. There has never been a deal like the one struck here: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It’s dangerous. It’s poisonous. It’s not so amusing anymore. [Continue reading…]
Russell Berman writes: Republicans who panned President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night have responded by inviting one of their favorite speakers back for a return engagement: Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli prime minister last addressed Congress in 2011, delivering a speech that drew a more enthusiastic response from GOP leaders than any from the American president. Speaking as if he could have been elected from the Philadelphia suburb where he graduated high school, Netanyahu was interrupted more than two dozen times by bipartisan standing ovations as he firmly laid down his parameters for a peace deal with the Palestinians at a moment of tension with President Obama.
His speech was so well-received—and Netanyahu is so personally popular among Republicans—that Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday asked him back to address a joint meeting of Congress for the second time in less than four years. In fact, Netanyahu would become the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to appear before Congress three times. (He also spoke during his first run as prime minister in 1996.)
This invitation, however, is even more important for a number of reasons. First, the February 11 speech will come just over a month before Israel’s legislative elections, and the prestige of an address to Congress could boost Netanyahu domestically. (Nevermind that it was Netanyahu’s own Likud party that accused Obama of interfering in Israel’s elections just two years ago.) Yet it also coincides with a mounting confrontation between Congress and President Obama over Iran sanctions legislation, and Boehner pointedly announced the invitation just about 12 hours after the president, during his State of the Union address, pleaded with lawmakers to give nuclear talks with Tehran more time. [Continue reading…]
Bloomberg Businessweek reports: Investigators from Dell SecureWorks working for [Sheldon Adelson’s casino empire, Las Vegas] Sands have concluded that the February attack was likely the work of “hacktivists” based in Iran, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek. The security team couldn’t determine if Iran’s government played a role, but it’s unlikely that any hackers inside the country could pull off an attack of that scope without its knowledge, given the close scrutiny of Internet use within its borders. “This isn’t the kind of business you can get into in Iran without the government knowing,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, didn’t return several phone calls and e-mails.
The perpetrators released their malware early in the morning on Monday, Feb. 10. It spread through the company’s networks, laying waste to thousands of servers, desktop PCs, and laptops. By the afternoon, Sands security staffers noticed logs showing that the hackers had been compressing batches of sensitive files. This meant that they may have downloaded — or were preparing to download — vast numbers of private documents, from credit checks on high-roller customers to detailed diagrams and inventories of global computer systems. Michael Leven, the president of Sands, decided to sever the company entirely from the Internet.
It was a drastic step in an age when most business functions, from hotel reservations to procurement, are handled online. But Sands was able to keep many core operations functioning — the hackers weren’t able to access an IBM (IBM) mainframe that’s key to running certain parts of the business. Hotel guests could still swipe their keycards to get into their rooms. Elevators ran. Gamblers could still drop coins into slot machines or place bets at blackjack tables. Customers strolling the casino floors or watching the gondolas glide by on the canal in front of the Venetian had no idea anything was amiss.
Leven’s team quickly realized that they’d caught a major break. The Iranians had made a mistake. Among the first targets of the wiper software were the company’s Active Directory servers, which help manage network security and create a trusted link to systems abroad. If the hackers had waited before attacking these machines, the malware would have made it to Sands’ extensive properties in Singapore and China. Instead, the damage was confined to the U.S. [Continue reading…]
The New York Time reports: No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.
Even while negotiators argue over the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to spin and where inspectors could roam, the Iranians have signaled that they would accept, at least temporarily, a “suspension” of the stringent sanctions that have drastically cut their oil revenues and terminated their banking relationships with the West, according to American and Iranian officials. The Treasury Department, in a detailed study it declined to make public, has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress, officials say.
But Mr. Obama cannot permanently terminate those sanctions. Only Congress can take that step. And even if Democrats held on to the Senate next month, Mr. Obama’s advisers have concluded they would probably lose such a vote. [Continue reading…]
In case anyone has the slightest doubt whether Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016, read her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic.
She dutifully supports every position the Israel lobby demands and even deftly conjures up a rhetorical connection between jihadists and the nuclear threat from Iran, introducing a piece of non-proliferation jargon into counterterrorism when she refers to the breakout capacity “of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States.”
For a few neocons in Washington who are indulging in fantasies about their political rehabilitation, much of what Clinton says, must be music to their ears. She shares the view frequently expressed by Israel apologists during its assault on Gaza, that Israel is getting more criticism than it deserves.
When it comes to killing Palestinian civilians, Israel still suffers from its “old PR problem.” Indeed, hundreds of dead children always cause a PR problem.
Hillary Clinton: [W]e do see this enormous international reaction against Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself, and the way Israel has to defend itself. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.
Jeffrey Goldberg: What do you think causes this reaction?
HRC: There are a number of factors going into it. You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what’s going on in Europe today. There are more demonstrations against Israel by an exponential amount than there are against Russia seizing part of Ukraine and shooting down a civilian airliner. So there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV.
And what you see on TV is so effectively stage-managed by Hamas, and always has been. What you see is largely what Hamas invites and permits Western journalists to report on from Gaza. It’s the old PR problem that Israel has. Yes, there are substantive, deep levels of antagonism or anti-Semitism towards Israel, because it’s a powerful state, a really effective military. And Hamas paints itself as the defender of the rights of the Palestinians to have their own state. So the PR battle is one that is historically tilted against Israel.
JG: Nevertheless there are hundreds of children —
HRC: Absolutely, and it’s dreadful.
