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Wed 10 Sep 2014 11:03 AM

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US professor sacked over anti-Israel Gaza tweets

Former University of Illinois academic has demanded he be reinstated, citing free speech and academic freedom

US professor sacked over anti-Israel Gaza tweets
Steven Salaita. (Image courtesy: @stevesalaita)

A professor who lost a promised job over his tweets on the recent seven-week Israel-Palestine war demanded on Tuesday that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) reinstate him, citing free speech and academic freedom.

But the university said it was standing by its decision to withdraw Steven Salaita's professorship over his pro-Palestine anti-Israel tweets, which it has said were uncivil and demeaning.

The termination of Salaita in August, two weeks before he was to start teaching, has ignited debate and protests at UIUC and other universities over academic freedom and politics.

Salaita tweeted heavily during the war, including this message on August 1: "Supporters of #Israel should be forced--A Clockwork Orange style--to view pics of smiling children who were killed on endless repeat. #Gaza."

American-born Salaita, of Jordanian and Palestinian parents, has written a number of books and taught at Virginia Tech before accepting a tenured position at Illinois.

On Tuesday, a number of UIUC students walked out of classes to listen to Salaita's first public comments since the university rescinded his appointment to the department of American Indian Studies.

"Universities are meant to be cauldrons of critical thinking; they are meant to foster creative inquiry and, when at their best, challenge political, economic, or social orthodoxy," said Salaita, who spoke along with UIUC professors who support him.

He defended his Twitter messages, saying they were passionate and unfiltered, reflecting his dismay at Palestinian deaths. He accused the university of terminating him under pressure from wealthy donors who dislike his pro-Palestinian views.

Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, did not answer a question from Reuters about Salaita's allegation of political pressure. She sent a statement saying the university stands by its decision not to hire Salaita.

UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in an August 22 statement that the decision was not about Salaita's position on the Middle East conflict, but about "personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them."

Salaita told Reuters he is not antisemitic and that the entirety of his tweets in context shows that "my stand is fundamentally one of acknowledging and countering antisemitism."

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leo50 6 years ago

yet another shining example of the American desire to shoot itself in the foot whilst bowing down to the Israeli right wing who do not wish to hear or see anything which indicates that there is a modicum of wrong doing in their treatment of the Palestinians of Gaza. How can America have allowed itself to sink so low that basic truths and decency, so long espoused by American folk lore, are allowed to be trampled in the dust and debris of what is happening every day to so many innocents. Unbelievable! No wonder the Israeli's openly boast that America belongs to them.

procan 6 years ago

Leo50 .... it would seem to me the Americans have picked a side and that side is Israel why the surprise ? Even here at the AB a some what conservative Site which I have no problem with there appears to be a pro Palestine tilt, which is cool with me also. But here is the deal , pick a team and stick with it. Americans have picked, please enjoy your day .

Oldtimer 6 years ago

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave? Sheer hypocrisy when basic freedom of speech is muzzled by intolerant, biased people in a country that prides itself in personal freedoms like free speech. I'm sure that the US judicial system will take the side of the professor against the University of Illinois.

ali saleh 6 years ago

People ask what can be done about Gaza, about IS, about OBL, about militants ( relegious or otherwise ) . Is it USA in Iraq ? Is it Afghanistan ? Is it anti-Semitism ? Huh ??

Try it is Israel who presides on illegally occupied land , contrary to the will of almost the entire planet excepting USA and a few south Pacific islands living off US donations and colonisation .

I'd bet 100 to 1 if Israel backed off, the raison d'etre of all the 'militants' would evaporate and moderation would start to return to the Middle East .

leo50 6 years ago

procan, the sadness is, that it is less and less of a surprise that America continues to blindly support such untenable causes. In the past I have understood to some extent what has shaped their foreign policy, but in the case of Gaza there is no rationale worthy of allowing the maltreatment of these people; in my opinion.
I would argue your point of picking a team and sticking with it. There are any number of justifications in picking a team and there are any number of justifications for changing teams and not closing your mind to reality and ultimate consequences.

Hope you have a good day too.