Adonis Diaries


Calhoun College: Named after a prodigious slave-trader

“It was a picture of slaves that just—you know, as soon as you look at it, it just hurts. You feel it in your heart.”

Steven Salaita posted

Many are sharing the story of Corey Menafee, the Yale University dishwasher who got fired for breaking a stained glass window depicting slavery.

Calhoun College, where the picture hung, is named after a prodigious slave-trader (like much at Yale).

Like many of you, I have at least a distant sense of what Menafee was feeling. He explains, “And I don’t know, something inside me said, you know, that thing has to come down. You know, it’s a picture—it was a picture that just—you know, as soon as you look at it, it just hurts. You feel it in your heart.”

Menafee perfectly describes what so many of us feel when we see yet another person choked or beaten or murdered by policemen who will, we know (because we’ve seen it hundreds of times), walk free and claim their pensions;

When the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) deploys cluster bombs and white phosphorous and incinerates blocks of residential areas, leaving entire families dead in one another’s embrace;

When the machines of technocratic warfare drone aloft and drop bombs on funerals and wedding parties; When Indigenous peoples the world over are forced off their lands by national forces in the employ of multinational corporations.

Sometimes you have to be loud, crude, disorderly.

Sometimes you have to break shit–with words, footsteps, or broomsticks.

Sometimes you have to lose your job.

Sometimes you’re just tired of the totality, the ascendancy, the ubiquity of oppression, and the complicity of its dapper and decorous guardians.

Sometimes you exhaust all means of exercising control.

We’re too conditioned to play by rules designed to restrict the possibilities of freedom. In the end, “dialogue” is just another liberal defense of private property.

The feeling Menafee describes will always have more power than appeals to patience or civilized norms of etiquette.

Menafee needs to be reinstated (with back pay and a raise); and Yale should rename the damn college after Menafee.

Palestinians and the anxiety of existence

How do we communicate with people who have deep emotional attachment to the idea of Israel?

Some folks asked for a copy of my comments at SOAS and Oxford for Israeli Apartheid Week, so I decided to publish the talk. For better or worse, here it is:
Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita is the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut.  His latest book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.  Other posts by

Read a thought-provoking essay by Steven Salaita that looks at the question: how do we communicate with people who have deeply emotional attachment to the idea of Israel? He answers in part, &#8220…

This evening I’m going to talk about the challenges of talking about Zionism.

 I begin with a question I often hear in some variation when people discuss Jews and Palestinians: how do we communicate with folks who have deeply emotional responses to criticism of Israel?

The question is difficult because to even attempt an answer is to validate lethargic impulses.  (Note: neither the questioner nor the question is necessarily lethargic; rather, lethargy necessarily exists in any impulse for simple answers to ambiguous questions.)

Here’s how it works: in conversations about Palestine, somebody weaned on the mythologies of Israel as a site of cultural redemption struggles to accept or assimilate the rendition of Israel as a mere nation-state (an apartheid state) engaged in the violations of international law that attend any colonial or imperial power.  This reluctance assumes multiple forms:

“But Israel…”

“What about the…?”

“My entire life I was taught…”

“How can we…?”

These preambles lead to the same predicates: the struggle with an existential crisis of both form and content.  The questioner is yet unable to match the idea of Jewish salvation with the reality of Israel.

The reality of Israel disrupts the succor of modernity, putting the vileness of colonization into deep conflict with the comfort of redemption.

The discomfort thus produced is valuable.  Myth and matter need to conflict if perplexed inheritors of Zionism are to be redeemed of its violence.

The questioner intervenes not to make sense of the world but to be assured that the world can still make sense.  Israel’s inherent goodness and indispensability are critical to his political cosmology.

To question these narratives is to unsettle a range of commonplaces.  The questioner’s intensity pivots on a vital subtext: can I exist in this world?

This kind of conversation occurs in personal and public settings. I’ve spent lots of time assuring mortified interlocutors that I have no interest in expunging them from the earth, that in fact I’m rather partial to the idea of sharing a nation with them.

They don’t generally find it convincing.  The reticence is perfectly sensible. They can take a political enemy at his word or fall back on years of indoctrination assuring them that, given half the chance, Arabs will toss Jews into the sea and ululate while they drown.

Sometimes the inquiries are tenderly rendered, at other times hostile. They exhibit different gradations of empathy and comprehension, but they ultimately demand the same outcome: an assurance that the Jewish people will survive. (What survival of the Jews has to do with a colonial Israel?)

Survival in this instance is indivisible from Israel’s billion-dollar war machinery.

But it’s not the native’s duty to assure the settler’s comfort. It’s a rather ambitious demand, anyway. I vigorously support Jewish survival and success, but I don’t have the power to implement my political desires.

Like anybody else, I can only attempt to enact conditions that might make the world more hospitable for all its inhabitants. It requires huge groups of people working together to effect that desire across or within societies. Shocking Zionists out of their ethnonationalist stupor is one way to help.

