Workers Vanguard No. 1052

19 September 2014


Protest Witchhunt at University of Illinois!

Reinstate Steven Salaita, Opponent of Zionist Terror!

(Young Spartacus pages)

On September 11, the University of Illinois board of trustees upheld the firing last month of outspoken Palestinian American academic Steven Salaita. Slated to join the faculty at Urbana-Champaign as a tenured professor in the American Indian Studies program, Salaita became the target of a vicious Zionist witchhunt after he condemned Israel’s relentless barrage of terror against the population of Gaza this summer. In defense of the embattled Palestinians, Salaita posted a series of tweets such as “Who is left for Israel to kill? This is the logic of genocide.” In response to pressure from some big-money donors, U of I chancellor Phyllis Wise then yanked Salaita’s job offer—a blatant act of censorship on behalf of Israel’s capitalist rulers and their U.S. imperialist patrons.

The U of I witchhunt has been met with protests from students, campus unions such as the Graduate Employees Organization and the American Association of University Professors. The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club join in condemning the firing and demand that Salaita be reinstated. “The firing of Professor Salaita is the Israeli attack on Palestine coming to our campus,” said a September 3 protest letter signed by 98 Jewish U of I students, faculty, staff and parents. In the weeks since his firing, nearly a dozen campus departments have voted no confidence in the chancellor. Close to 20,000 have signed a petition protesting his termination, a petition we support. Thousands of academics have pledged to boycott speaking engagements at U of I.

Our defense of Salaita is linked to our forthright defense of the Palestinians, who have suffered more than six decades of brutal oppression, dispossession and dire poverty at the hands of the Israeli capitalist state. In the face of Israel’s barbarity in Gaza, as Marxists we took a side militarily in defense of Hamas, which runs Gaza, without giving an iota of political support to that reactionary Islamic fundamentalist outfit. Defend the Palestinian people!

In condemning the latest attack on Gaza, Salaita has aimed his fire not only at the Zionist rulers and the U.S. and other Western imperialists, but also at Arab monarchs, the Islamic reactionaries of ISIS and the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank under Israel’s thumb. During our subscription drive, Workers Vanguard teams from Chicago have met a number of students who defend Salaita because they are in solidarity with his defense of the Palestinians. “If they’re going to deny this would-be professor to teach here,” said a U of I junior, “what would come next?”

The administration’s witchhunters are particularly incensed by Salaita’s statement that he wished Zionist settlers in the West Bank “would go missing.” In fact, the ever-expanding Zionist settlements in the West Bank have increasingly ghettoized the native Palestinian population, from the walls surrounding the territory to the “bypass roads” and the military zones that are off-limits to the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of settlers, backed up by troops, routinely terrorize Palestinian residents. We say: All Israeli troops, settlers out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem!

Chancellor Wise justified Salaita’s firing on the ground that the use of profanity in his tweets violated academic “civility.” This is pretty rich coming from a campus administration that long insisted on retaining its racist “Chief Illiniwek” sports mascot despite protests from Native American groups. The reality is that Salaita is a victim of politically biased censorship in defense of the Zionists and their backers in the American ruling class. As it has for decades, Israel continues to play a key role in securing U.S. imperialist interests in the Near East.

Key to the campaign against Salaita is the classic slander that any criticism of Israel equals anti-Jewish bigotry, or even support to “terrorism.” In Salaita’s defense, Michael Rothberg, head of the university’s English department and director of its Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, wrote in an open letter to Wise: “The tweets that have been reproduced again and again in reports on this case are not expressions of antisemitism, but criticism of how charges of antisemitism are used to excuse otherwise inexcusable actions.” As Salaita himself put it, his attacks are on “the discourses of Zionism that cheapen anti-Semitism by likening it to principled stands against state violence.”

Salaita gave up a tenured teaching job at Virginia Tech after U of I offered him a position. In his academic career, Salaita has published half a dozen books, including Anti-Arab Racism in the USA, and numerous journal articles on Arab American literature, Palestine and Native American culture. Salaita is just the latest in a long list of faculty and students targeted by pro-Israel forces. Anti-Zionist writer Norman Finkelstein was hounded from his assistant professor position at DePaul University in 2007, shortly after a vicious campaign was incited against Columbia University professor Joseph Massad, a prominent advocate of Palestinian rights.

Many of Salaita’s defenders frame his case in terms of “academic freedom.” In fact, the universities have never been the “ivory towers” of intellectual freedom they claim to be. Through campus administrations, the capitalist ruling class runs the education system to serve bourgeois interests, including propagating bourgeois ideology and training the necessary administrative, technical and cultural personnel. The firing of Salaita illustrates how the administration enforces the political will of the bourgeoisie on campus. It also shows that, in academia as elsewhere, he who pays the piper calls the tune. A letter to Chancellor Wise from one business school alum who described himself as a “multiple 6-figure donor” with “quite a balance sheet,” threatened to end the gravy train if Salaita joined the faculty. Shortly after, Salaita was out of a job. Abolish the administration! For student/worker/teacher control of the universities!

We defend Salaita, Massad, Finkelstein and other targets of such witchhunts despite whatever differences they may have with our Marxist worldview. Against the Zionists and all forms of Arab nationalism and religious fundamentalism, we emphasize that a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where two peoples lay antagonistic claims to the same small piece of land, is not possible under capitalism. Every bourgeois “solution” either perpetuates the oppression of the Palestinians or envisions a reversal of the terms of oppression, denying national rights to the Israeli Jews. Our perspective is that of joint class struggle by Jewish and Arab workers, connected to working-class struggle to overthrow capitalist rule throughout the region. We fight for the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East—the only way to guarantee the national rights of the region’s myriad peoples. This perspective is integrally tied to the struggle for socialist revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast.