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Palestinian-American Steven Salaita speaks at Trinity College in Dublin on September 11, 2017. Photo: YouTube screenshot.
A controversial academic who celebrated the June 2014 Hamas kidnapping of three Israeli teens who were later found murdered defended his remarks on Monday while speaking at a conference on the boycott of Israel at the prestigious Trinity College Dublin.
Steven Salaita — who lost a conditional offer of employment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after publishing a series of incendiary tweets on Israel in 2014 — served as the first keynote speaker at a two-day event titled, “Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel.”
In a string of social media posts made during the summer of 2014 — when a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas erupted in the aftermath of the discovery of the teens’ bodies — Salaita denounced anyone who supported Israel as an “awful human being” and “hopelessly brainwashed,” and wrote, “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.#Gaza#FreePalestine.”
On June 19, 2014, referencing news of the kidnapping, which took place in Gush Etzion, Salaita tweeted, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the f***ing West Bank settlers would go missing.”
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The bodies of the three boys — Naftali Frenkel, 16; Gilad Shaer, 16; and Eyal Yifrah, 19 — were later uncovered near Hebron on June 30. The leader of the cell behind their kidnapping and killing, Hussam Kawasme, admitted that the money for the attack came from Hamas.
The public outcry that followed his remarks led Salaita to lose his offered professorial position in Illinois. While Salaita later sued the university and reached a financial settlement, his offer of employment was not reinstated.
Ronit Lentin, an associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin who introduced Salaita at the conference, noted that he had found a temporary job at the American University of Beirut following the controversy. However, she said, “Zionism clearly reached the American University of Beirut, and his appointment was terminated or he was not offered tenure, which is why he’s now decided to take a bit of a break from academe.”
Acknowledging that he’d been unable to secure a job at a university in the US since his inflammatory social media postings, Salaita told conference attendees, “I don’t regret a damn word that I said. I would condemn Israel just as harshly today.”
In a question and answer session, he also defended his comments about the slain Israeli teens, the Irish Timesreported.
“He said when he wrote about wishing the settlers would go missing, he was not advocating their kidnapping or murder,” the Times wrote. “Instead, he was advocating that the settlers leave Palestinian lands.”
Speaking of the alleged difficulty Palestinian academics and supporters of the Palestinian cause face in higher education, Salaita asked, “Why is the supporter of Palestine, of justice, of equal rights, of compassion, very simple things, always on the defensive, always in a tenuous position, always made to feel ashamed? Why should the supporter of colonization, of ethnic cleansing, of apartheid, be so confident, so assured of safe passage in this world?”
He also broadly equated anti-Zionism — which rejects the Jewish right to national self-determination — with anti-colonization, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-imperialism.
“Anything that Zionists tell you about the world is never what you expect, because they always tell bullshit lies about the world,” Salaita asserted. “Don’t listen to them.”
He accused Israel of pursuing a “systematic, deliberate program of ethnic cleansing” and going on a “killing spree” in Gaza in 2014, and he rejected efforts “to debate about both sides” as “colonial nonsense.”
“Israel is the one who has to answer to its ability to answer humanity, not those who stand in solidarity with those constantly harmed by the Israeli state,” he charged.
Salaita further argued that academic freedom should be regarded as a means to an end “for those who are doing Palestine solidarity work,” not “something that is sacrosanct, outside of or beyond politics.”
“Academic freedom needs to be protected, but the survival of academic freedom in and of itself isn’t the point, in the end,” he elaborated. “The point is the issue of justice that we’re attaching to academic freedom in the first place. For me, the point is the liberation of Palestine. That’s the goal. Academic freedom is a means. Academic freedom is supposed to keep us soluble while we work towards that goal.”
Salaita was scheduled to give a public talk in Dublin on Tuesday evening, at an event organized by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign in association with Academics for Palestine. In his talk, “Salaita will explore why Palestine is one of the world’s most pressing moral issues and argue that a liberated Palestine is everybody’s concern,” according to the event’s organizers.
In April, the Israeli Embassy in Dublin toldThe Algemeiner that it was “concerned” by a “disturbing trend” of local initiatives targeting the Jewish state.
Trinity College Dublin’s student government rejected a motion earlier that month calling for a “college-wide boycott of the state of Israel.”