Doing so isn’t simply a matter of readjusting the colonizer’s attitude. There’s also the pressing need to assure the survival of the Palestinians, who, as we’re so often compelled to forget, suffer the pain of colonization, sustain genocidal threats by mainstream Israeli politicians, remain starved and entrapped in the Gaza Strip, and exist as hobgoblins in Israel’s peculiar insecurities.

To make Palestinians human, composed of brain, epidermis, muscle, and bone, and given to silliness, compassion, beauty, contradiction, brilliance, ambivalence, strength, and insecurity, is to simultaneously undermine the most basic aspiration of the Zionist project, the creation of a state defined by its monopoly of an ethno-religious identity accessible through accidents of biology.

It is critical to remember amid the hand-wringing about Arabs destroying Israel and displacing its inhabitants that Israel has already destroyed Palestine and displaced the Arabs.

Israel’s existential fears project its actual history. The antidote is not yet another displacement, but neither can we move past the sorrow of the dispossessed. Such propositions are always more pragmatic from the point of view of the settler.

The settler’s pragmatism has a nagging ability to make the native disappear.

And though I can be patient with sincere inquests about the preservation of Jewish peoplehood, even if the point is actually to preserve Zionism, I am less sanguine about many of the tactics that focalize Jews and Israelis to the detriment of others invested in Palestine—especially those who have right to call themselves Indigenous.

Various discourses in defense of Israel—almost uniformly defending the idea of Israel—purport to complicate convention but produce a severely conventional outcome: the reduction of Israel-Palestine to a fundamental question of Jewishness.

Consider the primary forms of remonstration anybody speaking in support of Palestine encounters: accusations of anti-Semitism; demands to aver Israel’s right to exist or to disavow Israel’s destruction; the association of Palestinians with Hitler; prognostications of a second Holocaust; fear of binationalism (that is, actual democracy); disgust at an atavistic Arab and Muslim desire to harm Jews.

While these approaches seem concerned with Israel’s survival, they actually serve to expedite Palestine’s disappearance.

The very notion of an Israel that survives the pressure of decolonization reinforces the disintegration of Palestine, both as a geography and a site of emotional or intellectual engagement. While Zionists fret about Israel’s right to exist, Palestinians endure the violence of nonexistence.

It isn’t just a lack of land that circumscribes the Palestinian’s existence.

Identifying with Palestine can produce a constant state of concealment, a clandestine passage into the deterritorialized presence of a dangerous identity.

Where, then, do Palestinians exist?

In worldly geographies. In disreputable alliance with other wretched denizens of premodernity. In visions of return and restitution. In the sustenance of olives and legumes. In village ruins dotting the Holy Land. In spaces the colonizer can never enter.

In the end, though, and against great odds, we merely exist.

As a result, we haunt the imagination of our oppressor. We have made good use of our existence, for we can be found wherever racism, colonization, and plutocracy are challenged. We must, anyway, always attempt to find these places.

In turn, we win no major awards unless we facilitate our own dispossession.

We are absent from the ranks of regular commenters for corporate publications. Our politics must die for our livelihoods to survive. We constantly regroup after experiences of persnickety exclusion. Returning home is a painful adventure.

Many of us aren’t allowed to try, disapproved of even having the opportunity to be harassed by teenage occupation soldiers.

Yet a simple fact remains. Israel occupies a limited geography, but Palestine exists everywhere. Palestine’s existence as a universal aspiration to freedom inspires a great deal of Zionist disquiet.

Colonial projects simultaneously generate overconfidence and insecurity. The perturbed Zionist needs reassurance that he will survive because the Palestinian has retained claim to Palestine, the Zionist’s salvation. The greatest mistake of Zionism was its belief that it could produce a society unaffected by the one it endeavored to replace.

Israel has the advantage of international recognition, a military, trade agreements, nuclear weapons, diplomatic relations, and UN membership, which provide geopolitical legitimacy.

But it will always be burdened by its failure to expunge Palestinians from history.  That burden will ultimately overwhelm it. I suspect that Zionists afflicted by existential anxiety know this and in turn project onto Palestinians the failure of Zionism to fulfill its grandiose promises.

A hard truth exists, however, and we needn’t be shy to speak it: the existential frailty of those weaned on Zionism isn’t a valid reason to stop condemning Israel. It’s a nation-state, not an abstraction.

Consider: since the start of the second intifada in 2000, Israel has killed 1,977 children.

Nearly 500 of those children were eight or younger. Over 200 children currently suffer Israeli military administrative detention. At certain points in the past ten years, the number has exceeded 300. From April 2004 to February 2013, twenty Palestinian children were forced into service as human shields. Various human rights groups documented the practice during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip.

(More than 60% of Palestinian youth entered the revolving doors of prisons with no charges)

Since the end of Protective Edge, though the assault can’t in any meaningful way be said to have ended, Israel has killed over 600 Palestinians, 110 of them children.

I don’t share these numbers for shock value. They illustrate that while we’re often forced to consider Zionism in the abstract, its victims experience it as a physical reality. That Israel directs so much of its violence at children illuminates the longstanding impulse to halt Palestinian life at its inception.

