Mixed Impressions from the Steven Salaita Press Conference

salaita conference

If you’ve already read a transcript of Salaita’s statement at the press conference held at UIUC, go straight to the Q & A that starts around minute 40 of this Youtube clip, which you can find here. I think it’s super interesting, mostly because I’m finding it hard to square the dissonance created between [1] the public appearance of Salaita at the press conference and 2] the online profile and persona generated at or by his twitter field. The one is as thoughtful, temperate, and civil as the other is abusive, thoughtless, and intemperate. And yes, the now-much-abused value represented here remains “civil,” the term used by Salaita himself in the Q & A to plead the moral side of his case. While it should be clear that, normatively, the former should trump the latter, it can hardly be helped that, in actuality, the latter has obscured the former and its public perception. The winning human face is awkward, even geeky, and, under the stress and circumstance, extremely sad, whereas the obnoxious persona online is fierce and unforgiving.

It’s still hard for me to believe that Salaita or his many supporters cannot see that the opposition to his appointment would have the same ambiguous physiognomy, that there are human and boorish dimensions to the way his critics have responded to his online public performance. It should surprise no one that the the tenor of his online comments about of Israel would or should cast such a sustained and critical light on his entire professional profile. As many believe and not without cause, those comments when viewed in the aggregate veered close up to and just over the border that separates anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and if not anti-Semitism then Jew-baiting. Salaita’s application relied in part upon his reputation as a public intellectual. It’s the very character of that profile, projected online through social media, that did so much damage, both to himself and to his critics, who in coming out against him revealed their own heavy hand.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to Mixed Impressions from the Steven Salaita Press Conference

  1. It’s only “Jew baiting” if you believe that the set of all Jews and the set of all proponents of Israel’s genocidal policies in Gaza overlap. And they don’t. Smart, ethical Jews speak up against Israeli apartheid.

    • zjb says:

      It’s Jew baiting if the intent is to call out a large class of Jews, in this case what is probably the large majority of Jews who support something the critic wants to bait, in this case a Jewish homeland and a democratic Israel, imperfect as that state might be.

  2. 1. No state predicated on the notion that it is the official “homeland” for a given religious group is a democracy, sorry. A theocracy, sure. An apartheid state, yes, in practice.

    2. Salaita’s intent is to critique Israel’s genocidal actions, not to “bait” Jews. If you feel baited, maybe it’s time to examine your ethical position.

    3. Your logic tells me everything I need to know about the split between continental and analytical philosophers, and why it is that the latter think the former are charlatans.

    • zjb says:

      1. Israel was based on the notion that the Jews constitute a people, not a religion. About this there’s a strong consensus, among Jews at least.

      2. If I thought Israel was guilty of genocidal actions, then we’d be on the same page. To call Israel genocidal is therefore a kind of baiting.

      3. Analytic philosophers try to avoid arguments ad hominem.

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