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RFK’s son, hasbarist chair of the Trustees at the University of Illinois, on firing Salaita over tweets

Christopher Kennedy is the son of Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated senator and Democratic presidential candidate. Christopher Kennedy is chairman of the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees, politically appointed by Illinois Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. Kennedy has also acted as a fundraiser for Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates.

Kennedy has been an outspoken defender of his trustee board’s upholding of the decision by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) administration to revoke the appointment of Steven Salaita as a tenured professor of American Indian Studies. Salaita had given up his position at Virginia Tech and moved his family to Illinois to begin his appointment.

Salaita’s appointment was revoked because, according to Bill Van Auken in “The witch-hunting of Steven Salaita and the new McCarthyism”, Salaita “tweeted outraged protests against the slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” Van Auken challenges the reaction by the administration to Salaita’s tweets as being an attack on “core democratic rights, including freedom of speech and academic freedom.”

Van Auken explains that a “smear” campaign against Salaita was launched by the political right and the Zionist lobby to call out Salaita as an “anti-Semite” which quickly influenced the university administration and, as Van Auken puts it, “liberal representatives of academia” (such as Kennedy).

The tweet of Salaita’s cited most often was written by him on July 19 as Israel was inflicting murderous violence on Gaza. It stated: “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” The tweet was one of a series of statements by Salaita and pulled out of context by his critics. Three of Salaita’s subsequent tweets: “My stand is fundamentally one of acknowledging and countering the horror of antisemitism” and “I believe that Jewish and Arab children are equal in the eyes of God” and that he, Salaita, was “in solidarity with many Jews and in disagreement with many Arabs.” Nevertheless, he quickly was targeted by pro-Zionists and right wing ideologues.

Van Auken writes:

Only a grotesque and willful distortion could attribute to Salaita support for anti-Semitism based on these messages. This, of course, is precisely the specialty of the American right and the Zionist lobby, which proceeded to do just that.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website, began a campaign against Salaita and the Simon Wiesenthal Center quickly demanded that the university rescind Salaita’s appointment, describing him as “nothing more than a baseless anti-Semite.”

Pro-Zionist and right wing prominent wealthy donors to the university began threatening to withhold their funding for the university if the administration did not take action against Salaita.

The administration promptly revoked his appointment.

According to Van Auken, Salaita has since responded that the university’s action was based on “a highly subjective and sprawling standard that can be used to attack faculty who espouse unpopular or unconventional views.”

Christopher Kennedy, on the other hand, maintained that anyone “with an open mind” would regard the decision to uphold the revoking of Salaita’s appointment as “the right thing, ethically and procedurally.” Kennedy condemned Salaita’s tweets: “There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.”

No place in our democracy?

No place in academia?

No place at the University of Illinois?

Salaita’s tweeted expressions of outrage over the Israel slaughter war against Gaza brought him profound anti-constitutional punishment and censure.

To add to the Orwellian horror of this anti-constitutional reaction with Salaita being cravenly and wrongly labeled an “anti-Semite”, it is being passionately defended by the son of a beloved historical figure who was considered by many a champion and martyr for REAL liberalism.

Van Auken sees this suppression of free speech as a new McCarthyism. What should have been constitutionally-protected free speech just because it happens to criticize the actions and policies of ISRAEL is stifled and suppressed because of the colossal and inappropriate degree of influence of Israel and its lobbies on Washington, the media, academia and America’s brainwashed and capitalism-driven society in general.

Think of it. Outspoken criticism (TWEETED???? WTF???) of Israel after its stunning and blatant recent war criminality, its latest 50-day ethnic cleansing of Palestinians according to Kennedy “has no place in our democracy” nor “in our university” and deserves to be outlawed and suppressed???

What will be next? NO criticisms and demonstrations of opposition to US imperial wars? No questioning of the “war on (but really “of”) terror” and the lying pretexts to continue it with more and more “predatory” (Van Auken’s word) US military interventions in the Middle East?

Van Auken reminds us of the “apogee of political McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunting of the 1950s.” Who knew over fifty years later political, social and intellectual (and economically impactful) “anti-Semitism” witch-hunting would be championed not only by pro-Zionists and right wingers but one more so-called progressive like Chris Kennedy and with more free speech suppression guaranteed to come in our bi-partisanly anti-constitutional halls of American power!

The shredding of our Constitution continues seriously and surreally on.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Submitted by lambert on

I changed the headline to make it bit more Google-friendly and linkable.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

DC and lambert! thanks for validations!!!

Here is some more information about this case from Kristina Betinis:

1) on Sept. 11 the vote was taken of the board of trustees with Kennedy as chair. the vote was 8 to 1 to reject Professor's Salaita's appointment to the American Indian Studies Dept.

2) Salaita was accused of "uncivility". This from President Robert Easter:

"In our pluralistic society it is increasingly obvious that forward progress is impeded by polarization, bigotry and hurtful dialogue that inhibits reasoned discourse. I’ve come to the conclusion that Professor Salaita’s approach indicates that he would be incapable of fostering a classroom environment where conflicting opinions need to be given equal consideration regardless of the issue being discussed. I’m also concerned that his irresponsible public statements would make it more difficult for the university and particularly the Urbana-Champaign campus to attract the best and brightest students, faculty and staff.”

3) a number of departments at the university have voted "no confidence" for the administration, there have been demonstrations

4) the Modern Language Association condemned the action in a letter with more than 5,000 international signers

5) according to Betinis members of the University of Illinois Jewish community issued a letter of support of Salaita's hiring which said:

“By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people.”

6) Salaita on Sept 9 made this statement to Univ. of Illinois administration:

“Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees said that the University administration found the tone of my tweets ‘uncivil’ and raised questions about my ability to inhabit the University environment. This is a perilous standard that risks eviscerating the principle of academic freedom. My comments were not made in a classroom or on campus; they were made through my personal Twitter account."

7) Betinis writes of Salaita's pushback:

"Salaita’s case has been taken up by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) with a Chicago law firm, Loevy & Loevy. CCR’s summary of the case states, “Salaita’s termination, which functions as a penalty for his speech on an issue of public concern, constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” a violation of the First Amendment, and also threatens academic freedom by punishing a faculty member for speaking as a citizen on a critical issue.”

"CCR is currently bringing 19 cases against the Obama administration and its officials for violations of constitutional and human rights."

Submitted by lambert on

They hired the guy, he gave up his job and sold his house, whereupon Israeli interests, presumably from "the donor community," leaned on the administration and they unhired him. (There's issues around his contract, but Salaita was entirely right to think he had a deal, based on common practice by all universities for years and years. I mean, that's why he behaved as he did.)

Purely from an academic standpoint, it's grotesque, and the University of Illinois is not a place where serious scholarship can be done. And that's before we get to the content of the tweets themselves ("robust," we might say, but not anti-Semitic, except to the extent that any criticism of Israel's normality as a state actor can be construed as anti-Semitic) and the larger policy context of the inevitabla and consequences of Israel's two-bit, San Berdoo-sized empire, and the Bantusans and warehouses they've created for its former inhabitants.

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Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

Evidently. Nobody with an open mind can doubt that his "ethically and procedurally" statement was propaganda dreck fed to him by the Israeli pharisees lacking reading comprehension skills when screeching "anti-semitic" in re Salaita's tweets.

Folks trained in Talmudic textual analysis should know goddamned better, too. As should Christopher AIPAC-Droid Kennedy, a product of "all the best schools." Pathetic. Have we no real statesmen left in the US political class?