Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2014

The scum that rises around the Steven Salaita firing

Filed under: Academia,repression,Steven Salaita,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:06 pm

Having worked at Columbia University for 21 years I developed a real animosity toward the individuals and organizations trying to pressure my employer into silencing or firing pro-Palestinian professors. The first to come under fire was Edward Said. After him came the people in the MEALAC Department that he helped make famous: Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi and Rashid Khalidi. Barnard had the same problems. An online petition to deny Nadia Abu El Haj tenure went up after she wrote a book demonstrating how Israeli archaeologists helped to shore up the nation’s racial exclusiveness.

Although there are many reasons to dislike the presidents of Columbia University and Barnard, their commitment to academic freedom is second to none. When Edward Said became target of the Israel lobby for throwing rocks at an IDF watchtower, Lee Bollinger said that this was his protected free speech right. Imagine that! Using actual physical violence rather than offensive tweets was still not enough to get him fired.

Columbia University, I should add, was also very principled when it came to “back office” nobodies like me. On three different occasions assholes contacted the university for things that I said on the Internet that made Steven Salaita’s tweets look like Hallmark Greeting cards by comparison. And each time there was never any question about being disciplined, let alone fired. On one occasion the ombudsman told me that it would be a good idea to get a non-Columbia email account if I wanted to be a flame-thrower (my word, not hers). That’s how I ended up as lnp3 at panix.com

In some ways, the people who are open supporters of Israel like Cary Nelson don’t get me as worked up as those who pretend to be neutral observers. These individuals are the real scum, writing newspaper articles or blog posts taking the administration’s side while trying to conceal their obvious bias. Each day as I check to see if there’s anything new about Salaita on Google, I continue to be struck by the gall of the commentators who are trying to drive the shiv into his back. (As opposed to his tweet about driving a shiv into Jeffrey Goldberg’s article.)

Let me share with you what I have seen, in chronological order. You may want to put on a surgical mask to block the bacteria that floats from the people under inspection, especially from the lawyers (you know what Shakespeare said about them.)

Steven Lubet

This Northwestern law professor wrote an article titled “Professor’s tweets about Israel crossed the line” that appeared in the August 14th Chicago Tribune. Lubet says that his tweets should not be an obstacle to his being hired at the U. of Illinois but uses his article mostly to libel Salaita as calling for Jeffrey Goldberg to be knifed when he was referring to an article he had written, etc. Lubet, like Nelson, affects a “free speech” posture saying “I worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Nazis-in-Skokie case in the 1970s, and I would gladly do so again.” Right. Love me, I am a liberal.

As it turns out, Lubet did have a dog in this race. He is a founding member of “The Third Narrative”, a group that represents itself as being for a two-state solution but adds that “We reject all attempts to undermine or diminish academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, including those cases associated with the Israel-Palestine debate.” Other founding members include Eric Alterman, Michael Walzer, Todd Gitlin and –you guessed it—Cary Nelson.

In his brilliant exposé of Cary Nelson, Phan Nguyen delivered the goods on “The Third Narrative”:

Although ostensibly described as taking a middle ground between “two competing narratives on the Middle East—Israeli and Palestinian,” TTN was launched a year ago and designed to “counter anti-Israel bias on the far left.” Thus TTN is geared primarily toward attacking the pro-BDS left and rarely critiques the pro-Israeli right. TTN even distributes a booklet called “Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel.”

This is a common anti-BDS tactic that I discuss elsewhere, where the goal is to drive “a wedge between progressive values and the BDS movement,” in the words of a guidebook from the Israel Action Network (another organization that Nelson has worked with).

Jonathan Adler

On August 17th Adler, the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve, referred readers to the arguments of Hoffman, the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School, on why the administration was in its right in “rescinding” its offer to Salaita, couched entirely in contract law minutiae. He cited the bottom line of Hoffman’s findings:

Why am I so skeptical when Mike Dorf is not? I think it’s largely because I’ve read alot of promissory estoppel cases, and a lot of promissory estoppel articles. And the consensus is that over the last generation, promissory estoppel has waned as a theory of recovery. As Bob Hillman famously concluded, it’s a “remarkably unsuccessful” cause of action, which, in my experience, is brought largely in weak cases as a last-ditch shot to push through to discovery and thus motivate settlement. I think that most contracts professors spend time on the doctrine these days largely because it’s so darn fun — the facts are wonderful! — but not because it’s a regular part of the business lawyer’s arsenal. Promissory estoppel cases are losers. This case would be a loser.

