Sunday, September 14, 2014

College Refuses Reinstatement Of Anti-Israel Prof

The University of Illinois’s board of trustees voted 8-1 Thursday to reaffirm the college’s decision to revoke a job offer to a controversial academic after he made anti-Israel remarks on Twitter.

The vote hardly marks the end of the saga, however, as both protests and a possible lawsuit loom in the future.

Steven Salaita, who was slated to begin teaching at the school’s Department of Native American Studies this fall, drew ire over the summer when hundreds of anti-Israel tweets made during Israel’s recent Gaza incursion came to wider public attention.

Salaita suggested that Israel was “making anti-Semitism respectable” and said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should begin wearing a necklace made of Palestinian childrens’ teeth.

Facing an outcry from both the public and several donors, Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced that she was revoking her recommendation to the board of trustees. Thursday’s vote constituted an affirmation by the board of Wise’s decision.

Critics, including over thirty faculty members who released a letter supporting the decision, say that Salaita’s statements went well beyond valid political commentary into the realm of hate speech.

“Dr. Salaita’s public expressions of hatred and his public endorsement of violence have no place in the University of Illinois,” said the professors in a public letter.

Others, however, argue that Salaita is a victim of political censorship that has violated his free speech rights. In late August, 64 Illinois faculty published a letter demanding Salaita’s reinstatement, and over 1800 faculty at other schools have pledged to boycott the school if Salaita is not hired.


D.C. Sixth-Grade Teacher Has Students Compare Hitler, Bush

A D.C. sixth-grade teacher will apologize for an assignment that asked students to draw comparisons between former President George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

The McKinley Middle School teacher sent students home with a Venn diagram and asked them to compare and contrast Bush and Hitler.

At least one parent found it troubling on a number of levels. He told News4 he sees a certain lack of respect for the office of the president. And the instructions read "both men who abused their powers," which the parent said presents opinion as fact.

D.C. Public Schools released a statement late Wednesday saying the teacher has admitted poor judgment and will apologize to students. The statement explained the students are in a War and Peace unit in which they consider “when conflict is warranted.”

A letter sent to McKinley parents Thursday said the school would talk to students in the class about why a different assignment would have been more appropriate.  "The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) curriculum and guidance documents for teachers do not include what was suggested in this assignment," the letter reads.

The complete DCPS statement:

“The District of Columbia Public Schools provides teachers with an English-Language Arts curriculum that outlines the topics, texts, and standards to be taught within instructional units, while allowing teachers the flexibility to decide the best approach and day-to-day lessons for their students.

One of the units at the beginning of the year is about War and Peace, allowing students to explore different perspectives and determine when conflict is warranted, and when peace should prevail. This week, a DCPS teacher created a worksheet to assign as homework which asked students to compare and contrast President George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler, after reading two texts.

No DCPS curriculum materials suggest in any way that teachers should compare the texts in this manner or compare Hitler to any other individual. One text, “Fighting Hitler – A Holocaust Story" is part of the current suggested materials. The text about President Bush is not suggested as part of the current year’s curriculum, but was included last year in a separate unit. The teacher deeply regrets this mistake, and any suggestion to malign the presidency or make any comparison in this egregious way.

“The teacher admits to extremely poor judgment and short sightedness and will apologize to students. The school will also send a letter home to families explaining the incident and offering to address any additional questions should they arise.”


Stanford University Agitprop Press

What state of intellectual life have we reached in the United States when a reputable American university press – Stanford University Press – sponsors a blog about Israel and Gaza and publishes only one-sided essays critical of Israel?    Where is the traditional orientation to provide a fair range of balanced coverage or to stimulate enriched exchange?

The Stanford University Press blog and essays can be found here.   New essays are being added.

The “contribution” of these Stanford Press-sponsored essays to our understanding is that alleged “racism” explains or is “the foundation” of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.  Professor Joel Beinin of Stanford University shares this “powerful” and completely uncorroborated insight.  In the process, the good professor makes false charges, overreaches about the sources of Israeli response, as if the response came from the Israeli right only, and fails to consider counterclaims.

None of the essays at the blog – not a single one — mention Hamas (the Islamic Resistance) or its fascist agenda.  None mention the firing of thousands of rockets by Hamas into Israel.  The diversion of scarce concrete and other resources under Hamas rule in Gaza since 2009 to the construction of terror tunnels is not deemed a subject worthy of attention.  The effort by Hamas to cripple the airport of a neighboring sovereign state and halt air traffic is also somehow missed in this collection.

Ceasefires – willingness to permit them to protect civilian life?  You will not find anything here. Nothing is said to readers that might give them insight about Hamas’ behavior or the dynamics of Hamas as an organization.   Little is said to help understand why Egypt is suddenly on Israel’s side in this conflict.

Instead, readers are treated to at times thoughtful, but always handwringing, explorations of Palestinian suffering.    This is necessary to help us comprehend the terrible plight of the Palestinians.  For example, considerable focus is devoted to the limits on Palestinian movement in Gaza, where people are indeed confined in a population the size of Detroit during its heyday to “a city-sized prison scape.” Attention is rightly paid to enforced immobility and to real privation; readers of multiple viewpoints can sympathize.

But the causes of such enforced immobility, the nature of Hamas rule in the portion of Palestine it has arrogated to its tight control, the opportunities for Palestinians to have a say in their own lives under Hamas rule, the opportunities for Palestinians to shape their future – none of this is approached.  Are these things not important?  Is it not relevant that in the West Bank at the same time there was considerable economic development? True, nothing will avail fully until a negotiated peace is reached.

The efforts by Hamas to keep the population in their homes as human barriers to the Israeli incursion, regardless of the consequences, go unaddressed in this blog.  So too do the firing of rockets and the building of tunnel entrances and exits from within densely populated Palestinian civilian spaces.  Neither is the punishment of death addressed that is meted out to Palestinians who protest Hamas’ behavior: these poor people are executed as alleged Israeli collaborators.

I have gotten used to the kinds of elisions and silences in these kinds of essays.  According to such writers, Palestinians are a people on whom Israelis act.  They never act themselves; their organizations bear no responsibilities for what happens.  Some of their activities, like firing rockets, are not deemed worthy of mention.  The creation of networks of terror tunnels is skipped over.  Everything is rationalized as a response to occupation.  Nothing is relational, a product of interaction between two sides in historical context.  Instead, Israel does this, Israel causes that.  All this is remarkable coming from academics who are ostensibly sworn to deal fairly with complexity.

What does Stanford University Press have to say about this “service” it is providing to readers?  I’d like to hear the Press’ rationalizations about its new-found political commitment.  Is it appropriate for a University Press to sponsor one-sided political opinion?  Don’t we have opinion journals for that?  What does it do for the name of the university?  We shall see.


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