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Steven Salaita Tag

We have seen various levels of incitement in recent weeks, frequently involving false claims of Israeli murder of Palestinians. Palestinian knife-attackers who are shot dead frequently are portrayed as the victim. The most infamous example of such incitement was when Mahmoud Abbas claimed in a televised speech that a 13-year old Arab boy who stabbed a 13-year old Jewish boy was executed by Israel. In fact, the 13-year old Arab boy was alive and being treated (he was not shot, a car hit him during the attack) in an Israeli hospital; he since has been discharged. When Israel showed video of him in the hospital to dispel Abbas' lie and to try to calm the situation, Israel was accused of violating the boy's privacy (seriously). Another incitement took place yesterday, over the death of Hashem Azzeh, a 54-year old Palestinian live in the section of Hebron (H2) which by a 1997 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is under complete Israeli security control. Hashem is described as a "peace activist" struggling to survive with his family in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron. That section, as I reported from my trip to Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs last June, is part of what was a several-hundred year old Jewish community which was driven out during 1929 Arab riots, in which 67 Jews in Hebron were massacred. That small section of town has been reclaimed by a few hundred Israeli Jews, causing daily strife and requiring a heavy Israeli military presence. There are tall metal sniper shields to protect people and armed soldiers almost at every corner. There have been attacks on Arabs as well as on Jews, and Hebron is one of the most difficult situations of conflict.

This is really rich. The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is extremely aggressive on campus, something we have documented hundreds of times. That aggressiveness is carried out on the streets and campus areas by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), whose aggressive actions are meant to and do intimidate other students. Here is how SJP acted at Cornell when pro-Israel students silently held pro-Israel signs:

The Court in the Steven Salaita lawsuit, arising out of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees' decision not to hire him, has just issued a Memorandum and Opinion [Full Embed at bottom of post] which allows his key claims to move forward. For background on the case, see our prior posts: The Court in its ruling dismissed Counts VI and VII (Tortious Interference with Contract), VII (Emotional Distress) and IX (Spoiliation of Evidence). The dismissal of the Tortious Interference counts is significant in that those were alleged against various pro-Israel "John Doe" donors who communicated with the UI-UC Chancellor Phyllis Wise. But the court permitted the heart of the lawsuit to move forward, Count I (First Amendment), II (Procedural Due Process), (III) Conspiracy, (iv) Promissory Estoppel, and V (Breach of Contract).

This could be a series. In fact, with this post, maybe it is a series. We have covered many times the faculty members who demand the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (BDS) -- which necessarily involves boycotting the individuals who work at those institutions -- and then complain when the boycotters become the boycotted. Controversial professor Steven Salaita had his contingent offer of employment to join the American Indian Studies Department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees after Salaita went on a multi-month Twitter rant.  Salaita, a leader of the anti-Israel academic boycott, claims academic freedom for himself as he seeks to deny it to others. (Salaita's federal lawsuit is going through motion and discovery practice now.) As a result of the Salaita non-hiring, an academic boycott of UI-UC was organized, to the cheering of pro-Salaita pro-BDS UI-UC professors in the Humanities and Social Sciences. But something funny happened on the way the the boycott -- it turned out that the only people hurt by the boycott of UI-UC were the pro-Salaita folks in the Humanities and Social Sciences. As we reported in Academic boycotter doesn’t like being boycotted, UI-UC professor and anti-Israel academic boycott supporter Susan Koshy, an associate professor of English, Asian-American studies, and South Asian and Middle Eastern studies at UI-UC, complained:
For someone like me, who is inside the university and supports Salaita, the boycott [of UI-UC] represents an experiential impasse. I find myself in the impossible position of being the target of a boycott as a member of an institution whose actions I and many others here have challenged. Unlike faculty members outside Urbana-Champaign whose safe target is another university, our target is our own. The frequently repeated joke here—How do we boycott ourselves?—captures this problem. How do you oppose your own institution yet protect valuable parts of it at the same time?