It turns out that Adler is a regular contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy, a website that migrated to the Washington Post in January 2014. Hence Adler’s appearance there. Here’s what MediaMatters  says about the marriage made in hell:

On January 21, The Washington Post announced that it had entered into a partnership with The Volokh Conspiracy, a blog that has operated since 2002 and largely focuses on legal issues but has strayed into other areas, including climate denialism. The Post praised the blog in its announcement of the agreement, calling it a “must-read source [that] will be a great addition to the Post’s coverage of law, politics and policy.” In his first official post, the blog’s founder, Eugene Volokh, revealed that the Post granted him “full editorial control.”

The move was celebrated by right-wing media outlets such as the American Spectator, which praised Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for highlighting a blog that provides legal commentary “from a [generally] libertarian or conservative perspective,” writing, “Perhaps it should stand to reason that a man who made a fortune offering people choices, should offer the same alternatives to his readership. What a novel concept in today’s news atmosphere.” TownHall editor Conn Carroll cited the acquisition as evidence that Bezos was “clearly moving” the Post “in a libertarian direction.”

So you might say that Steven Salaita’s firing is being defended in a newspaper funded by your Amazon.com purchases. The bastards have us coming and going.

Joyce Tolliver and Nick Burbules

These are a couple of U. of Illinois professors who have defended Salaita’s firing in the News-Gazette, a local paper that has been in the forefront of the witch-hunt. They write:

The other questionable assumption of the current debate is that the university’s action violates Salaita’s academic freedom. But the principle of academic freedom is not an absolute, open-ended license; the AAUP’s own statement on principles of academic freedom emphasizes that faculty are also bound by the standards of professional ethics: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, (and) should show respect for the opinions of others ….” Salaita’s comments raise legitimate questions about the limits of academic freedom.

So, who the hell are these people, you might ask. Well, to give you an idea of how committed they are to the rights of professors versus an obviously capricious administration, they are the people behind the “No Faculty Union at Illinois” website. A Wikipedia entry on Burbules states:

Professor Burbules has led the fight to prevent unionization of faculty (including non-tenure track faculty) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Burbules co-authored a 2014 open letter opposing faculty unionization; the letter rejected in principle the notion of fair share, that those workers who receive the benefits of a democratically created and elected trade union ought to pay their fair share of the union’s expenses. Without some semblance of fair share, no union can survive—workers will become free riders and take the benefits without paying for them, as the union gradually loses its leverage for lack of voluntary contributions, and eventually collapses.

Just the kind of people to be relied upon when a witch-hunt is brewing–if you are the administration trying to get rid of trouble-makers.

Spiked Online

This is the electronic magazine of a group of people in Britain that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s. Originally known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, they put out a print magazine titled Living Marxism that took ultra-contrarian positions on a number of questions. For example, they wrote in favor of fox-hunting, smoking cigarettes in restaurants, nuclear power, and GMO crops—all in the name of Karl Marx.

In the 1990s, they morphed into Spiked Online after dropping the Marxism thing. They did hold on to the contrarianism, however, as this assault on Steven Salaita should bear out:

If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised #Gaza.’

This ugly, anti-Semitic tweet is just one in a long line sent by the American academic and pro-Palestinian activist, Steven Salaita. His response to the kidnapping in June of three Israeli teenagers was typically forthright: ‘You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.’ More recently he informed his Twitter followers: ‘Zionists: transforming “anti-Semitism” from something horrible into something honourable since 1948.’

Salaita is one of the contributors to The Imperial University, a book which makes a consistent case for BDS and the censoring of all connections with Israeli universities, which I reviewed in this month’s spiked review of books. The various authors argue that academic freedom, an overrated concept, is a mere tool employed by the liberal elite to patronise and neuter voices of dissent within the academy. How ironic, then, that Salaita, a man all too happy to ride roughshod over the academic freedom of Israeli lecturers and researchers, should be outraged when his own academic freedom is threatened.

