May 2, 2016
After being denied tenure at the University of Illinois for his vitriolic expressions of hatred for Israel, Steven Salaita found himself a position at the American University of Beirut (AUB), which recently announced that it, too, is terminating his employment. Meanwhile, a group of eminent professors is suing the American Studies Association (ASA)—the first U.S. academic organization to endorse a boycott of Israeli scholars and institutions—for violating the terms of its charter. Ben Cohen takes stock of these developments:
Predictably, [Salaita’s] supporters [have begun] railing that AUB “is reproducing the trend of persecuting scholars who condemn the injustices committed in Palestine.” . . . Could it really be the case that AUB is getting rid of faculty because of their support for the Palestinian cause? Remember, this is a university with a virulently anti-Zionist tradition that goes back decades. . . .
So the notion that the AUB has somehow been penetrated by “Zionists,” and that this is what led to Salaita’s ejection, is laughable and fanciful. According to Fadlo Khuri, AUB’s president, . . . the bid to appoint Salaita to a permanent position was riddled with procedural irregularities, such as the “conflict implied by the current incumbent chairing a committee to find [his] own successor.”
Here we get to the heart of the matter, whether in America or in Lebanon. We know very well that anti-Zionist academics exist in a self-sustaining world of conspiracy theories and outlandish interpretations of history, and that when challenged their stock-in-trade response is to cry “Persecution!”
Less understood is that this kind of self-righteousness leads naturally to procedural violations of the sort described by Khuri. “We and only we are right,” their logic goes, “and therefore we are morally justified in ignoring the rules that apply to ordinary mortals.”
What AUB’s decision over Salaita represents, therefore, is a recognition that this tactic can no longer be tolerated. And here in America, the American Studies Association (ASA) may be about to learn a similar lesson.