Skip to main content

Anti-Israel tweets cost professor new job at University of Illinois, rep says

By Mayra Cuevas, CNN
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sat August 9, 2014
Dr. Steven Salaita, a pro-Palestinian college professor was allegedly rescinded a tenure offer at the University of Illinois following his controversial anti-Israel tweets over the war in Gaza.
Dr. Steven Salaita, a pro-Palestinian college professor was allegedly rescinded a tenure offer at the University of Illinois following his controversial anti-Israel tweets over the war in Gaza.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Steven Salaita quits job, rents house for move to Illinois
  • But professor's job offer at University of Illinois is rescinded
  • His representative says it's because of his anti-Israel tweets about Gaza

(CNN) -- A pro-Palestinian college professor's tenure offer at the University of Illinois was allegedly rescinded after he made anti-Israel tweets about the war in Gaza.

Dr. Steven Salaita's case "is sort of unprecedented in a way," said Baher Azmy, the legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights. The organization's legal team has advised Salaita as they consider potential legal avenues.

In October 2013, the university offered Salaita a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program, which Salaita accepted, according to Azmy. But on August 1, 2014, Salaita received a letter from Chancellor Dr. Phyllis Wise terminating the appointment.

By then, Azmy said, Salaita had resigned from his tenured position at Virginia Tech, rented his home in Virginia and was preparing to move his family to Illinois.

Virginia Tech Department Chair Joseph Eska confirmed Salaita had resigned and would not be returning in the fall.

According to University of Illinois protocol, once an offer is made, the chancellor's office must make a recommendation to the board of trustees for final authorization. Azmy said Wise rescinded the offer before it went to the board. Azmy said he believes the reason was Salaita's "political expressions" in social media.

Salaita's Twitter feed includes messages like "#Israel's message to #Obama and #Kerry: we'll kill as many Palestinians as we want, when we want. p.s.: f--- you, pay me. #Gaza"

Another post reads, "Only #Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim. #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack"

University spokeswoman Robin Neal Kaler said, "As a matter of university policy and practice, we do not comment publicly upon nor discuss generally any personnel matters, including matters involving employment or tenure."

In an open letter sent to Wise, Azmy cites "viewpoint discrimination" as the reason for the dismissal, calling it a "serious First Amendment violation."

"He resigned from a job that gave him tenure, the pinnacle of academic achievement, with the expectation that he would have tenure at the next university and it was taken away in an unlawfully retaliatory way for his political views," Azmy said.

CNN was not able to reach Salaita but spoke to his wife, who declined to comment other than to confirm her husband had been consulting with Azmy.

CNN also was unable to reach Wise for comment. Neal Kaler did not clarify why last month she defended Salaita's right to tweet his views during an interview with The News-Gazette, a local newspaper. She said then, "Faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom of speech rights of all of our employees."

Salaita's controversial views were no secret at the time the university made him an offer. He is the author of six books, including "Israel's Dead Soul" and the "Anti-Arab Racism in the USA."

Salaita's opinions, Azmy said, constitute the basis for his scholarly research, which was the reason he was offered the position to begin with.

Salaita believed the principles of academic freedom "would permit him to share his views without fear of censure or reprisal," said Azmy.

Wise's move to block the appointment has drawn criticism and support.

Cary Nelson, a longtime English professor at the university and a past president of the American Association of University Professors, supported Wise. He said, "I believe the decision not to offer him a job was the right one."

"I find many of his tweets quite loathsome —as well as sophomoric and irresponsible," he said, adding that "while universities need to study all positions on an issue, even the most outrageous ones, I see no good reason to offer a permanent faculty position to someone whose discourse crosses the line into anti-Semitism."

Nelson has written on the topic of academic freedom in the past. In an essay posted on his website, he said academic freedom "is the principle that guarantees faculty members the right to speak and write as they please without interference from the university, the state, or the public."

The Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors released a statement supporting Salaita.

"Professor Salaita's words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East," the statement read. "The University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America."

A Change.org petition created by an American professor of Palestinian descent in support of Salaita had garnered over 11,000 signatures.

Azmy said he had not received a response from Wise. Meanwhile Salaita's professional future remained in limbo.

"I don't think he knows what he is going to do," Azmy said. "He is a scholar and scholars should be in university setting."

Celebs step into Israel-Gaza PR minefield

Joan Rivers 'stands behind' Gaza quotes: 'War is hell'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Tensions in the Middle East
Here's a look at some of the most serious conflicts involving Israel and its neighbors -- conflicts that have spanned more than six decades.
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatens the life of another American if President Obama doesn't end military operations in Iraq.
updated 5:04 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
19-year-old Udi Segal explains why he won't join his country's military.
updated 8:28 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
The sights at the Gaza zoo couldn't be sadder, after it was nearly destroyed during recent Israel-Hamas conflict.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Both Hamas and Israel have chosen conflict over real peace negotiations again and again in the past, writes Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Mohammed Najib says Hamas' objectives also include ending its political isolation.
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
With so many conflicts, on so many fronts, here's a quick look at what's happening.
updated 10:29 AM EDT, Sat July 5, 2014
Alan Elsner: How Israel reacts will be decisive turning point for both Israelis and Palestinians.
updated 4:59 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
The Israel-Gaza conflict impacts families on both sides. Karl Penhaul speaks to the family of a militant killed in Gaza.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A sense of Egypt's historic role and the traditional animosity of their military toward Islamist radicalism have propelled Egypt to take a central role in the on-off cease-fire talks.
updated 5:50 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
If the Gaza truce holds and Israel's Operation Protective Edge comes to its conclusion, some things are certain.
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
CNN's Tim Lister says, to secure peace, Israel needs to offer Gazans a better future.
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Tensions between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been strained for years.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Images from the conflict between Israel and Hamas depict apparent civilians, caught in the middle.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Hamas must be tamed through politics, not the failed strategy of war, argues Ed Husain.
updated 9:55 AM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
It may have started as a TV debate about the Israel-Hamas conflict, but it's now turned into an online war of words.
updated 2:20 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Hamas' political leader, who lives in Qatar, sits down with CNN for an exclusive interview.
updated 6:43 AM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Nafoz Mohammed is living in a cramped two-room apartment with 16 other people, hours holed up in fear.
updated 12:54 AM EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
Karl Penhaul visits a destroyed section of Gaza and learns how the bombing has affected one student's aspirations.
updated 2:15 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
The birth of a child is normally a joyous occasion, but it is tinged by sadness and anxiety in Gaza. Ian Lee reports.
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Amid the Gaza conflict, experts try to figure out who's in charge of "the resistance."
updated 6:10 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
The opening was so small that CNN's Wolf Blitzer -- no physical giant -- had to bend down to climb inside.
Follow CNNArabic for the latest news and analysis from the Middle East and rest of the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT