Chronicle of Higher Ed Profiles Me and My Blog

Marc Parry has written a long profile of me, this blog, and my work and activism in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some excerpts:

The Salaita Affair has riveted academe. One story line that has drawn less attention is the role played by Mr. Robin. For more than a month, the professor has turned his award-winning blog into a Salaita war room, grinding out a daily supply of analysis, muckraking, and megaphone-ready incitement.

“A lot of people see him as an intellectual leader,” says Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University and co-editor of the magazine Dissent. “He can be counted on to battle people.” (Those people include Mr. Kazin, who crossed swords with Mr. Robin last year when Mr. Kazin published an article critical of academic anti-Israel boycotts.)

Mr. Robin is something of an odd fit for his current role.

Although people constantly ask him to speak about the Israel-Palestine question, he turns down the invitations because he does not consider himself an expert on the subject. His current scholarship focuses on the political theory of capitalism. His last book, The Reactionary Mind (Oxford University Press), was a much-debated collection of essays about conservatism.

And although he has been lauded as the “quintessential public intellectual for the digital age,” Mr. Robin is really something of a technology dinosaur.

The professor does not own a smartphone. He flees the Internet by riding New York’s subway trains for four hours at a time after dropping off his 6-year-old daughter at school or camp. He devotes these trips to reading: ­”Schumpeter in Queens, The Theory of Moral Sentiments in the Bronx, Hayek in Brooklyn,” as he wrote in one post.

Like an addict, Mr. Robin tries to set boundaries for his habit. For instance: No blogging first thing in the morning. That way the process won’t eat up his whole day.

“I’m always telling myself, ‘OK, this is the last day I’m blogging,’” Mr. Robin says.

When I arrived at his apartment for an interview around noon one day this week, he had already violated his no-blogging-in-the-morning rule. Twice.

Mr. Robin can be a pugnacious online presence. During the BDS donnybrook, for example, he ripped a former student, Jumaane D. Williams, who had gone on to become one of the City Council members critical of the event. “U took my class on civil liberties,” Mr. Robin wrote in a series of tweets directed at Mr. Williams. “Pressure from govt officials on campus speech is ok? That’s what U learned?”

In person, though, he comes off as polite and cool-headed (mostly). The professor is a compact man with rosy cheeks and light brown hair that falls over his forehead; on the day of our interview, he wore a wrinkled white shirt and dark slacks, which gave him the look of an off-duty waiter.

Recent years have radicalized his views on the role of the academy in Israel debates. Previously, he didn’t have a position on BDS and even sympathized with critics who questioned the relevance of such boycotts. He now supports the movement. “I think the academy actually is quite important on the Israel debate,” he says.

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

“The serious thing to do is to figure out what’s actually happening,” he says. “An outspoken critic of Israel, speaking in an inflammatory way about it, being punished and drummed out of the academy—that’s what’s happening.”

Getting into the details of the tweets, he says, is “missing the forest for the trees.”

Wished I had remembered, when I was talking about why universities and academics like Steven Salaita get targeted in the Israel/Palestine debate, that I had remembered this, from Hobbes’s Behemoth:

The core of rebellion…are the Universities; which nevertheless are not to be cast away, but better disciplined.


  1. Brendan Hogan September 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm | #

    Congrats. Very happy you are doing the important work you do. Best wishes, Brendan Hogan.

  2. J September 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm | #

    Read the whole article, angered by the lack of cat details, beyond mere enumeration. As they youth of today say: pics or it didn’t happen!

  3. Safiya September 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm | #

    I agree. You are doing very important work. Thank you!!

  4. Gaurav Khanna September 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm | #

    Cory — congrats on the recognition … no publicity is bad publicity 🙂

  5. Nurit Baytch September 19, 2014 at 9:09 pm | #

    I’m amused to see Corey Robin, who blogged about how rude I am, described as “pugnacious” and a “brawler” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Robin acknowledges that he has not engaged with the substance of Salaita’s tweets. This probably explains why he blogged about how uncivil Salaita’s critics are since characterizing Salaita’s tweets as merely uncivil is euphemistic. And if you want to argue that his tweets are irrelevant, Salaita’s stature as an “important public intellectual” was prominently cited by UIUC’s associate chancellor as a reason to hire him: (p. 184)
    As far as I’m concerned, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  6. Hal Ginsberg September 20, 2014 at 9:35 am | #

    Generally, I am skeptical of claims of anti-semitism in the academy. I think that people for a variety of reasons confuse legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. Accordingly, I was inclined to side with former University of Illinois Professor Steven Salaita and CUNY-Brooklyn Professor Corey Robin who claim that Salaita was wrongly terminated from the University of Illinois because he tweeted critically of Israel.

