Steven Salaita is set to receive more praise (and pity) from his academic peers next month when a panel at the annual Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference in Washington, DC, examines his travails at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which in August rescinded an offer to appoint him professor of Native American studies.
The panel is to discuss "issues of freedom of speech, academic freedom, university governance, civil discourse, and the potential repercussions for faculty in Middle East studies." Given its composition, its biases in favor of Salaita are beyond doubt: every member specializing in the Middle East shares Salaita's history of anti-Israel activism, including support for the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement and objections to off-campus criticism of academe. The records of non-specialists also give every indication that they, too, will support Salaita.
A small sampling of the radicalism of panel members demonstrates this bias:
- Laurie Brand (chair), former MESA president and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Southern California, was signatory to a hysterical December 2002 letter warning that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would encourage Israel to engage in "ethnic cleansing" against Palestinians:
"Americans cannot remain silent while crimes as abhorrent as ethnic cleansing are being openly advocated. We urge our government to communicate clearly to the government of Israel that the expulsion of people according to race, religion or nationality would constitute crimes against humanity and will not be tolerated."
- Lisa Hajjar of UC-Santa Barbara complained about "how badly we tortured" 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, signed a letter that sought to intimidate scholars who treat Israel or America fairly by falsely charging them with instigating "efforts to broaden definitions of anti-Semitism to include scholarship and teaching that is critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel," and told a reporter who questioned her presentation on a scholarly panel that, "If you think I favor suicide bombings, then that Zionist hat on your head is screwed on way too tight!"
- Paul Sedra of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, who last summer signed two anti-Israel letters: a "Historians' Letter to President Obama and Members of Congress" demanding that the U.S. "hold Israel accountable" for "killing and wounding so many Palestinian children" and urging America to "suspend US military aid to Israel, until there is assurance that this aid will no longer be used for the commission of war crimes"; and a letter calling on "scholars and librarians within Middle East studies" to "boycott Israeli academic institutions."
- Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, who called the vote of the University of Illinois board supporting the chancellor's decision not to award Salaita a position a "disappointment" since the MLA Council had just called on the university to "redress what seems an unjustified situation."
- Mary Gray, a statistician and lawyer at American University, who has a long history of holding Israel solely responsible for problems in West Bank universities caused by Palestinian violence against Israelis, and who served as treasurer of Amnesty International and chair of Amnesty International USA, which have for years singled out Israel for unjust criticism, condemned Israel's self-defense against Palestinian attacks, and hosted a pro-Hamas group.
Such a biased panel, representing as it does only one side of the Salaita saga, evinces the embarrassing decline of scholarly standards among MESA's leadership, which clearly prefers foregone conclusions to genuine debate.