The movement to boycott those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is gaining steam, particularly at the legislative level. We previously highlighted federal legislation aimed at the European boycott movement, and the apoplectic reaction, Breaking! Anti-Israel boycotters don’t like being boycotted!:
The vicious anti-Israel boycotters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement don’t like it when the tables are turned on them. That’s why, when faculty pass their anti-Israel boycott resolutions, they include in the resolutions the demand that their right to boycott be protected. In other words, boycotters claim the right to boycott others, but deny others the right to boycott them.
In addition to federal legislation, Illinois is on the verge of passing legislation which effectively causes the State to boycott the boycotters. The Washington Free Beacon reports, Anti-BDS Bill Poised for Passage in Illinois Legislature:
A milestone bill meant to combat international boycotts of Israel cleared a major procedural hurdle in the Illinois House this week, paving the way for the state to become among the first to divest funds from any company supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement. The bill, which would force Illinois’ five state pension funds to divest from any company supporting boycotts of Israel, passed by a 10-0 vote through a key executive committee on Wednesday and is now on its way to a full vote in the state’s legislature, where it is expected to garner widespread support.... If passed, Illinois would become the first state in nation to divest from companies abroad that support Israel boycotts.
The anti-Israel movement issued urgent alerts to try to stop the legislation in committee.

We have been tracking the descent of the American Studies Association into an anti-Israel political operation ever since the ASA's boycott of Israel was proposed in late November 2013. Scroll though our American Studies Association Tag for the full history. The ASA move was part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel. Most recently, we covered the ASA's discriminatory admission policy at its Annual Meeting in November 2014, which by ASA written policy was to exclude representatives of Israeli academic insitutions and was to apply a discriminatory litmus test to Israeli faculty members. After a threat of legal action against the hosting hotel under California's anti-discrimination laws, the ASA changed its policy and announced that even Bibi Netanyahu was welcome at the annual meeting. There was some small hope that the ASA would reconsider or at least moderate its academic boycott ways, but that seems highly unlikely in light of recent elections of a new president-elect and governing national council. The ASA's 2015 Election Results solidified the grip of the BDS movement on the supposedly educational tax-exempt organization.

The Trustees and senior officers of the University of Illinois, who are defendants in the federal lawsuit by Steven Salaita, filed a motion to dismiss the case on February 24.  Salaita, you will recall, had tweeting issues, to put it mildly. At a court hearing today, the Judge set down a briefing schedule, with Salaita's attorneys having until March 30 to respond, and the defendant's attorneys until April 20 to reply. The Court set May 21 as the date it would rule, orally in court. (Order at bottom.) That's a little unusual in my experience. Normally a judge would issue a written opinion on such a law-heavy motion. I can't tell you whether to read anything into that; it could be that judge's practice, or the judge may orally issue an order and then refer people to a written opinion. The court did order the parties to propose a discovery plan, meaning the exchange of documents, depositions, and so on.  The submission of such plans is required under the federal and court rules. It is likely that some discovery will take place prior to the ruling on the motion to dismiss under such plan. I can't tell you whether the judge allowing discovery to commence reflects on the likelihood of the outcome of the motion to dismiss. In their motion requesting that the Court order the defendants to confer on a discovery plan, Salaita's attorneys pointed out that there is no presumption of a stay of discovery pending resolution of a motion to dismiss.  The PACER electronic docket does not reflect any opposition by the Trustees counsel having been filed as to the commencement of discovery. If I see any reports whether the Judge expressed any view during the hearing, I'll update. There is significance, though, to the timing, unrelated to the lawsuit itself.

In late January 2015, Steven Salaita filed a federal lawsuit against the Trustees of the University of Illinois and certain of its senior officers, alleging that they violated Salaita's contractual and First Amendment rights. The lawsuit concerns the Trustees refusal to approve a contingent offer of tenured employment after Salaita's bizarre Twitter behavior and hateful, unhinged tweets. Those tweets led to accusations of anti-Semitism, something Salaita vigorously disputes. The Trustees now have filed a motion to dismiss the case, embedded below. I will add discussion and analysis later.

