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Why are you singling out my posts on Israel/Palestine?

22 Nov

Whenever I post about Israel/Palestine, I get insinuations and complaints about how I’m not posting about other struggles around the world. But when I post about a labor conflict—say, at the University of Oregon—no one asks or speculates about why I’m not also posting about labor conflicts in Tibet. So today I’m starting a new meme: Why are you singling out my posts on Israel/Palestine?

Steven Salaita at Brooklyn College

20 Nov

Steven Salaita and Katherine Franke spoke at Brooklyn College tonight; I moderated the discussion. Three quick comments.

First, the event happened. We had an actual conversation about Israel/Palestine, BDS, Zionism, nationalism, academic freedom, civility. Students offered opposing views, tough questions were posed, thoughtful answers were proffered, multiple voices were heard, there was argument, there was reason, there was frustration, there was difficulty, there was dialogue, there was speechifying, there was back-and-forth. There was a college.

Going into the event, the usual voices mobilized against it. Politicians tried to shut it down. Alan Dershowitz complained he wasn’t invited. I told him to calm down: “In all the years that Professor Dershowitz was a professor at Harvard Law School, he and his colleagues never once invited me to speak, so I’m not exactly clear what all the fuss is about.” Outsiders called the political science department to shout at us.

But there was a difference this time: it was all fairly muted. At no point did any of us think that the administration would cancel the event. We’ve turned that corner. Even the usual suspects seem to be getting tired of their schtick. And the reason is that the event did what it was supposed to do: it created a space for conversation. Maybe we’re moving on?

Which brings me to my second point. All of us at Brooklyn College, and in the larger community, owe a debt of gratitude to the Students for Justice in Palestine. This is now the fourth or fifth (probably more) major event of its kind that they have put on at Brooklyn College since the BDS affair. And each time, they’ve managed to offer members of the College—on all sides of the Israel/Palestine issue—and the community a chance to have a thoughtful discussion. Whatever your position is on this issue, there should be little disagreement that SJP has enriched the College. Not because they advocate for justice in Palestine—though they do that, too—but because they have provided us all with a space to stretch our minds.

Which brings me to my final point. Though I was obviously sympathetic to Steven Salaita going into this event, I came out of it extraordinarily impressed by him. Not merely his character—he’s as haimish as can be—but his intellect. He has an extraordinarily agile mind. Within minutes he can move you from Cotton Mather to Franz Fanon, and throughout the ride, you know exactly where you are. You can see why he’s such a good teacher and why his students love him so much: not because he tells you what you know, but because he takes you somewhere you’ve not been. He had a brilliant riff about how it’s an old trope in colonial discourse that the native corrupts the colonizer, that it’s the native that turns the colonizer from someone who’s as pure as the driven snow into the foulest heart. And suddenly Salaita leaped to Spielberg’s Munich, and showed how it illustrated that exact principle.

This is the man the University of Illinois fired. Because, they claimed, he would be a toxin in the classroom. They have no idea what they’ve squandered.

Israel, Palestine, and the “Myth and Symbol” of American Studies

13 Nov

Lisa Duggan, president of the American Studies Association, has an excellent oped in the Los Angeles Times on the organization’s recent convention in Los Angeles and how the ASA has fared, academically and politically, in the year since it announced its boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Lisa’s oped reminds me of a point that’s been bothering me for some time.

One of the frequent criticisms that opponents of the ASA boycott make is this: What in the world is an American Studies organization doing concerning itself with the affairs of another country? As one American Studies scholar (to whom Lisa is in part responding) put it in the LA Times:

Ostensibly devoted to the study of all things American, the 5,000-member academic cohort has ventured outside its natural borders and into the crossfire of Israeli-Palestinian politics by voting to bestow pariah status on Israel.

Other similarly inclined critics of the ASA—many of them of an older generation of scholars—often add to this claim a lament for the good old days of American Studies when scholars like Richard Slotkin (who also opposes the ASA boycott of Israel) penned learned and literate trilogies about the long and terrible career of American violence.

But here’s what seems so strange about this claim.

My sense of American Studies—admittedly from outside the field—is that it always has derived a great deal of its animating energy and intellectual purpose from the international arena (otherwise known as other countries). As Lisa’s interlocutor himself acknowledges, the early years of American Studies were shaped by the imperatives of the Cold War, and then in the 1960s and 1970s the field was reshaped by the Vietnam War, producing such canonical works as…Richard Slotkin’s learned and literate trilogy about the long and terrible career of American violence.

In order to reconcile this past of the discipline with the complaints of its contemporary critics, you have to make one of two assumptions: either that the field has another, completely different past or that Israel is not part of the foreign policy of the United States. Either way, you’re living in a fantasy land.

Once upon a time American Studies’s elders took apart the “myth and symbol” of America; now they’ve turned their field into one.

From Berlin to Jerusalem

8 Nov

Twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, when men and women did the exact same thing in Berlin, it was heralded as the dawn of a new age of universal progress and civilization. Let’s see how this incident in Israel today is reported, if it’s reported at all.

Palestinian smashes hole in the separation wall near Jerusalem.

Palestinian smashes hole in the separation wall near Jerusalem.

Congratulations, John Adams: You Got CUNY’d

21 Oct

On Twitter tonight, The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, whose book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century I discussed on Memorial Day, was tweeting about the protests that greeted the Met premiere of John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

Here are just some of Ross’ tweets.

 

 

I feel like John Adams and the Met just got the kind of treatment that we at CUNY get whenever we raise the issue of Israel/Palestine. The same gang mobilizes to shut us down. Indeed, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who until recently was on the CUNY Board of Trustees and tried to deny Tony Kushner an honorary degree because of his stance on Israel, was at the protests tonight, leading the charge.

Here are some more Ross tweets.

 

 

Congratulations, John Adams: you just got CUNY’d.

Is the Boycott of the University of Illinois Illiberal?

29 Sep

I’m hearing whispers that some liberal-ish academics think the boycott of UIUC is illiberal and censorious. So let me get this straight. Is the underlying idea that, as an academic, you’re obligated to accept every single speaking invitation you receive? (Let’s recall the terms of the boycott: simply that we will refuse to accept an invitation to speak, or otherwise participate in an event, at the UIUC, until Steven Salaita is reinstated.) Or is it that you’re allowed to say no if your reasons are strictly careerist—i.e., the institution is not high-prestige or the honorarium too low—but not if your reasons are moral principles? Or is it that you think careerism is not only a moral principle but the only acceptable moral principle that would justify a refusal of an invitation? Or is all this liberalism talk besides the point, and it’s just Israel Israel Israel?

It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-up

28 Sep

In the latest turn in the Salaita affair, Ali Abunimah has filed a public records request with the University of Illinois, which the University has not complied with. Raising suspicions of…

Here’s Ali:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says it cannot find a key document that may shed light on donor pressure and organized efforts to convince top administrators to fire Steven Salaita for his criticisms of Israel.

The Electronic Intifada requested the document – a memo on Salaita’s views handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a major donor – under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, an 18 September letter from the university informed The Electronic Intifada that “no records responsive to your request could be located.” Under Illinois law, Wise is required to preserve the document as a public record.

The existence of the document in question was revealed in a 24 July email (see below) Wise sent to the university’s senior fundraising staff reporting on a meeting she had with what appears to be a major donor…In the email, Wise writes (emphasis added):

He said that he knows [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] well and both have less loyalty for Illinois because of their perception of anti-Semitism. He gave me a two-pager filled with information on Steven Salaita and said how we handle this situation will be very telling.

This “two-pager” is the document that was requested by The Electronic Intifada and that the university now claims it cannot find.

Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is part of the legal team representing Salaita, expressed skepticism toward the university’s claim that it cannot locate the document.

“It is hard to believe that Chancellor Wise would have thrown out the two-pager on Professor Salaita given to her by a donor at a meeting that was important enough for her to email details about to top Illinois fundraising officials at midnight, unless there’s a reason she didn’t want it to be made public,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

“The two-pager might indicate a more organized effort to go after Salaita, and it will be one of the many documents we’ll seek in litigation,” LaHood added.

Under the Illinois State Records Act, documents received by Wise and the university are the property of the state. As a public official, Wise is legally required to preserve such records, which may not be disposed of except under conditions set out in the law.

The Electronic Intifada has filed a request with the Public Access Counselor at the office of the Illinois Attorney General to review the facts and law surrounding the University of Illinois’ failure to release the “two-pager” on Steven Salaita handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a pro-Israel donor.

The request notes that under the Illinois State Records Act, Wise, a public officer of a state agency, is legally required to preserve the document in question and the university is legally required under the State Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act to produce the record for public inspection.

As the State Records Act states:

All records made or received by or under the authority of or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials of this State in the course of their public duties are the property of the State and shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part except as provided by law. Any person who knowingly and without lawful authority alters, destroys, defaces, removes, or conceals any public record commits a Class 4 felony.

Such felonies may be punishable by a term of imprisonment.

Given the facts set out in the post above and provided to the Public Access Counselor, the request asserts that “reasonable suspicion exists that a public record has been disposed of without lawful authority.”

The Public Access Counselor is an office established by law to help enforce the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.

“Working under the direction and supervision of the Attorney General and with a team of attorneys and professional staff, the Public Access Counselor’s mission is to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings,” according to the Attorney General’s website.

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