Criticising Israel brings ‘lifetime punishment’, says US academic

Dr Steven Salaita sued university after being denied job because of anti-Israel tweets

 Among the tweets Dr Steven Salaita sent were: “If you’re defending #Israel right now, you’re an awful human being. Photograph: Armando L Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

Among the tweets Dr Steven Salaita sent were: “If you’re defending #Israel right now, you’re an awful human being. Photograph: Armando L Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

 

An academic who became a test case for academic freedom in the US said he had no regrets for sending anti-Israel tweets.

Dr Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American, sued the University of Illinois when they withdrew an offer for a position as associate professor following a number of tweets that he sent following the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014.

Among the tweets Dr Salaita sent were “If you’re defending #Israel right now, you’re an awful human being” and “if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”.

He also tweeted after three Israeli teenagers went missing: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f***ing West Bank settlers would go missing”.

The offer of tenure was withdrawn, but Dr Salaita successfully sued the university and its chancellor lost her job.

Dr Salaita told a conference on academic freedom in Trinity College Dublin that he had been unable to get a job in an American university since.

Though he won his case, he said criticising Israel amounted to a “lifetime punishment” in the US and that he was regarded as too controversial to be hired again.

“Running foul of pro-Israel groups in academia is a lifetime punishment I promise you,” he said. However, he said if he could go back he would send the same tweets again.

“I don’t regret a damn word that I said. I would condemn Israel just as harshly today. I would condemn Israel just as harshly tomorrow as long as Israel continues to take Palestinian land and continues its systematic programme of ethnic cleansing, I will not compromise in my critique of the state of Israel.

“When Israeli goes on a killing spree as it did in 2014, we condemn it and that’s what I did in the summer of 2014.”

Dr Salaita said the issue of Palestine was “toxic” in academia in the US and most academics sought to avoid the subject.

He knew a “double digit” number of American academics who got in trouble for espousing pro-Palestine views, but none who had got in trouble for advocating pro-Israeli views.

He suggested that if there is no academic freedom for the critics of Israel “there is no academic freedom”.

Dr Salaita defended the tweet he sent about the missing Israeli teenagers who were later found dead. He said when he wrote about wishing the settlers would go missing, he was not advocating their kidnapping or murder. Instead, he was advocating that the settlers leave Palestinian lands.