By now, most of you have heard of Steven Salaita, whose unhinged (that's a charitable description) tweets apparently caused the University of Illinois Board of Trustees not to approve his contingent offer of tenured employment. Shortly after UI at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise indicated that she would not forward the contingent offer to the Board (though she later did so), I noted the irony of protests that Salaita's academic freedom was being infringed, Steven Salaita controversy points to the hypocrisy of anti-Israel academic boycotters:
I have argued strenuously against the academic boycott of Israel, led by people like Steven Salaita, on a number of grounds. Not the least of those grounds is that academics who insist on violating the academic freedom of Israelis and those who wish to interact with Israelis do damage to the system in its entirety.... There is a related point to how academic boycotts have a negative ripple effect. On what ground do the academic boycotters of Israel claim their own academic freedom if they are so quick to deny it to others?

Earlier today we reported that controversial former professor Steven Salaita had filed a federal lawsuit over his non-hiring. I identified what I saw as a glaring defect in the Complaint. The University of Illinois has responded with a Statement which previews how the case will be defended. The defense hones in on what I saw as a glaring defect in the Complaint, namely that Salaita never claimed that anyone -- much less anyone with authority -- promised him that Board of Trustees approval was not needed or waived. As such, Salaita will have a more difficult time converting a contingent offer into an enforceable agreement. Similarly, much like the official faculty committee, the University views the tweets in the context of Salaita's fitness, citing a tweet from June, before the Gaza fighting:
Specifically, Dr. Salaita began making a series of statements via social media on precisely the subject matter that he proposed to teach at our University. For example, on June 19, 2014, after three Israeli teenagers were reported kidnapped and presumed dead, Dr. Salaita posted a statement on Twitter which read: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f**king West Bank settlers would go missing.” Dr. Salaita continued to post this comment even after the three teens were found murdered later that month.... These statements and many more like them demonstrate that Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.
The University denies that donor pressure influenced the decision. Presumably, as Chancellor Wise said in an interview recently, the university constantly gets donor complaints on a variety of issues, including sports. Those among Salaita's BDS supporters -- who have driven the protests -- who thought that Salaita had a strong case may be in for a rude awakening. They want to put the university, the Chancellor and the donors on trial, but Salaita may find himself on trial. As someone who handled employment cases as a large part of my private practice prior to joining academia, almost always for the employee, the Salaita case will be no easy win, no matter how much supportive websites with an anti-Israel agenda and pro-BDS faculty tweet out support and urge Salaita on. When this story first broke on August 6, I asked the following question to readers:

Steven Salaita, the controversial former professor who was denied a tenured job at the University of Illinios at Urbana-Champaign, has filed a lawsuit against the university trustees and unnamed ("John Doe") donors who allegedly pressured the university. The one trustee who voted in favor of hiring, James Montgomery, was not named as a defendant. Chancellor Phyllis Wise also was named as a defendant. The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Illinois, rather than the Central District where the campus is located, based on the Trustees having voted not to hire Salaita at a meeting in Chicago. Strategically, Salaita presumably prefers a Chicago jury, if it gets to that. More details and an embed of the Complaint to follow (now full embed at bottom of post). Steven Salaita v Christopher Kennedy et al - Complaint Cover Page

[WAJ Note: On January 10, 2015, we reported how Modern Language Assoc postpones anti-Israel boycott vote until 2017.  I asked Stanford Professor Russell Berman, a former President of MLA who attended the debate and vote, to provide us with a first-hand account and analysis.] ----------------------------------- At the recent Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in Vancouver, proponents of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement made a concerted effort to score an electoral victory for their anti-Israel campaign. BDS and its supporters failed. I was present during the debate and votes at the Delegate Assembly, and the failure was clear. Nonetheless BDS supporters have rushed to claim success, asserting that straw polls taken at the Delegate Assembly supported both BDS and Professor Steven Salaita (who is in a dispute with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). To make such claims requires misrepresentation of the facts of what happened. But facts matter, and a reasonable examination of the series of votes in Vancouver leads to the conclusion that BDS lost.

