Former University of Illinois professor Steven Salaita, who lost his job in September over a series of anti-Israel tweets, received a standing ovation from scholars and academics on Saturday at a Middle East Studies conference in Washington, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
"Thank you, everybody. If the Zionists wanted to silence me, they should have just approached people to be nice to me," Salaita said during a panel discussion, entitled "The Salaita Case and the New Assaults on Academic Freedom." He added, "Kindness always leaves me much more speechless than war crimes do."
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fired Salaita after his anti-Israel tweets, which some also deemed anti-Semitic, during the summer's Gaza war. He accused the Jewish state of genocide and claimed Israel is "rounding up people and murdering them at point-blank range." The BDS supporter also claimed that Zionists deploy anti-Semitic logic and stated, "If you're defending #Israel right now you're an awful human being."
Salaita attributed his firing to "the interference of wealthy donors," according to theFree Beacon. He said it was "part of the culture wars that have long been ongoing around the Israel-Palestine conflict" and could not be separated from "the organized suppression of those who speak in support of Palestine or Palestinians."
Salaita suggested during Saturday's panel discussion that his critics play no legitimate role in academic debate.
"If you support the colonial apparatus in the West Bank and Gaza and inside Israel itself, quite frankly, you don't get to call yourself progressive," said the former professor, who is also the author of Israel's Dead Soul. "I am a critic of the state of Israel, I am a critic of Zionism, I do not shy away from either label. I'm proud to have both of those labels."