Israel recently announced the seizure of 370 acres in the Jordan Valley. When the Israeli government seizes land, it justifies the theft on ideological grounds, but treats the land as a commodity.

New land means more water, more construction contracts, more weapons purchases, and more electoral posturing. It enhances the colonizer’s agriculture and industry. Palestinian land is the basis of Israel’s occupation economy.

Their land pilfered by rapacious settlers, their farms sealed by steel and concrete, their villages constricted by colonial jurisprudence, their humanity reduced to color-coded identities, I again ask: where do Palestinians exist?

Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Where can Palestinians exist?”

We have survived all climates and topographies, but no people is whole deprived of its ancestral land.

The Zionist’s existential anxieties linger precisely because he occupies a land whose history has been retrofitted to inform a self-validating impulse that can never actually validate his tenuous colonial existence, and that certainly can never convince the native to offer such validation, on which the colonizer’s self-esteem relies.

The Palestinian has no such problem. The Palestinians’ problem is simple: their land has been stolen. Resolving this problem doesn’t require the colonizer’s validation.

All of this can be understood through quick analysis of stones.

Yes, stones—chunks of demolished hillside, construction detritus, pieces of granite smoothed over by millennia of wind and water. That analysis can be metaphorical, but even their geological qualities tell us all we need to know about the colonizer’s psychology.

In September 2015, at the behest of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel increased the severity of penalties for Palestinian stone-throwers. (Israeli settlers, on the other hand, can throw firebombs into children’s bedrooms without much hassle.)

As is common in Israeli jurisprudence, stone-throwing is a crime that inspires collective punishment. This zealousness leads to all kinds of human rights violations, many committed against children—and many affecting people who weren’t tossing stones in the first place.

Israel’s supporters say that stone-throwing can lead to death and is therefore worthy of serious punishment. But are stones dangerous? In the most technical and unimaginative sense, probably. However, if we’re going to reduce a project of ethnic cleansing, illegal settlement, and military occupation to the minuscule chance that a soldier or a settler will be harmed by an act of resistance by the native, then we forfeit all right to be taken seriously.

I don’t want to bog down in the stupidity of comparing the actions of the colonizer and the colonized. That a category of colonizer even exists should end that discussion the moment it begins. Israel’s mere presence is a continuous act of violence.

It’s better to look at the symbolic conditions informing the Zionist’s anxiety about stones.

Do Palestinians throw stones as a weapon of warfare? Maybe. Sometimes. They’re more often a weapon of imagination, emblems of a dogged refusal to submit or disappear. No matter the intent when a Palestinian throws a stone, the Israeli perceives it as an act of rejection. It is an accurate perception. This act of rejection, not any perceived danger, provokes the Zionist’s disdain.

Think about the moment in 2000 when Edward Said tossed a stone from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. The stone didn’t come close to hitting anything—the nearest object was an Israeli military watchtower—and the episode would have passed without interest had a photographer not furtively captured it. The photographer was smart. His picture became a sensation, launching a hysterical news cycle about Said’s genocidal tendencies and renewing demands for his termination as a professor at Columbia University.

But what about the military watchtower? It’s the normative object in the scene. It wasn’t threatened by Said’s stone, but it threatens thousands of people. It’s the apotheosis of colonization and militarism. It houses soldiers whose bullets travel at a much greater speed than Said’s manual projectile.

Said was well aware of the ridiculousness of the outrage, its sanctimony and disingenuousness. He noted that he had joined in “the spirit of the place that infected everyone with the same impulse, to make a symbolic gesture of joy that the occupation [of southern Lebanon] had ended.”

The only inalienable possession of the native is the moral burden of violence. The colonizer owns everything else. Thus the military watchtower is an afterthought—or not even a thought at all beyond its existence as a backdrop to Said’s unconscionable action.

Or consider the mural hanging in the student center at York University in Toronto. It depicts a bulldozer about to plow an olive tree, while a Palestinian watches with stones cupped behind his back.

Paul Bronfman, of the famous Canadian bootlegging family, threatened to withdraw his support of the university unless the mural was taken down. York refused to remove it. Bronfman made good on his threat.

It’s worth noting that Bronfman’s support went beyond monetary donations; he runs a film production company—there’s a large movie industry in Toronto—and declared that he would no longer allow York students use of his studios or equipment, nor would he continue an internship program with the university.

Bronfman is aware that nobody suffers from this controversy more than students.

He was unmoved, though, blaming his choice to pull funding on York’s faculty and president. They all, he declared, share guilt for the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Zionist reaction to the painting is notable not because of politics—of course Zionists dislike the message of the piece—but because it shows that ethnonationalism negatively affects acumen.

The colonial gaze is incapable of identifying power anywhere but in the stone, the object that threatens Israel’s covetousness, as represented by the bulldozer. The entire painting is reducible to a miniscule earthly extraction that supersedes all other scenery.

It’s the stone. It has to be the stone.

There’s no other way to understand the image if the viewer is beholden to a colonial fetish. The bulldozer is a mere accoutrement to a serene landscape interrupted by the Palestinian’s irrational violence. The Zionist must ignore it. His ignorance is active and vigorous.

It is always this way in geographies of settler colonization. The monuments of settlement, even those erected for the purpose of inflicting harm, disappear into a backdrop of structural normativity. The native’s movements, in contrast, assume a super-political immediacy.

Thus the overemphasis on stones in the Zionist’s paranoid cosmology.

The stones assume a primordial importance, but never the bombs and bulldozers that transform structures into rubble. The stones symbolize conflict, but never the land from which stones are excavated.  The act of stone-throwing, no matter its intent, always signifies an unearthing of history that the colonizer is deeply invested in suppressing.

In fact, there is little by way of Zionist activism, a corporate affair more accurately described as astroturfing, that isn’t fundamentally an articulation of existential anxiety.

Zionists have spent decades shutting down anything to do with Palestine. It’s not just overtly political events, speeches and activism and rallies and the like. It’s anything that endeavors to show Palestinians as a discrete people with history, culture, emotions, and aspirations, anything, in other words, that merely renders the Palestinians human—art exhibitions, children’s debke, film and literary festivals, music performances.

The preferred vocabulary of suppression has long been “balance.”

The idea is that a so-called “pro-Palestinian” speaker or exhibit must be countered—or, more accurately, moderated—by a so-called “pro-Israel” speaker or exhibit.

(These categories are misleading.  “Pro-justice” and “pro-ethnocracy” would be more accurate even though they make little sense without an understanding of their context.)

But there’s nothing balanced about this structure. The Zionist supposedly devoted to fairness doesn’t seek balance; he seeks oversight.

Balance is a silly overture that precludes intellectual honesty. No serious thinker ever proposes balance, and no thinking person seriously entertains the proposition. Let’s therefore explore what it means in relation to Zionism’s tenuous disposition.

Palestinian celebration of life inspires the dissolution of Israel’s ethnocratic aspirations. Balance is vital because suppression provides Israel its sustenance. Balance, in other words, forestalls the realization of an afterlife to Zionism.

Suppressing anything Palestine can be seen as an attempt to preserve a political identity.

If we understand BDS, for instance, as an articulation of Palestinian aspirations to dignity and freedom, then its delimitation through the force of state power—courts, coercion, criminalization, and so forth—makes sense as an impulse to ensure Zionism’s continued survival.

The survival of the ideology, in turn, enables the perpetuation of its proponents.

Yes, Zionists try to shut down BDS because it threatens change and exposes Israel’s dismal human rights record. But they also detest BDS because it endangers their predominance as cultural and political consumers in a marketplace they have long dominated.

Palestinians have so long been limited to peripheries of hostility or exoticism in Zionist symbology that their emergence as agents in the public forum has enacted a type of self-reflection incompatible with the demands of ethnonationalism.

So let us return to the original question: what to do when somebody expresses a visceral attachment to the idea of Israel. There is no universal response, but we can deploy a basic strategy: allow the Zionist’s internal conflict to exist.

In fact, exacerbate it. That internal conflict isn’t an imperfection to be ameliorated, but a failure of imagination to be overcome. It’s not a matter of assigning blame to a person raised on an ethnonational narrative. Anybody committed to justice has to unlearn reactionary narratives, whether instilled by parents, teachers, peers, clergy, executives, politicians, directors, writers, or broadcasters, or all of them in tandem.

When somebody expresses anxiety about Zionism’s probity, especially in a public setting, it is an indication that the person is thinking about something, considering new ways of approaching an issue, willing to risk acrimony in order to come to an answer. We ought to facilitate that process by rendering the attendant discomfort even more acute.

In the end, there is a truth of which anybody interested in the travails of the Holy Land ought to be aware: Palestine will continue to push inward from the colonial peripheries whose architecture weakens with each new war crime, act of repression, genocidal proclamation, uprooted olive tree, land grab, settlement bloc, home demolition, and mass imprisonment.

It is better to restructure the destruction of Palestine together, but its liberation ultimately doesn’t require anybody’s consent but that of the people seeking freedom.


What is this civility? This line that Salaita was not supposed to cross?

Did Salaita Cross the Line of ‘Civility’?

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

The case of Steven Salaita has been hotly debated both in and out of academic circles in the past few months.

Salaita is the Palestinian-American professor and scholar whose offer of a tenured teaching position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was rescinded by the school’s chancellor because of some very strongly worded tweets he published regarding Israel’s attack on Gaza this summer.

 posted this December 14, 2014 in The Stone

That attack followed a series of events that had heightened tension between the Israeli government and the Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza. Israel started the attack and culminated  by the Palestinians launching meagre rockets into Israel and then Israel’s mounting a huge aerial assault and ground invasion against Gaza.

On September 11 of this year, the university’s board of trustees voted to uphold the chancellor’s decision.

Why doesn’t it follow from supporting morally monstrous actions that one is oneself a moral monster?

While many of Salaita’s critics in the media accused him of anti-Semitism, the main issue seems to be — at least in the language of the university’s explanation of it’s action — whether Salaita’s tweets violated a norm of “civility” that is supposed to govern academic and political dispute (at least within the academy).

I am not concerned here with the question of whether or not it was right to rescind the offer; to my mind, it was wrong — a straightforward violation of intellectual and academic freedom. Rather, I want to explore the notion of “civility,” particularly as it relates to one of the controversial tweets.

Here is the tweet in question:

Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being.
11:46 PM – 8 Jul 2014

At that point, Israel had begun intensive bombing of Gaza, and quite a few civilians had been killed, including children. By the time a cease-fire went into effect in late August, according to the United Nations, more than 2,100 Palestinians had been killed, over two-thirds of them civilians, among whom almost 500 were children; 11,000 Palestinians were wounded, 20,000 homes were destroyed, and 500,000 people over all were displaced.

During this period 70 Israelis were killed, 64 of whom were soldiers, and one of whom was a child.

So, was this tweet an illegitimate breach of civility? I believe not in the end, yet I must confess to some initial ambivalence on the question.

Here is how I resolved that ambivalence.

First, let’s separate some issues. One question concerns a moral evaluation of Israel’s actions themselves, and the other concerns an evaluation of the moral character of those who supported what Israel did.

I myself am in complete agreement with Salaita about the first question. I can’t mount a full defense of this position here, but let me just say that careful attention to the actual sequence of events over the summer, alongside the vastly disproportionate violence visited on the trapped and totally vulnerable Gaza residents, renders the Israeli claim that they were acting in justifiable self-defense completely unreasonable.

Note that holding and expressing that opinion was not by itself supposed to be a breach of civility. Rather, it was taking the next step and publicly indicting the moral character of those who supported the bombing that was the culprit.

Next, we need to determine whether what he said in the tweet is true — on the assumption, again, that the bombing was itself morally condemnable — and, in addition, whether it was a breach of civility to say it.

Obviously, these two issues are intimately related. Imagine how you would react to someone who spouted overtly racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Would civil engagement over the question be the appropriate response?

Clearly, your judgment that you were dealing with a person of objectionable moral character would color your reaction as a decent person. Obviously, if Salaita had been tweeting instead about supporters of the 9/11 attacks as “awful human beings” no one would have been upset.

I locate the source of my initial ambivalence at precisely this point.

While I shared his moral outrage at Israel’s actions, I balked at taking the next step and severely indicting the character of those who disagreed. I resolved my ambivalence by reasoning my way to the following twofold conclusion regarding the claim in the tweet: The claim itself is not true, but it ought to be, and that is the deeper truth that legitimates the breach of civility.

Expressing moral outrage by intentionally breaching civility is part of the process by which social-political perspectives shift.

Why isn’t it true?

Why doesn’t it follow from supporting morally monstrous actions that one is oneself a moral monster?

Because the moral evaluation of character depends not only on what one does but also on the epistemic context in which one does it. In particular, we normally apply what we might call a “reasonable person” test.

If a reasonable person, given the information available to her, including the evaluative perspectives available to her, could act a certain way, then even if what she does is in fact morally condemnable, that condemnation doesn’t carry over to her character as well.

By the information available I just mean the obvious — what she’s likely to know about the facts of the situation.

But one brings more than just an opinion about the facts to bear in making a moral evaluation; one evaluates the facts from within a moral perspective, a system of values and a scheme of interpretation of the facts in light of those values. A person does not derive her moral perspective on her own, but develops it over time through her social interaction with parents, teachers, other role models and her wider social circle. This is why we judge racists today much more harshly than those who lived long ago; we expect more today.

Returning to Salaita’s tweet, we can now see why I claim it’s not true. Think about the average person who supported Israel’s attacks this summer. Someone who gets most of her information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the mainstream media, and generally identifies with the reigning ideology of current American political culture, will find severe moral condemnation of Israel’s actions difficult to accept.

When most people around you, people who in their daily lives exhibit relatively virtuous character, espouse a certain point of view, it is difficult to entertain the possibility that they are radically mistaken. To the extent we take this into account, we are led to let people off the hook, at least with respect to our evaluation of their character.

But then this brings me to the second part of my answer: It ought to be true. Or rather, it ought to have been true, and I look forward to the day in which it is true.

For if you let individuals off the hook in this case because they pass the reasonable person test, then you have to indict the social-political perspective from which such actions can seem moral and reasonable. No, these people aren’t awful, but what does it say about our society that we can support such an attack without being awful? What does it say that decent people can even entertain the kinds of excuses we hear (“but they were storing weapons near where those kids were playing”) without counting automatically as indecent?

I am reminded of something Daniel Ellsberg said in that wonderful documentary about the Vietnam War, “Hearts and Minds”: Speaking of the revelations about systematic government lying in the Pentagon Papers, he said that it was a tribute to the American people that our leaders felt that they had to lie to us and hide their horrendous actions; but it was no tribute to us that it was so easy.

