From Legal Insurrection comes the following headline: “Anti-Israel boycotters tighten grip on American Studies Association.” Among those newly elected was Steven Salaita, which is rather remarkable. Salaita, one will recall, is a virulent critic of Israel and supporter of boycotting Israel. He was “unhired” by the president of the University of Illinois just before starting a new job there after his extremely inflammatory tweets about Israel and its supporters came to light.
Since then, additional inflammatory writings by Salaita have come to light, including as reported on this blog. While I’ve described many of his writings as “anti-anti-anti-Semitism,” one of these seems rather difficult to defend from the charge of just plain old anti-Semitism. In a review of Abe Foxman’s The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control, Salaita writes, “This is sheer accidental brilliance. It has to be one of the few books ever published in which the author’s body of work so adeptly undermines his thesis.” It’s hard to understand this as something other than Salaita endorsing notion that “Jewish control” is not a myth.
Moreover, Salaita’s tweets were hardly innocuous. University of Illinois English professor Feisal Mohamed, who came to Salaita’s defense on free speech grounds, summed it up this way: “Those who claim [Salaita’s] tweets are completely devoid of anti-Semitism are not quite right… Salaita’s tweets frequently traded in a kind of anti-Zionist rhetoric that summons and sustains millennia of anti-Jewish sentiment hardwired into Western culture… Salaita may not be an anti-Semite but he can certainly tweet like one.”
It would hardly be surprising for the ASA to stand up for Salaita on academic freedom or free speech grounds (even though Salaita himself is an opponent of academic freedom when it comes to supporting Israel); but electing him to a leadership position signifies a tacit endorsement of his incendiary rhetoric in general and his Judeophobic sentiments in particular, which puts the ASA out beyond the ordinary lunatic fringe and into the racist lunatic fringe.