Boycott Resolution Delayed Two Years

First some background: in the run-up to the convention, two resolutions were submitted to the MLA’s Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee (DAOC). One resolution called for a boycott of Israeli universities, while the other opposed academic boycotts. Because the two resolutions were in direct conflict with each other, the DAOC requested that both proposals be withdrawn during a two-year moratorium on any resolutions concerning Israel. Instead the DAOC proposed a series of discussions about the matter in order to inform the membership. Both sides agreed, and neither resolution was brought to the floor. However, when the Delegate Assembly convened in Vancouver, the DAOC had to bring its two-year moratorium proposal before the assembly for a vote. BDS supporters attacked it bitterly because they were eager to vote against Israel, and they correctly saw the moratorium as prohibiting such a vote until 2017 at the earliest. The voting showed that they were a distinct minority: the Delegate Assembly adopted the moratorium proposal 95 to 49. This was a victory for the DAOC and a dramatic 2 to 1 loss for BDS. That first vote was important not only because it rejected the BDS effort to accelerate its anti-Israel campaign but because it took place relatively early in the afternoon when attendance was still high.

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees has just issued a statement that it will not reconsider its decision not to hire controversial anti-Israel activist Steven Salatia. Salaita had a contingent offer of employment, requiring Board approval for the tenured position. That approval was denied in early September, after Salaita's tweets raised questions as to his fitness. An official faculty committee report suggested reconsideration, subject to a fitness evaluation. A second non-official report by five prominent professors rejected reconsideration. The American Association of University Professors is expected to issue a report demanding Salaita's hiring and threatening censure. The Trustees decision effectively preempts the AAUP's expected report. The Board just announced its decision on reconsideration, via Via AP:
University of Illinois trustees say they will not reconsider a September decision to rescind a job offer to a professor over his profane, anti-Israel Twitter messages. The trustees issued a statement Thursday that said the decision was final. A committee of university faculty had recommended that the school reconsider hiring Steven Salaita. Salaita was offered a job teaching Native American Studies at the Urbana-Champaign campus starting last August but the offer was rescinded after he wrote the Twitter messages. Some university donors complained they were anti-Semitic. The Urbana News-Gazette further reports:

In late December, the faculty Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign issued a Report and recommendations on the refusal of the Board of Trustees to grant tenure to former Virginia Tech Professor Steven Salaita. We covered the CAFT Report in detail, U. Illinois Faculty Committee fails to call for Steven Salaita position restoration, including responses by Salaita supporters upset that CAFT failed to demand that Salaita be "restored" to his position (he only had a contingent offer subject to Board of Trustees approval, but his supporters consider him to have been hired). The Report also found that "legitimate questions" were raised as to Salaita's fitness based on his tweets, and recommended a "panel of experts" be appointed.  That standard of "fitness" came under stinging criticism from Salaita supporters, as detailed in the updates to my prior post. Now five past Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the UI-UC Faculty Senate Executive Committee have issued a "Response" to the CAFT Report, forwarded today to the President of the University of Illinois Robert Easter, incoming (in July) President Tim Killeen, and the Board of Trustees. The full Response is embedded below. Response from Faculty to CAFT Report Steven Salaita The Response rejects reopening the decision of the Board to reject the hire, finds that concerns were more than about "civility," finds legitimate questions as to fitness based on the tweets, and urges Salaita to find work elsewhere.

The faculty Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has issued a Report and recommendations on the refusal of the Board of Trustees to grant tenure to former Virginia Tech Professor Steven Salaita. The Report is being spun by Salaita supporters as a victory, but the details actually should disappoint them and hearten the University Trustees. A full copy of the Report is embedded at the bottom of this post. For one thing, the Committee did not demand "restoration" of Salaita's position, as some of his faculty supporters had expected.  Rather, the Committee, while criticizing the University's conduct, merely recommended formation of another committee of "academic experts" to review the situation. The failure to call for restoration of position was based, in part, on the Committee finding "legitimate concerns questions" [see update] about whether Salaita's anti-Israel (and some say anti-Semitic) tweets reflected on Salaita's professional fitness, competence and care since his scholarship is "almost indistinguishable from a political purpose." That political purpose, of course, is the destruction of Israel. The Committee thus recognizes a reality I have pointed out repeatedly when I discuss academic BDS: The prime movers behind academic BDS have completely blurred any distinction between political advocacy and their professional work; their scholarship and classroom conduct are their political advocacy, and vice versa. What this means, and as the Committee found, notions of academic freedom also have blurred for people like Salaita, who literally wrote the handbook about how faculty should spread academic BDS throughout universities. The result is that anti-Israel, pro-BDS faculty who merge their political advocacy and academic work may not be able to hide behind traditional notions of "academic freedom" to excuse their biased, unprofessional, incompetent and politicized scholarship and conduct. This approach has major implications far beyond the Salaita case. BDS, which itself is anti-academic freedom, may destroy academia before it destroys Israel.

(WAJ Note:  This is a GUEST POST regarding an attempt by some Syracuse University faculty to pass a faculty Senate resolution supporting Steven Salaita, who was denied a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.  We are running this Guest Post because such resolutions have been or are being brought at many universities, and the Syracuse experience sheds light on the process.) ----------------- On November 5, Syracuse University’s (SU) University Senate voted for the second time to table a resolution that calls on the administration of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UI-UC) to either honor the contract of Dr. Steven Salaita, the former Virginia Tech associate professor who posted noxious anti-Semitic rants to Twitter for months before and during this summer’s Israel-Hamas war, or “to demonstrate, via AAUP recognized procedures of academic due process, that termination is warranted”. The resolution in question wasn’t actually written by any SU faculty. It’s a template that’s currently circulating broadly on various American campuses, endorsed (primarily, I believe) by well-meaning and principled higher education professionals who’ve been led to think that, by denying Dr. Salaita’s job offer, UI-UC’s Chancellor Wise and its Board of Trustees “assaulted” Salaita’s academic freedom. It turns out that SU’s resolution came by way of Louisiana State University (LSU), which as it happens just the day before defeated in a split decision vote a substantially revised pro-Salaita resolution (reports claim that LSU faculty devoted three months of meetings to revising the initial document introduced at SU). My sense is that at SU, and on other campuses, these resolutions are being introduced not just to support Salaita but as part of a larger effort to recalibrate the relationship between the faculty and the administration. Faculty don't much like it when university CEOs overturn the preceding reviews of faculty bodies lower down the chain, like departments and search committees. In today's university climate, when many faculty are sick and tired of Chancellors and Trustees running roughshod over shared governance, pro-Salaita resolutions will have broad appeal precisely because they are construed as vehicles for committing administrators to "fairness and transparency in all academic procedures and practices, including faculty hires and other labor practices".

The fight over the academic boycott of Israel in the United States mostly is confined to professional associations in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where anti-Israel activist faculty have some ability to rig the system in their favor through control of key committees and programs. Unlike in the real world at universities, the faculty who take control of professional organizations are not counterbalanced by the faculty as a whole, students, administrators, trustees, parents and alumni.  Professional organizations are the perfect vehicle for anti-Israel activists for this reason. The activists have the ability filter the debate and tailor the information provided to membership so as to provide a one-sided view. That's what happened at the American Studies Association, which passed a boycott resolution but refused to distribute to the membership materials requested by the pro-Israel side. The resolution passed with less than 20% of the total membership voting for it, because of low overall participation.  Since then the ASA has turned into a full-time boycott entity, with its executive board calling for a complete boycott of Israel in all aspects, and an entire day of boycott organizing scheduled alongside its Annual Meeting. At the Modern Language Association debate last January on a resolution critical of supposed Israeli travel restrictions on academics, the panel discussion at the annual meeting was limited to anti-Israel activists. At the house of delegates, pro-Israel faculty did get a chance to argue against the resolution, and with that the resolution -- which had been expected to pass easily -- barely passed, and only after the language was watered down. When put to the entire membership, the resolution failed to gain the needed votes, and failed. Rigging the debate appears to be happening now at American Anthropological Association for an upcoming debate, as Haaretz reports, U.S. academics bemoan 'rigged’ fight in battle against BDS:
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