    For me true freedom of speech does not mean that an employer cannot discharge you for what you write or say. It means that the state cannot fine or jail you for your words. Still, I would greatly prefer that employers overlook political speech with which they disagree rather than employ punitive measures.

    At some point, however, words can be so malicious, racist, or sexist that they cannot be ignored. Universities should be bastions of independent thought and scholarship where even well outside the mainstream ideas are not just tolerated but given a respectful audience and freely bandied about. But when a professor employs bigoted imagery or panders to his audience’s worst instincts or generalizes unfairly about a large group of people then his employer may well be justified in terminating his employment.
    Such is the case with former Professor Salaita who, among other inflammatory remarks, tweeted the following: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” For me this tweet crosses the line.

    I am a Zionist in that I support Israel’s right to exist as an independent nation. I also believe that a one-state solution in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians from Gaza to the West Bank to the Golan Heights all share power under a one person/one vote principal would be the best outcome for Israel. I derive no joy from Israel’s violent spasms against the Palestinian people. Likewise, there are many other Zionists who deeply regret what Israel has done in Gaza and the West Bank but believe honestly, albeit very wrongly in my view, that Hamas is a worse offender. Such people do not take “sexual” pleasure in the deaths of Palestinians.

    Factual error may be excusable but not Salaita’s use of ugly anti-semitic imagery in his tweet. The blood libel against Jews that justified countless pogroms over the millenia in Europe is clearly implied in the phrase “[s]ublimation through bloodletting.” Likewise, Salaita raises the specter of Jewish men defiling Aryan women with the words “profoundly sexual” and “perversion”. The Nazis rallied supporters with eerily similar language.

    Salaita’s defenders can claim with some justification that he did not attack all Jews only Zionists. But Salaita had to know that some Jew haters conflate the two terms and use Zionist as a politically correct stand-in for Jew even though not all Zionists are Jewish and not all Jews are Zionists.

    I am all for a robust debate about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians who live within and directly outside her borders. I have been as critical as anybody of what I believe is religious oppression based on fears, avarice, and prejudice. But, in at least one very ugly tweet, Steven Salaita went beyond a harsh but ultimately fact-based critique of Israel’s actions and the words of her supporters. Salaita employed language that he had to know has been used to catalyze some of the most murderous episodes in human history. The University of Illinois was justified in terminating him.

    • David Green September 20, 2014 at 1:36 pm | #

      A prominent aspect of the Israeli/Zionist mystique has always been it’s warrior/masculinity as compensation for stereotypes of Jewish males. That has been extended, in recent decades, to the mystique of Israelis alleged sexual freedom, which is peddled to young Jews both straight and gay. Salaita is on to something when he relates the Israeli sexual mystique to the warrior mystique. You can kill Palestinian children and then pinkwash it. Those children never would have had much fun in their lives getting it on anyway, unlike Jewish children on birthright trips.

      • Hal Ginsberg September 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm | #

        This is really hateful stuff David Green posts. He ignores the putative distinction between Zionist and Jew and attacks Jews directly for being Jewish. Anybody have any ideas how to combat people who traffic in this ugly stuff?

      • BillR September 21, 2014 at 9:20 am | #

        …the government focused on rebranding Israel as a cosmopolitan, technologically advanced party playpen for Western visitors, especially sex-hungry, upwardly mobile men between 18 and 35. A series of edgy commercials promoting tourism highlighted the new Brand Israel campaign. The first of the ads, released in 2006, depicted two randy young men sitting shirtless on the Tel Aviv beach while a parade of scantily clad Israeli women appear before them:

        Man #1 (staring at a nubile young woman rubbing lotion on her thighs): Holy shit, man!

        Man #2: Holy fuck!

        Man #1(glancing at the bouncing breasts of a bikini-clad blonde jogging in his direction): Holy Jesus! Oh! Come to papa!

        A brunette bikini model drops a paddle ball near the men and gives them a sultry look.

        Man #1 (overcome with passion): Oooooh!

        Slogan appears on-screen: “Israel: No Wonder They Call It the Holy Land.”

        With $90 million from the municipality of Tel Aviv to promote the city as a gay paradise, and with free trips provided by the tourism ministry for gay Israelis willing to “conduct public diplomacy activities abroad,” the Brand Israel campaign has increasingly centered on what many international gay activists call “pinkwashing,” or using the country’s relatively progressive gay rights record to conceal its human rights abuses. The campaign has included sending openly gay Israeli soldiers to speak on college campuses, screening pro-Israel films at gay rights festivals, and even sending a bizarre float into the 2011 San Francisco Gay Pride parade featuring a blow-up doll of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being sodomized by a nuclear missile.

