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