In 2014, a professor of English named Steven Salaita had a job offer rescinded after a series of anti-Semitic tweets attracted public attention. (They included: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” and “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”) Since then, Salaita has held a series of temporary posts, but apparently no one will offer him a tenured or tenure-track appointment, and so he has decided to leave academia.
This means, Jonathan Marks writes, that we
will now be endlessly subjected to the claim that Salaita cannot find a job merely because, as he puts it, he has “disdain for [Zionist] settler colonialism.” The problem is, he says, that academia is a “bourgeois industry that reward self-importance and conformity.”
That is nonsense.
First, Steven Salaita’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—roughly, that Zionism is the problem and that turning Israel into a pariah state is a prudent and moral way of dealing with it—may be foolish and morally obtuse. But it is hardly out of bounds in academia, and well over a thousand academics have expressed public support for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Many of them occupy tenured positions at prestigious colleges and universities and, at least as far as I can tell, pay no professional cost for holding the very same set of views Salaita wants us to think are too hot for academia to handle.
Second, in the field Salaita inhabits, a pro-BDS position is not a nonconformist position. It is famously the official line of the American Studies Association (ASA). The Association for Asian American Studies, which preceded the ASA in passing a boycott resolution, passed the resolution unanimously with nary an extension. Over four years ago, I observed that not one scholar in that field had publicly dissented. As far as I know, that remains the case today. Salaita himself, in spite of a thin scholarly record, was offered a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the flagship of the Illinois system, presumably on the strength of his activism. There is no doubt in my mind that were it not for his disgusting tweets, he would be happily tenured at U of I spouting the same line he was spouting before he got into trouble. . . .
[In sum,] Salaita’s views are not what undid him. He was undone by his own callousness and recklessness, neither of which has he found any reason to regret.