BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Was he silenced or is there simply no space for a Palestinian-American's controversial views in academia? Steven Salaita was fired from the University of Illinois in 2014 just before he was set to begin a tenured professor position.
Salaita was in Vermont to give a talk at the University of Vermont and spoke to our Eva McKend about the role of academic freedom at universities and his analysis of Israel and Palestine today.
Eva McKend: You draw parallels between the experiences between Native Americans and Palestinians-- why?
Steven Salaita: Both have fighting colonization and restoration of their human rights.
Eva McKend: What is the media missing about this debate in your view?
Steven Salaita: That the Palestinians are suffering from colonization, it is not an ancient tribal rivalry and it's not religious hatred at the root.
Eva McKend: Your view is not accepted by many, it is the reason you lost your job. Where is this conversation socially acceptable?
Steven Salaita: Not in very many places, but it is being discussed more and more and I hope we can continue on that trajectory.
Eva McKend: You have been called anti-Semitic for your views. What do you say to that argument?
Steven Salaita: There is no evidence of that in my history.
Eva McKend: What happened when you tried to have this debate in academia?
Steven Salaita: I sent a series of tweets in 2014 during Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip criticizing the military action and it created backlash. I ended up losing the job and I still have not been able to get a job since, in part because to take such a critical view of Israel is considered beyond the pale in academia today.
Eva McKend: It was also tied to money. People threatened to withhold money if you taught at the school?
Steven Salaita: Correct, a lot of the donors threatened that the donations would dry up, so the university ended up pulling the position.
Eva McKend: Where is the middle ground? How can you talk about human rights and not be viewed as anti-Israel?
Steven Salaita: It is important to make the distinction that it is different to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel and opposition to state policy. It is important to not confuse the two things and we should be able to have any sort of conversation about the behavior about any nation, especially one that receives so much aid from the United States. A middle ground is really the ability to have the conversation in the first place rather than systematically shutting out one side of the conversation.