JG: Who do you hold responsible for those deaths? How do you parcel out blame?
HRC: I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war. Some reports say, maybe it wasn’t the exact UN school that was bombed, but it was the annex to the school next door where they were firing the rockets. And I do think oftentimes that the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict and wanted to do so in order to leverage its position, having been shut out by the Egyptians post-Morsi, having been shunned by the Gulf, having been pulled into a technocratic government with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority that might have caused better governance and a greater willingness on the part of the people of Gaza to move away from tolerating Hamas in their midst. So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.
That doesn’t mean that, just as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians, that there aren’t mistakes that are made. We’ve made them. I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are– and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position — that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas.
Roy Greenslade writes: The Times is under attack for refusing to run an advert about the conflict in Gaza. The paper is accused of being part of a British media “infamously skewed against Israel.”
The ad is a statement, written jointly by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel prize-winning author, and Shmuley Boteach, an outspoken American-born Orthodox rabbi.
It calls on President Obama and other political leaders across the world “to condemn Hamas’s use of children as human shields”, which amounts to “child sacrifice”.
The advert has been carried in five US newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, which is published by News Corporation, the owner of The Times. The Guardian has agreed to run the advert on Monday.
The New York Observer reports that the fee The Guardian will receive for the ad is roughly $20,000. A source at the paper is quoted saying: “The Guardian may be left wing but they obviously believe in free speech and allowing their readers to hear the voice of a Nobel Laureate about a very important issue.”
If The Guardian is only printing this ad because it believes in free speech and it does not endorse the ad’s content, it could make its position clear by donating the $20,000 fee to a Gaza relief fund.
International Business Times: Actress Penelope Cruz and her husband Javier Bardem have roused the fury of Hollywood producers, with pledges made to snub the Spanish couple.
Oscar-winner Bardem and Cruz signed an open letter speaking against “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army”.
The letter accused Israel of “advancing on Palestinian territories instead of withdrawing to the 1967 borders.
“Gaza is living through horror… while the international community does nothing.”
The Spanish letter was signed by 100 leading figures in the film industry, including director Pedro Almodovar.
One top producer who has worked with Cruz says he privately has vowed not to hire her again, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Another top Hollywood executive also privately expressed his disapproval, saying he’s “furious at Javier and Penelope” and wasn’t sure about working with the Spanish couple again.
David Palumbo-Liu writes: A few weeks ago Steven Salaita had reason to be pleased. After a full review by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he had received a generous offer of a tenured, associate professor position there — the normal contract was offered, signed by the school, he had received confirmation of his salary, a teaching schedule, everything except the final approval of the UIUC chancellor.
In academia this is not at all unusual; departments and schools are told to go ahead with the offer, so as to be competitive with both the candidate’s current school and others that might be bidding for their talent. Salaita is a world-renowned scholar of indigenous studies (and also a frequent Salon contributor). At that point, as required by academic protocols, upon accepting the position he resigned the one he held at Virginia Tech.
But final approval never came. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today that “Phyllis M. Wise, the campus’s chancellor, and Christophe Pierre, the University of Illinois system’s vice president for academic affairs, informed the job candidate, Steven G. Salaita, on Friday that they were effectively revoking a written offer of a tenured professorship made to him last year by refusing to submit it to the system’s Board of Trustees next month for confirmation.”
According to Inside Higher Education: “Sources familiar with the university’s decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza. While many academics at Illinois and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita’s tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior.” Nevertheless, IHE goes on to report: “But as recently as July 22 (before the job offer was revoked), a university spokeswoman defended Salaita’s comments on Twitter and elsewhere. A spokeswoman told the News-Gazette for an article about Salaita that “faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.”
With both the university and Salaita keeping quiet on the details of the firing at the moment, it’s hard to tell what exactly changed the university’s mind. But it would seem that Salaita would be doubly protected from summary firing. First of all, no matter how “uncivil,” “disagreeable” or even repugnant some of his tweets might appear to some people, they are nonetheless protected under the First Amendment. This holds true for all individuals. But Salaita is also protected by academic freedom, a concept enshrined in American institutions of higher education.
Not only that, Salaita would be protected as a tenured professor, had it not been for his being caught between resigning from Virginia Tech and being formally hired by UIUC. The concepts of academic freedom and tenure go hand in hand — both are aimed at guaranteeing professors the freedom to found new knowledge, which is often only possible by critically examining old knowledge and continually retesting norms and assumptions, without fear of reprisals from entrenched interests, or from those who might be threatened or offended. Besides the lofty ideals of the pursuit of knowledge, academic freedom and tenure have practical goals as well — they assure that no professor will lose their livelihood for taking unpopular stances. In sum, then, Salaita was on firm ground according to all the norms and protocols for both free speech and academic freedom.
But his tweets had indeed offended not a few, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which wrote to UI president Robert Easter accusing Salaita of being anti-Semitic and declaring that “such outrageous statements present a real danger to the entire campus community, especially to its Jewish students.” Here is where things start to blur, and to blur in ways that make this issue much more than simply a matter for the ivory tower. We see a deliberate confusion of a private individual’s thoughts and beliefs and their professional life. Despite the fears of the Wiesenthal Center, there has been no proof whatsoever that Salaita’s tweets would be required reading in the classroom. Or that his political views would be force-fed to the students. Furthermore, the “danger” mentioned here is extremely vague. What is deeply troubling in this case is the influence of outside agencies and organizations on a university decision, and the absolute lack of transparency on the part of the university. [Continue reading…]