This is even more noxious than anything that rolled off of Cary Nelson’s tongue. The article was written by one Joanna Williams, the author of “Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought.” She has also written articles denying that rape is a problem in British universities and affirming that the pay gap between men and women is ancient history.

You can’t make this shit up.


  1. Great post, as have been your other recent ones on this subject.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 19, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

  2. So you want to promote academic freedom in this case but you’re fine with Salaita’s position against freedom of speech generally (ie. censorship via banning any pro Israeli speech on campuses)?

    I’m not pro Israel by any means, but the only way I was able to develop my own position was to listen to arguments from both sides. Salaita wants to eliminate the free speech that made this possible but cries when his own speech rights are violated.

    Looks like spiked is right on the money. They’re wrong quite a bit but at least they are consistent defenders of free speech.

    Comment by Xiaoyu — August 20, 2014 @ 7:35 am

  3. What is “primary estoppal?” If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone just made it up.

    Also–when did Salaita interfere with anybody else’s freedom of speech? This seems a very Nazi-like bit of twisted logic, especially given the fact that hasbara is the only discourse on Israel/Palestine that can be uttered in the U.S. at present without physical danger to the utterer.

    Comment by George Bates — August 20, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

  4. Everyone is free but some have more freedom than others!

    If Xiaoyu really was interested in ‘free speech’ then he wouldn’t assume what we have now constitutes ‘free speech’.

    True advocates of ‘free speech’ would be withering critics of existing society. I suspect that Xiaoyu is actually a determined enemy of free speech.

    You can’t set up the term ‘free speech’ as a commandment handed down by god anyway, it has to be seen in context. So in the context of fighting for the rights of Palestinians some people think we should boycott all things Israeli (I support this view incidentally) but whether you think it right or wrong it is not right to test it against the principle of ‘free speech’, like it is some giant immovable edifice. Context is everything!

    “the only way I was able to develop my own position was to listen to arguments from both sides”

    Fair enough but there is far far more to it than this I hope you will agree. Just listening to 2 sides of an argument (it must be questioned if an argument ever has 2 sides incidentally), will not develop anything other than possibly filling your head with 2 biased views!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 20, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

  5. “Also–when did Salaita interfere with anybody else’s freedom of speech?”

    My guess is when he advocated BDS and vis a vi demanded that people arguing in favor of of Israel not be allowed to associate with the university let alone speak in favor of it.

    “Also–when did Salaita interfere with anybody else’s freedom of speech? This seems a very Nazi-like bit of twisted logic, especially given the fact that hasbara is the only discourse on Israel/Palestine that can be uttered in the U.S. at present without physical danger to the utterer.”

    Like most of the world I live outside of the US. Believe it or not America is only one part of the earth and it’s population is only a small portion of the people on the planet. So I can’t speak on your media. If it’s problematic it seems the solution there too would be to push for more free speech, not less.

    According to history I’ve read the American communist party supported laws that restricted fascist parties only to see those laws applied against the CP. There’s a lesson there that you obviously haven’t learned.

    “You can’t set up the term ‘free speech’ as a commandment handed down by god anyway, it has to be seen in context. So in the context of fighting for the rights of Palestinians some people think we should boycott all things Israeli (I support this view incidentally) but whether you think it right or wrong it is not right to test it against the principle of ‘free speech’, like it is some giant immovable edifice. Context is everything!”

    This sounds like something out of Lenin’s playbook, perfected by Joseph Stalin. Only speech for certain people, who are on the right side of the argument. We’ve seen where that goes. I’d rather not repeat.

    Speech is either free or it isn’t. Censorship is never right and never wins arguments. Almost a century of suppression of the church in the USSR and it sprang right back into action when the state collapsed.

    If an idea is manifestly wrong it will become obvious to people presented with the facts, as it has with Israel for most of the world during these attacks.

    If you want a world of thinking people you need to present them with opposing views and allow them to work things out with their minds.

    That’s why Marx was a fierce advocate of free speech.

    If people can’t think and reason and act in their own best interests then socialism is doomed anyway.

