I received a link to this Tablet piece in an email, and even though I’ve tried not to get more involved in this controversy, I couldn’t resist clicking because I had read in several sources that “everyone” agrees that Salaita’s scholarship is first-rate, a proposition I suspected was either not remotely true, or is a rather poor reflection on whomever constitutes “everyone.”  The upshot is what one would expect, if one is paying attention. Author Liel Leibovitz concludes, “Devoid of any real understanding, context, or nuance, stupidly dogmatic, and frequently given to hyperbolic fits of hatred, it should not qualify as scholarship.”

Leibovitz doesn’t provide sufficient evidence in that short piece to justify such a blanket conclusion. But he does provide some excruciating evidence, including this:

“Hillel and other Jewish civic organizations render themselves distinctly responsible for Israel’s violence by proclaiming themselves guardians of the state’s consciousness,” he writes. “Moreover, they perform a nonconsensual appropriation of all Jewish people into the service of state policies that render the culture indefensible along with the state policies that are said to arise from the culture. It is never a good idea, even through the trope of strategic essentialism, to link an ethnic group to a military apparatus. Such a move automatically justifies discourses—in this case anti-Semitic ones—that should never be justifiable.”

But don’t worry, I’ve discovered that earlier in the same book,  he tell us that “I want to be clear that I am not blaming anti-Semitism on Jews.”  That’s a relief, because I thought if Jewish culture had rendered itself indefensible because of Jewish organizations’ ties to Israel, and that justifies anti-Semitic discourse, he might actually be blaming Jews for he anti-Semitism. So I’m glad he cleared that up in advance.

Despite the academic gobbleygook, Salaita has nevertheless persuaded me of the underlying logic of his position. As a result, because he is a Palestinian-American who has defended Hamas, I hereby, among other things, hold Salaita distinctly responsible for Hamas’s terrorist violence, violence against gays, suppression of women, execution of suspects without due process, corruption, use of human shields, and so on and so forth by proclaiming himself guardian of Hamas’s consciousness. Or  at least I would if I had any idea of what being guardian of a non-sentinent organization’s consciousness could possibly mean. Moreover, Salaita’s identification with Palestinian nationalism justifies discourses that should never be justified. Not that I’m blaming Salaita for those discourses, of course.

Enough. University of Illinois’s behavior in this matter seems rather sketchy. But as with Ward Churchill, the scandal is two-fold, and begins with the scandal of his being offered a job in the Native American Studies Department in the first place. Instead of expressing concerns about civility, which I think is at best a poor justification for not rubber-stamping a tenured lateral offer, perhaps the Illinois administration should have, as a commenter on a previous thread suggests, “called the faculty hiring committee to the mat to justify the appointment, demanding that they explain in detail precisely why Salaita was not barely qualified but the best qualified candidate for the position, address concerns about possible classroom bias in the light of his extracurricular rants, and potentially require an extended probationary period before granting him tenure. [UPDATE: A few commenters have asked, “by running down Salaita, aren’t you inviting similar treatment for ‘your side.'" On the contrary, as I noted in my previous post on this issue, Salaita shouldn’t be discriminated against because of his political views by the University of Illinois, nor should hiring decisions be made because of pressure from outsiders, whether donors or pressure groups. If Salaita can prove that’s why he was unhired, he should win his case, even if there were other good reasons not to hire him in the first place. But some of Salaita’s defenders have taken the line that Salaita is a magnificent scholar who got in trouble merely for getting a bit emotional about Gaza, which “Zionists" have turned into bogus evidence of anti-Semitism. The evidence suggests instead that Salaita is more likely a mediocre scholar hired to an area outside his main areas of expertise in part because of his political views, who is routinely intemperate, and who has written other things that more clearly seem to fall within a reasonable definition of anti-Jewish statements. So if Salaita is to win, let it also set a precedent that “right-wing" professors have equally strong academic freedom rights, even if they are mediocrities, even if they speak or write in an intemperate matter, even if a university is facing pressure from outsiders to penalize them based on real or perceived racist, sexist, or homophobic comments. Moreover, pointing out the ideological bias in many academic departments that benefits the likes of Salaita may aid the broader cause of academic freedom by discouraging such hiring practices in favor of scholarly merit.] Update: More wisdom from Salaita:

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