In a related manner, I say, unfortunately, given the state of the general social-political atmosphere here about the conflicts in the Middle East, people can support United States and Israeli military attacks that cause terrible suffering and still be decent. But, I ask again, what does it say about us that this is so?

Not pretending to know what was behind Salaita’s tweets (I have never met him or corresponded with him about this issue), I can see two reasons for being so “uncivil” as to impugn his opponents’ moral character. First, there is just the need to express outrage at the state of our discussion on this matter.

While the people targeted by the tweet are not actually awful human beings, it’s about time we came to generally see things from the perspective from which they certainly seem to be. Having to listen to justifications for bombing children can wear you down, even if you know very well where it’s all coming from. (An op-ed by the Jewish actor and singer Theodore Bikel captures this sentiment well. )

But more important, expressing moral outrage in this way — intentionally breaching civility by refusing to merely engage in calm persuasion — is itself part of the very process by which social-political perspectives shift. If it ought to have been true that only awful human beings would support this attack, how do we move society toward that point? One way is reasoned argument, no doubt.

But it’s also important to exhibit the perspective, and not just argue for it; to adopt the perspective and provocatively manifest how things look from within it. When you do that, something like Salaita’s controversial tweet is likely to come out.

Joseph Levine is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he teaches and writes on philosophy of mind, metaphysics and political philosophy. He is the author of “Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness.”

Note: Levine opinion is convoluted and not convincing. Why the perpetrators of 9/11 could be labelled awful human beings and not the Israelis and those who supported the genocide in Gaza?

Why the US was permitted to blockade Iraq for 10 years and watch a million babies die for lack of milk and basic medicine before the US perpetrated another genocide in Iraq in 2003? Not a single Iraqi was involved in the 9/11 attack and Saddam was the main enemy of Al Qaeda.

Why another million of Iraqis have to die in the US invasion and babies being born disfigured from using depleted uranium bombs?

Why Iraqis have to suffer this calamity that has no end since 1991?

Why the Palestinian Salaita has no right to vent his utmost anger toward those who support genocide on his people?

Civility my ass. Salaita said what was the truth for most of the world community.

And the more people try their best to find excises to Israel the more Israel gets intransigent.

Don’t Bring up Occupied Palestinians in Polite Company? Or break the rule of civility?

In the US, and especially within the US Palestine solidarity movement, the biggest Israel-Palestine news since Gaza Genocide 3.0 (which, with Palestinians dying daily, whether from the effects of the siege or horrific wounds leftover from the attack, makes this genocide ongoing), is the unceremonious un-hiring of Professor Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois on the ostensible basis of his impolite presence on social media.

Salaita was hired by the University of Illinois’ American Indian Studies department, based on his contribution to the emerging field of comparative indigenous studies.

He was going to provide scholarly expertise on the comparative situation of colonized peoples in North America and Palestine.

As a result of his un-hiring, for example, Salaita notes that his “family has no income, no health insurance, and no home of our own. Our young son has been left without a preschool. I have lost the great achievement of a scholarly career: lifetime tenure with its promised protections of academic freedom.”

Heike Schotten (Ma’an News Agency) posted this Oct. 6, 2014

Incivility: On not Bringing up Occupied Palestinians in Polite Company

The short version is this:

Salaita, a tenured professor at Virginia Tech, signed a contract with the University of Illinois and had his new job all but in hand. Two weeks before the start of the semester, he was informed by Chancellor Phyllis Wise that she would not be forwarding his case to the Board of Trustees for approval.

Subsequent sleuthing revealed big donor pressure on both Wise and the Board to un-hire Salaita, with threats to turn off the money spigot unless he was removed.

Shockingly, Wise and the Board caved in.

This disgusting turn of events is one big pile up of injustices that is dizzying even to contemplate, much less sort through or analyze.

Just off the top of my academic head, this decision:

• Evacuates tenure of any real meaning.
• Renders Salaita unemployed in the near term and likely unemployable in the long term.
• Thumbs its nose at the Department who vetted Salaita’s hire.
• Disparages the knowledge, qualifications, and judgment of U of I faculty.
• Privileges the demands of wealthy donors over faculty expertise, institutional integrity, and shared university governance.
• Makes a complete mockery of academic freedom.

These are only the most obvious problems.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the next level of injustice, however — which isn’t about the ostensible “civility” Salaita was accused of lacking on Twitter.

It is rather about the content of his tweets, which were less impolite than they were critical of the Israeli state and its latest armed incursion into the Gaza Strip, a one-sided act of military aggression that resulted, most crudely, in the death of over 2,100 Palestinians (a full fourth of whom were children) and 11,000 injured.

And those donors?

They are supporters of Israel, who didn’t want someone with Salaita’s particular political views teaching the next generations of students at their alma mater.

To date, there has been plenty of attention paid to civility, the justificatory fig leaf for Salaita’s firing.