    Comment by Xiaoyu — August 21, 2014 @ 2:49 am

  6. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/08/academicpolitical-context-salaita.html/comment-page-1

    Louis, I hope you don’t mind if I post links to a sample of letters and articles that I’ve written over the 16 years I’ve lived in Urbana/Champaign and struggled with the local Jewish and campus establishments. Even a place as relatively quiescent as UIUC has summoned an enormous amount of discipline and repression from the usual suspects. I have, however, in the peculiar media environment of a “small town,” been able to make myself heard in the daily newspaper, alternative weekly/monthly, student newspaper, community radio, and cable access TV.

    A lot of ground work has been laid for an organized reaction to this case and to Gaza, and it will be interesting to see what happens when school starts next week. On the other hand, nothing might happen–it’s hard to predict.


    David Green

    Comment by David Green — August 21, 2014 @ 4:04 am

  7. “Only speech for certain people, who are on the right side of the argument. We’ve seen where that goes. I’d rather not repeat.”

    You are describing the system we are now living under, never mind the USSR!

    Marx talked about class power and the ruling ideas being those of the ruling class. His freedom of the press was a means to an end.
    Allowing everyone in theory to say what they want within certain limits does not in itself deliver free speech. Looking at it this way only looks at one aspect of the totality. And to think you are the one who wants to hear both sides of the argument!

    My standard bearer for free speech is not the USSR. But the comment of yours above shows that you are under the illusion we have a society of free speech. This shows you are in fact an enemy of free speech. You assume a society where everyone is free but some are freer than others is a world in which free speech can flourish, well it can’t.

    And anyway I don’t think you are even talking about free speech here but 2 academics making arguments, which isn’t free speech as the only people talking freely are the academics and I presume you are listening to the academics because you think they have specialised knowledge that make their speech of more value that 2 ordinary Jo’s!

    In the case of decades long thievery and murder by the racist Israeli state against the Palestinians some have decided that the tactic of boycotts should be tried. I think this is correct and I don’t think concerns of freedom of speech comes into it.

    You have clearly closed your ears to the argument for a boycott, you have allowed the immovable edifice of free speech to deny free speech, I guess!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — August 21, 2014 @ 4:55 pm

  8. Xiaoyu:

    Merely advocating boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions is not interfering with anybody’s free speech. It’s only speech. Zionists advocate murdering Arab women and children every day, but you do not consider this a violation of anybody’s rights. How come?

    By your logic, all advocacy of strikes, massive protests that may impede traffic, or other measures of protest and activism constitutes an impermissible limitation on your right of free speech. Any advocacy of divestiture is also a violation of your First Amendment rights. So all unions, the Civil Rights movement, the environmental movement, the peace movement, and all movements against capitalism, in your view, are violations of your right to free speech.

    By your “reasoning,” advocating sanctions against any country logically also must be a violation of your First Amendment rights.

    How is it then that Zionists can advocate sanctions all day long or publish reams of theological nonsense calling for the indiscriminate murder of Arab women and children and in your view merely be exercising free speech?

    On top of this, your remedy is to banish anybody on Salaita’s side from making a livelihood anywhere in the United States? Shades of the Third Reich.

    Presumably you would also agree that any law or ruling limiting the amount of money that rich people can spend on what we laughingly call “politics” in the Amurrican cesspit is also a violation of free speech.

    Who do you think you’re fooling?

    Your reasoning is nothing but a twisted and sarcastic Nazi parody of logic. The only one here who is attacking free speech is you.

    Comment by Bill Shales — August 21, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

  9. Wow, some incredibly stinky red herrings thrown in these comments. If you think issues should be debated in the open and that censorship is wrong then you support the murderous Israeli state?

    Does not compute.

    You can say many things but one thing rings true: there is free speech and there is everything else. If speech is restricted, even a little bit, then it is not free. That’s purely by the definition of the word free, an antonym of restricted or regulated.

    Personally I could care less about university professors. Seems much worse things to worry about like bloody miners strikes in Peru as we speak.

    You know what came out of university professors in Peru? The Pol Potist shining path!

    Comment by pram — August 22, 2014 @ 5:29 am

  10. Pram: WTF?

    Comment by smooney567898@yahoomail.com — August 24, 2014 @ 5:38 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: