UW Professor Stephen M. Schwartz counted himself among anti-Israel professor Steve Salaita's supporters… until he saw him speak.
With the understated title of "Salaita Wants War" Schwartz posted his response to Salaita's talk on his academia focused blog "The Ave"."Israelis have greatly endangered the future of Israel by electing a Netanyahu led coalition of extremists more than a few of whom sadly may well deserve the kind of strong talk we are likely to here from Steven Salaita." These were the harsh words offered by University of Washington Professor Stephen Schwartz in an impassioned post in defense of anti-Israel academic Steve Salaita just a few days before the vocal critic was slated to speak at the UW. But after weathering through Salaita's lecture last week Schwartz's opprobrium was redirected towards Salaita himself .
"Last night I went to hear Steven Salaita's talk." began Schwartz, who is Professor of Pathology and Director of the Cardiovascular Pathology Training Program at UW. "As a supporter of free speech, I went to hear what this man had to say. What I heard was horrid." Adds Schwartz "he acted like a demagogue .. a warhawk who exulted in people dying for his cause. He presented NO rational case for any answer to the conflict, instead he demonized Jews. He not only justified terrorism against Jews and Israelis, he dismissed as irrelevant the Amnesty International criticism of Hamas for using children as human shields."
As half truths and falsehoods tumbled one over the other, Salaita referenced Mahatma Gandhi's alleged disdain of Zionism. Professor Schwartz could no longer contain himself. Several in attendance reported that Schwartz interrupted Salaita shouting "BS!" and calling Salaita out on his misrepresentation of Gandhi's words. Schwartz later explained his outburst. "Salaita's use of Gandhi was typical of most of what I heard. He took the Mahatma out of context to portray the Great Man as an opponent of Israel. To do this, Salaita used a quote out of context, making Gandhi create an image that everyone hates Israel, that Israel is Nazi-like pariah. Salaita did the same sort of thing every time someone asked a substantive (and remarkably polite) question."
Professor Schwartz lamented "The saddest thing for me was Salaita's response to questions where rational answers are needed to bring peace. He lied (I doubt he is ignorant) about the lack of a peace movement among the Palestinians, somehow presented Gaza as Israel's fault (it was created by Egypt), referred to Palestine (a Roman and then Turkish name for a part of Syria) as the "ancestral homeland of the Palestinians" (most of whose ancestors migrated into "Palestine" after the Zionists started creating jobs there) and dissed the peace movements .. PEACE NOW .. because they are Jewish."
Responding on behalf of UW President Ana Mari Cauce to a complaint filed by a UW alum, Vice President Norman Arkans offered no apologies for hosting the Salaita lecture. "Painful as it was, I am glad you were able to attend and hear firsthand what he said. I am sure others in attendance found him equally objectionable, and I hope you will understand the perspective we have on such teachable moments."
Arkans elucidated further, "From time to time, the University hosts speakers whom some consider to be controversial and objectionable. This in no way means that we approve of or endorse what they have to say or their perspective on issues. We do this so that students and others in our community can experience a full range of views on any given topic. One of the core values of this-or any-university is its abiding commitment to freedom of expression. We take this commitment very seriously, perhaps more seriously than any other. What that means is that occasionally, individuals will speak here and say things that some may find offensive, objectionable and hateful. Our ability to tolerate these occasions is a measure of the strength of our commitment to the idea of free speech. In our view, the best way to understand one another is to hear one another, whether we agree with the ideas expressed or not."
The University of Washington has recently hosted a series of speakers that many consider to be anti-Semitic, including Steve Salaita, Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah. Despite the UW's stated support of "objectionable viewpoints", there have thankfully been no similar bigoted perspectives offered on campus against any other minority race, religion or group.