According to David Palumbo-Liu, civility is for suckers. Put a bit differently, Vijay Prashad notes that civility is the new term used by those in power to demand capitulation and compliance.

And yet this case is not primarily about speech, or academic discourse, or the upholding (or restricting) the freedom and civility of either.

The un-hiring of Salaita is part of the larger, national-level campaign being waged on US campuses against critics of Israel, be they faculty or student groups.

It is, in other words, part of the McCarthyist silencing tactics of the Israel lobby to curtail political critique on college campuses.

As Jakeet Singh has recently pointed out, there is another level of injustice to which we have been inattentive in the Salaita affair: systematic racism and colonialism.

Singh argues correctly that the targeting of Salaita, as well as the department where he was to teach — American Indian Studies — replicates and perpetuates racist and colonialist structures of civilizationalism, paternalism, and white privilege.

Prashad notes that Salaita’s tweets were deemed “uncivil” because they criticize a government that the US and its power brokers favor supporting. Were he to have tweeted critiques of Russia, say, or North Korea, the story would likely be different.

And yet, there is a reason that Salaita was critiquing Israel and not Russia or North Korea.

Salaita was hired by the University of Illinois’ American Indian Studies department, based on his contribution to the emerging field of comparative indigenous studies. He was going to provide scholarly expertise on the comparative situation of colonized peoples in North America and Palestine.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the most-discussed aspect of this case as well as the least-discussed — civility, on the one hand, and race and indigeneity, on the other — are related.

It’s not simply that a scholar of color is being targeted for being “too angry,” or that a critic of Israel is being targeted by the Zionist lobby, or that “civility” is being used to justify the neo-liberalization of the university and perpetuate colonialism (although it is all of these things).

It’s also that these are in some sense interchangeable.

“Civility” is the sharp end of this particular spear of racism and colonialism, which drives the targeting of Salaita in particular and critics of Israel in general.

Indeed, the effects of U of I’s actions actually replicate those of colonization and dispossession.

As a result of his un-hiring, for example, Salaita notes that his “family has no income, no health insurance, and no home of our own. Our young son has been left without a preschool. I have lost the great achievement of a scholarly career: lifetime tenure with its promised protections of academic freedom.”

It is difficult to ignore the bitter irony of a Palestinian American becoming homeless and destitute as a result of Zionist lobbying efforts to un-hire him.

And yet, it isn’t even ironic.

After all, “irony” implies an outcome that is surprising or unexpected.

It seems, rather, that Salaita’s homelessness and de-instatementare simply appropriate, simply what Palestinians deserve.

In some sense defined by refugee status, what happened to Salaita is simply what happens to Palestinians. Indeed, Salaita has become a refugee once more, academically unaffiliated and without a physical home for himself and his family.

In his very scholarly existence, in other words, Steven Salaita is an exercise in incivility.

Not only is he Palestinian himself, and thus a member of a group already considered savage, backward, and in need of a lesson in “making the desert bloom.”

But if “civilization” is understood as having been brought into being through the settlement of North America and the North American (not to mention Israeli) academy, then surely to draw attention to this illegitimate foundation by engaging in comparative indigenous studies is to question the very basis and legitimacy of civilization itself.

When that interrogation comes directly from the mouth of the “savage,” you can be sure that the result will be, by definition, “uncivil.” Its words — their content no less than their tone — will be anathema to civilization, synonymous with its annihilation.

The day of the iniquitous Board of Trustees vote (which, strangely, took place, despite Wise’s insistence it would not), Salaita re-emerged on Twitter. He tweeted only once, stating:

A whole book could be written on the profundity of this statement — about its implications for identity, affect, Palestinianess; for privation, withdrawal, and loss more generally.

But one thing seems sure: the defenders of civilization have acted to preserve its sanctity from the threat of savagery and destruction.

There is no question, then, that far from having finished, the ugly machinations of “civilization” — dispossession, dispersal, silencing, and removal — continue apace, whether in the ruins of what is left of the Gaza Strip or the elite ravages of the neoliberal American university.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Heike Schotten is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she teaches political theory, feminist theory, and queer theory (her work is available here).

She has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement since 2006.

Mirrored from the Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Steven Salaita Speaks About His Termination

How to give the land back? Is America’s brutality toward Native Americans continuing today?

, associate professor of English, posted this Feb. 17, 2014

Americans have unjustly taken vast tracts of land. This Presidents’ Day, let’s uphold our treaties and return it

I write often about liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation, a habit that evokes passionate response.

I have yet to encounter a response that persuades me to abandon the commitment to Palestinian liberation.

We must give the land back: America's brutality toward Native Americans continues today
Sioux Indians, six of whom were present at the Battle of Little Big Horn, gather in Custer State Park in the Black Hills area of Custer, S.D. on Sept. 2, 1948. (Credit: AP)

I have, however, encountered responses that I consider worthy of close assessment, particularly those that transport questions of colonization to the North American continent. You see, there is a particular defense of Zionism that precedes the existence of Israel by hundreds of years.

