An Open Letter to University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise
I am writing to applaud, and express appreciation for, the University of Illinois’s recent decision to rescind its job offer to Steven Salaita, in light of hateful and inflammatory comments that Salaita made on his twitter account. This move is a courageous denunciation of the vile and toxic rhetoric that unfortunately has become all too common in the context of Israel’s war with Hamas. The move is also bound to be unpopular in some segments of the academic community; the fact that the University of Illinois was nonetheless willing to take this courageous step further reflects the university’s honesty and integrity.
Too often, we hear reports of American universities rejecting guest speakers and lecturers for the crime of defending Israel’s most basic sovereign rights. In its alleged pursuit of a post-colonial humanism, the Academy has instead embraced a twisted, one-sided worldview, which reflexively denounces Israel, while persistently (and deliberately) overlooking Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians, usage of Palestinian civilians to defend its terrorist infrastructure, diversion of international aid towards the construction of tunnels and rockets, and calls for the annihilation of all Jews everywhere – not to mention Hamas’s persecution of women, violent suppression of political rivals, and flat rejection of Western values. In its selective application of academic freedom, the Academy has shamefully elevated hateful, violent, and, yes, anti-Semitic rhetoric, while persistently silencing those who attempt to portray another side. The wide prevalence of this one-sidedness is frustrating and painful enough; the fact that it often emanates from those who ostensibly represent freedom of thought and intellectual honesty and integrity is simply unacceptable.
There is plenty of room for legitimate criticism of Israel and its government’s policies; indeed, Israelis are often the most vocal critics. Israel is not immune or exempt from the criticism that all democratic governments are rightfully subject to. But there is a difference between criticism and biased hatred. The kind of hate-filled diatribes we have recently heard from the likes of Salaita, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and countless others across the globe have no place in the framework of civilized dialogue and debate, academic freedom notwithstanding. Since antiquity, Jews have been called “child killers;” taking this most anti-Semitic label and hiding it behind the thin veil of “anti-Zionism” makes it no less pernicious. Anti-Semitism that is slightly rebranded to fit the political sensibilities of the twenty-first century is still anti-Semitism. Period.
And so, I return to thanking the University of Illinois, and you, its chancellor, for taking a stand on the hatred that has so deeply infected American universities across the country. I can only hope that your courageous step will inspire other universities to act in similar fashion. But I’m not counting on it…