The latest flare-up of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again, predictably, brought out ugly vitriol on social media on both sides of the partisan divide; we’ve sadly become immune to our Twitter feeds awash with the dehumanization of Gazans, and the incessant chants of a genocidal Israel hell bent on wiping out the Palestinian people from the face of the earth. What is perhaps most demoralizing is that such statements are too often made by academics who, showing a glaring lack of responsibility, are often the worst offenders. However, in the case of Steven Salaita of Virginia Tech, such statements clearly seem to have had some consequences; Professor Salaita, recently slated to start teaching at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana as part of the American Indian studies program was recently informed that he would not have a job waiting for him when he arrived, apparently due in part to statements that he made on Twitter.
Philip Weiss has predictably taken up the cause of Professor Salaita as a victim of a larger conspiracy to silence such brave rhetoric by “the lobby [that] never sleeps”. To which lobby Weiss is referring to is fairly obvious, although it seems somewhat puzzling as to why AIPAC would bother trying to destroy the career of a Virginia Tech professor when a. plenty of others in academia hold similar views about Israel and b. such views from a single individual with little influence seem hardly consequential. Many have taken up Salaita’s cause, pressing for his reinstatement, viewing the incident as clear violation of his freedom of speech. While such arguments certainly have merit, they would be accepted with far less cynicism if not for Weiss and co.’s acceptance, at face value, of all of Salaita’s tweets which include:
When will the attack on #Gaza end? What is left for #Israel to prove? Who is left for Israel to kill? This is the logic of genocide.
At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza
By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.
Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.
Pro Tip: when a majority of a state’s prime ministers were born in another country, that state is a settler colony.
The issue lies not so much with whether or not Salaita should have been denied his position, but rather the perception of being a political martyr; it is an absolutely legitimate question to discuss issues of censorship in instances like this (although to be fair, there are numerous examples of people having lost or had job offers rescinded due to far less grievances leveled against them due to social media snafus). But such an argument would be far more convincing if his supporters were slightly less willing to accept such bizarre rhetoric without batting an eyelash, which shows a frightening ‘normalization’ amongst many on the anti-Israel left; one can say essentially just about anything about Israel, no matter how shocking or dehumanizing. Objections are simply seen as an indefensible shielding of Israeli actions or sheer ignorance. As such, any pushback is perceived to be nothing more than a poorly hidden conspiracy to punish those brave enough to speak out.
Weiss should be asked: how he would react to the dismissal of a faculty member for posting dehumanizing tweets about Palestinians, and insinuating that they, as a nation, were complicit in an attempted genocide of the Jewish people? While we cannot speak for him, we can safely assume that not only would he refrain from mounting a defense of their actions in the name of resisting political persecution, but Mondoweiss would devote numerous articles to discussing such extremist comments. What is most puzzling is that Weiss is not ignorant about the state of Israel-Palestine dialogue in academia or on college campuses; he must be fully aware of the fact that there are far more academics willing to voice opinions similar to Salaita’s than one that shows sympathy for Israel, and an atmosphere of discomfort on certain campuses that lends to a stifling of debate by anti-Israel professors and students. Instead, Weiss and others like him push forward a contradictory narrative in which anti-Israel rhetoric and its patrons play a large role in campus discourse, while simultaneously being persecuted by unseen forces. The inability to offer constructive and sometimes even harsh criticism of Israel that does not involve accusations of genocide has led the far-left to reject anything less than their version of events as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. It is with little to no irony that Weiss declares that “we are seeing a deep polarization in our discourse that reflects the polarization in Israel and Palestine” without actually taking any responsibility for aiding in its creation.