Here is a rough sketch of that defense: Allowing a Palestinian right of return or redressing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-49 is ludicrous. Look what happened to the Native Americans.

Is the United States supposed to return the country to them?

Israeli historian Benny Morris puts it this way: “Even the great American democracy couldn’t come to be without the forced extinction of Native Americans. There are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruedeeds.”

This reasoning suggests a finality to the past, an affirmation of tragedy trapped in the immutability of linear time. Its logic is terribly cliché, a peculiar form of common sense always taken up, everywhere, by the beneficiaries of colonial power.

The problems with invoking Native American genocide to rationalize Palestinian dispossession are legion.

The most noteworthy problem speaks to the unresolved detritus of American history: Natives aren’t objects of the past; they are living communities whose numbers are growing.

It’s rarely a good idea to ask rhetorical questions that have literal answers.

Yes, the United States absolutely should return stolen land to the Indians. That’s precisely what its treaty obligations require it to do.

The United States is a settler nation, but its history hasn’t been settled.

Yet most people invoke Natives as if they lost a contest that entrapped them in the past — and this only if Natives are considered at all. As a result, most analyses of both domestic and foreign policies are inadequate, lacking a necessary context of continued colonization and resistance.

For Natives, political aspirations aren’t focused on accessing the mythologies of a multicultural America, but on the practices of sovereignty and self-determination, consecrated in treaty agreements (and, of course, in their actual histories).

Treaties aren’t guidelines or suggestions; they are nation-to-nation agreements whose stipulations exist in perpetuity.

That the federal government still ignores so many of those agreements indicates that colonization is not simply an American memo

One of the most famous violations is the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851, 1868), which guaranteed the Lakota possession of the Black Hills. The American government seized the Black Hills 9 years after signing the treaty, in 1877, having discovered sizable deposits of gold and other precious minerals.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had unjustly appropriated the Black Hills (the ruling doesn’t use the word “stolen,” but it’s an accurate descriptor of what occurred). The Court awarded the Lakota $15.5 million (now well over $100 million with inflation) for the adjusted value of the appropriated land, but the tribe has consistently refused the monetary settlement, preferring instead to retain entitlement to its historic territory.

To clarify: Vast portions of 5 U.S. states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana — are Indian land according to a treaty to which the American government voluntarily assented.

The highest legal authority in the United States has acknowledged that a significant portion of the land in question is rightfully Lakota. The American government refuses to return that land.

Let’s therefore drop the quaint notion that the colonization of Natives is a tragedy limited to the days of yore.

A comparable example of continuing U.S. colonization (unfortunately, this could go on a while) exists in Hawaii, the youngest American state. Hawaii became an American possession in 1893 due to a coup d’état led by colonist Sanford Dole, cousin of James Dole, who, not so coincidentally, made a fortune growing produce on the islands.

President Grover Cleveland commissioned an investigation into the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, led by Georgia congressman James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report condemned the annexation of Hawaii. The condemnation ultimately did no good. American businessmen and politicians saw too much value in the new property to constrain their avarice. To this day, the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) do not recognize the legitimacy of the annexation and consider themselves subjects of foreign rule.

(For an excellent analysis of these matters, please read J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s “Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity.”)

While American tourists enjoy hula dances and Mai Tais on stolen land, the Kanaka Maoli, victims of a conquest that in no way has passed, continue to organize for liberation.

Colonialism is present across North America in less obvious ways, though the lack of obviousness doesn’t mitigate its relevance.

Corporate malfeasance is especially harmful to indigenous communities in the Americas (and across the world).

Native nations have dealt with an uninterrupted expropriation of resources for over a century and now experience an inordinate amount of disease and pollution.

At present, Natives and their allies in both Canada and the U.S. are working to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that portends environmental damage and serious health concerns.

Natives have encountered violence in attempting to exercise their hunting and fishing rights. (Does the phrase “save a fish, spear an Indian” ring a bell?) Police brutality is acute in Indian Country.

Natives, women especially, are murdered at an epidemic rate, with the majority of cases unresolved. And many communities are still waiting on various institutions to comply with federal legislation requiring the return of artifacts and human remains to their rightful owners.

Nor should we forget that the forced sterilization of Native women and the kidnapping of children to be educated (read: brutally assimilated) in government boarding schools, where many were sexually molested and subject to countless other abuses, were still happening within the past half-century.

The inveterate omission of these realities in analyses of American politics constitutes an erasure of indigenous histories and illuminates why it is so easy to conceptualize the United States as historically settled. If we recall the existence of dynamic Indian nations, though, we have no choice but to rethink the commonplaces of American virtue.

It is a foolish conceit to suggest that history has ended in the United States.

No amount of ignorance (willful or unwitting) will invalidate the vigorous efforts to decolonize the North and South American continents.

When Israel’s apologists invoke the dispossession of living communities on those continents as a rationale for colonizing Palestine, they betray a profound disdain of indigenous humanity, the sort of contempt that renders the oppressor’s psyche so unsettled.





February 2023

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