        Among the most aggressive promoters of Israel’s supposedly queer-friendly culture was Michael Lucas, one of the world’s wealthiest gay porn producers. A fervent supporter of Israeli airstrikes on Iran and a vehement Islamophobe (“I hate Muslims absolutely”), Lucas leveraged his fortune to found a company promoting gay tourism to Israel. “I find it absolutely maddening that gay people, who are the number one target of Islam, are so ignorant of the facts,” he told an interviewer from the far-right US journal FrontPage Magazine. “They are romanticizing the same Palestinians that hang gay people on cranes, but demonizing Israel, which is a safe haven for gay people.” Lucas’s most heavily promoted porno film, Men of Israel, which became a vehicle for his gay tours, featured two actors having sex inside a Palestinian village that was ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias in 1948.

        Incorrectly claiming that the village had been depopulated hundreds of years before, Lucas wrote in a press release, “We went to an abandoned village just north of Jerusalem. It was a beautiful, ancient township that had been deserted centuries ago…however, that did not stop our guys from mounting each other and trying to repopulate it. Biology may not be the lesson of the day, but these men shot their seeds all over the village.” After the filming concluded in the “abandoned” village, Lucas and his cast were received by a news crew from Israel’s Channel 1, which covered the porn shoot as a boon to Israeli public relations.

    • children have rights not to be killed and those rights trumps any rights any nation claims to have September 21, 2014 at 10:33 am | #

      “Salaita’s defenders can claim with some justification that he did not attack all Jews only Zionists. But Salaita had to know that some Jew haters conflate the two terms and use Zionist as a politically correct stand-in for Jew even though not all Zionists are Jewish and not all Jews are Zionists.”

      You in effect propose a standard for discourse that would completely insulate Israel or zionist proponents from criticism. That is unreasonable. To see why, we should apply your standard consistently to other cases. There are some who are prone to conflate criticism of specific fundamentalist muslim groups with all muslims or with all arabs or with all people or a particular shade of skin color. Therefore, no anyone who criticizes a specific fundamentalist muslim group, even when it kills children, should be fired. I doubt Hal Ginsberg applies his own standard consistently.

      • Hal Ginsberg September 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm | #

        I never criticize Muslims in general, for the actions of a few, and always call out those who do. I have consistently taken to task those who blame Hamas for what Israel does. I criticize fundamentalists of all stripes. When people say things like “they hate Amercia” equating Muslims with “they”, my response is always if they hate us it’s because we’re killing them. In any case, nobody is always consistent – not even me. The question is whether it is defensible to attribute serious sadistic sexual pathologies to all “Zionists” based on the worst actions of some. The answer is that it is not. And, this wrongful characterization of Zionists is made that much worse because many equate the terms Zionist and Jew.

      • David Green September 22, 2014 at 3:27 pm | #

        95% of Israeli Jews were in support of Protective Edge. How many do I need before I’m allowed by you to comment on Israeli Jews?

      • Hal Ginsberg September 22, 2014 at 5:29 pm | #

        @David Green – thanks for asking. You can cite with understandable dismay the poll results and ask why such an extraordinarily high percentage of Israeli Jews are apparently so implacably hostile to Hamas that they don’t care that the IDF just killed thousands of civilians.

      • jonnybutter September 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm | #

        Hal G: I would rather hear your answer to your own question.

  7. jonnybutter September 21, 2014 at 11:05 am | #

    A blog is a gaping maw attached to a body the size of a planet. It’s never satisfied. Blogging is ‘free’ – except what it costs you in massive amounts of time and emotional wear and tear!

    I had a blog when they were first starting (back when they were called ‘weblogs’), and soon realized that I couldn’t do that *and* about a dozen other things I wanted to do. But that was me.

    I am grateful that Prof., Robin has a blog, because I enjoy it a lot, but….I do, however, blogging doesn’t interfere with our another wonderful book or three, or four, or more, from him.

  8. jonnybutter September 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm | #

    ‘I do, however, hope that blogging doesn’t interfere….”

  9. W September 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm | #

    Note the article says “He suggested that scholars in every field begin organizing public statements refusing to accept any invitations to speak on any campus of the University of Illinois—a serious disruption of academic business.”… But the current statement refers only to Urbana campus (as I read it)

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