TCD to host conference on academic boycott of Israel

Prof Steven Salaita, who lost out on academic post over tweets against Israel, to speak at event

Prof Steven Salaita became a cause célèbre for academic freedom in the United States, whose case contributed to the resignation of the chancellor of the University of Illinois, Phyllis Wise, in August 2015. File photograph: Armando L Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty Images)

Prof Steven Salaita became a cause célèbre for academic freedom in the United States, whose case contributed to the resignation of the chancellor of the University of Illinois, Phyllis Wise, in August 2015. File photograph: Armando L Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty Images)

 

An academic who had an offer of a post withdrawn after a series of tweets protesting at the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014 is to speak at a conference in Trinity College Dublin next week.

Prof Steven Salaita was due to take up a position as an associate professor in the University of Illinois’s American Indian Studies Programme in August 2014.

The offer was withdrawn following a review of tweets sent by Prof Salaita which included “If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being” and “If Netanyahu appeared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?”

It followed the Israeli invasion of Gaza in July 2014 known as Operation Protective Edge which had the stated mission of preventing rockets being launched into Israel. The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, during seven weeks of conflict.

Cause célèbre

Prof Salaita sued and became a cause célèbre for academic freedom in the United States. The case contributed to the resignation of the chancellor of the university, Phyllis Wise, in August 2015.

Prof Salaita will be the keynote speaker at the Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel conference, which takes place in the university on Monday and Tuesday.

Conference co-organiser Dr Conor McCarthy, a lecturer in English at the University of Maynooth, said its purpose is wider than the issue of an academic boycott of Israel and will address the wider issue of academic freedom.

He maintained there is a worldwide trend towards increased “corporatisation and managerialism” in universities which is threatening what academics can and cannot say.

“We want to examine how a test case of dissent works or fails to work in the university system. In Ireland, Britain and America, I don’t think you have to be a flaming ‘leftie’ to say that universities are becoming more and more like corporations.”

He said the conference speakers will provide a range of views including those of Prof Kathleen Lynch, who teaches equality studies in UCD and is not connected with the Palestinian conflict.

In a statement, TCD said it had been advised by the organisers that the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom will be the dominant theme of the conference.

For and against

The university added: “There will be speakers who have opinions both for and against the academic boycott of Israel in attendance and speaking during the event.”

Earlier this year the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, was prevented from speaking in the university by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine.

TCD provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the incident and said it represented “ the antithesis of what Trinity stands for”.

He stated Trinity will remain a “home for debate and we will do everything possible to make sure that efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas do not succeed”.

In response to next week’s academic conference, the Israeli embassy said: “Academic freedom is a universal value as long as it’s not a pretext for hate and discrimination.”