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Middle East Issues





NPR Host Misses Anti-Israel Hate In 140 Characters or Less


On Oct. 12, 2015, National Public Radio's “All Things Considered” featured an interview with Steven Salaita, entitled “The Lessons Learned From a Scholar's Incendiary Tweets.” Salaita, currently a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut, was denied tenure at the University of Illinois during the summer of 2014 for antisemitic thoughts he shared via social media, some of which condoned violence and dehumanized Jews. Yet, in a week that has seen dozens of terrorist attacks—many of them fatal—against Jews, both in Israel and abroad, NPR host Kelly McEvers failed to grill Salaita.

McEvers opened the interview sympathetically, saying “academic freedom, the idea that a professor can say provocative and controversial things in the pursuit of ideas and debate—that idea is entering a whole new era in the age of social media and Twitter. In the summer of 2014, Steven Salaita learned all about this.”

What were the “provocative and controversial things” Salaita said, that, according to the NPR host's inference, were part of a purportedly high-minded attempt to pursue “ideas and debate?”

As CAMERA has noted, The Chicago Tribune previously reported (“U of I right to reject Prof's hate,” Sept. 11, 2014) on Salaita's idea of debate, which apparently included claiming that “every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime (“The New York Times Blog Publishes Shoddy Defense of Steven Salaita,” Dec. 17, 2014).” Showing how he may treat dissenting views in the classroom, Salaita once tweeted, “Let's cut to the chase: If you're defending #Israel right now you're an awful human being.” 
 
In a basic and blatant journalistic failure, the host of this partially taxpayer-supported program failed to mention Salaita's bigoted slurs and ignored other equally offensive tweets. She chose instead—after offering a plug for Salaita's latest book—to ask him about a single tweet:

“Zionists: transforming anti-Semitism from something horrible into something honorable since 1948. #Gaza.”

“A lot of people found this tweet offensive,” McEvers said to her guest, politely. “Can you explain it?”
 
Aggressor playing victim blames his victim

Salaita claimed—unchallenged by McEvers—that he has “always and consistently spoken against” antisemitism. He ludicrously asserted that the tweet was a “critique of a particular discourse that says criticism of Israel or criticism of Israeli state policy is somehow anti-Semitic. And I'm responding largely to being called, over and over again, anti-Semitic, you know, for raising criticisms of Israel's behavior. …If you want to call it anti-Semitic, these are the implications of that accusation, and you ought to think about it.”

By Salaita's logic, his assertions that Zionists have transformed antisemitism from “something horrible into something honorable” since 1948, that is since the Jewish state was founded—inoculates him against accusations of Jew-hatred. This allows him, with the tacit collaboration of NPR's McEvers, to deflect the question of why he was accused of being antisemitic in the first place. He dismissively claimed it was merely for critiquing Israeli behavior. It was not.

What Salaita would sanitize as merely “raising criticisms of Israel's behavior” includes tweets that logically can be read as condoning violence against Jews. After the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014, Salaita—seeking a job that would include teaching teenagers—wrote “You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.” As CAMERA has previously mentioned, Salaita also retweeted from an account named “Free Palestine” that a story by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg “should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv.”

Yet, none of these incitements to shedding Jewish blood are mentioned by the NPR host. Incredibly this took place while news stories told of dozens of Israelis stabbed, shot or run down by Palestinian Arabs following incitement by clerics and leaders to murder Jews—much of it through social media outlets like Twitter (“Major Jewish Group Urges Social Media Giants to Bar Palestinian Calls ‘to Terrorist Murder' Against Israelis,” Algemeiner, Oct. 9, 2015).
 
Among those murdered were Rabbi Eitam and Na'ama Henkin, gunned down in front of their four children while driving in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Given his prior remarks, NPR listeners would perhaps wonder what Salaita thought about the killings of the Henkins and other Israelis. Listeners didn't have a chance to find out however, since McEvers never brought up Salaita's tweet, retweet or the terrorist attacks in Israel.
 
Polemicist masquerading as scholar
 
Similarly omitted were any mention of Salaita's previous use of statistics supplied by Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. These statistics inflated casualty figures from Israeli-Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip with the intrinsic goal of delegitimizing the world's sole Jewish state. What if anything should potential employers infer about Salaita's scholarship as a result of such a practice? Thanks to the omission, NPR's interviewer didn't have to inquire.

Instead, McEvers asked Salaita if he had thought about his employment prospects before those tweets. Noting that Salaita was returning to the University of Illinois campus to give a talk, she wondered, “What are you going to say when you talk to students? I mean, what's the lesson you want people to take away from all this?”

McEvers seems unaware of Natan Sharansky's widely-cited “3-D” definition of antisemitism as it relates not to critics of specific Israeli actions, but to enemies of the Jewish state's existence: Double standards, demonization, and delegitimization. That covers Salaita, but for some reason, McEvers thinks he should be offering “lessons.” His record—largely unmentioned during the interview—suggests otherwise. Imagine an NPR interviewer handling an anti-black racist, a misogynist or homophobe with kid gloves the way McEvers did Salaita. Can't do it? Maybe an unjournalistic double standard was at work.

NPR's interview with Steven Salaita can be found here.

Martin Kramer's article noting Salaita's anti-Israel statements (“Hero's Welcome for Hater of Israel at MESA,” Nov. 25, 2014) can be found here.

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