Finkelstein Weighs in on Salaita Settlement

It’s not what you think

I was happy to learn that Professor Steven Salaita reached a $600,000 settlement (plus $275,000 in attorney fees) yesterday in his lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).  As others, including Steven Salaita, himself, have said, universities may now think twice before violating freedom of speech rights of faculty in order to satisfy wealthy Jewish donors. Here is a statement about the settlement by Salaita recently published on The Nation website.

In the article titled, “I Will Always Condemn Injustice, No Matter What The State Of My Employment,” Salaita wrote:

We can claim meaningful victory against UIUC. The most decisive of those victories is the knowledge that upper administrators will think twice—and ideally not at all—about wrecking academic freedom and faculty governance by kowtowing to Zionist hysteria.

However, Salaita will not be reinstated at UIUC, which was one of his initial demands and the university will not admit to any wrong doing.  If Dr. Salaita would obtain a teaching appointment similar or better than the one he lost, I would view the settlement as a personal victory for him.  But if pressure from the lobby will block such a job offer, as was the case with Norman Finkelstein, the monetary award would not even come close to compensating him for the subsequent loss of income.

I could think of no better person to ask about the Salaita settlement than Dr. Norman Finkelstein, who himself was a victim of Jewish lobby pressure when he lost his tenure battle at DePaul University in 2007.   Like Salaita, Finkelstein was denied a position by the school administration who overruled the decision of a departmental faculty committee.  Unlike Salaita, Finkelstein chose not to initiate litigation for what appeared to be a clear violation of his rights by the university administration.  He was subsequently unable to obtain academic employment despite a stellar publishing history, extremely favorable student evaluations and a doctorate from Princeton University.

What follows is my complete and unedited correspondence with Dr. Finkelstein:

On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 8:04 PM, Ira Glunts wrote:

Dear Dr. Finkelstein,

I was one of the people who hosted your appearance in Cazenovia, NY about four years ago.
I was wondering what your reaction is to the Salaita settlement with UIUC.
Do you think he will be able to get an academic position in the US?
Can I quote your thoughts on this?
I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter.
I hope you are well and are enjoying the fall in NYC.

Ira Glunts

Norman Finkelstein is known for views which surprise and sometimes dismay pro-Palestinian activists.  His response definitely surprised this reporter who believes that Salaita is a gifted writer and speaker, and that he is well-qualified to hold an academic position such as the one he obtained at UIUC.

Dr. Finkelstein is known for his decades long history of sharp and incisive criticism of Israeli government policy.   However, he has taken a number of positions which many understand as incompatible with pro-Palestinian activism and solidarity.  Among these are his characterization of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) advocates as cultists, his view that the pro-Israel lobby does not influence U.S foreign policy, and his deriding of advocates of a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine, as hopelessly politically naïve.

In arguing the above positions, Finkelstein has maintained that he has been consistent in his thinking and that his views are in no way inimical to the Palestinian cause.

I chose to publish this correspondence with Dr. Finkelstein’s permission because there is a general interest in what Finkelstein thinks and because his statement may help shed some light on the kind of thought processes that inform his other views.

What follows is the complete and unedited response from Finkelstein to my message:

I don’t think you want to hear my reaction.  I am not a party-liner.  I gave that up when Chairman Mao passed from the scene:

I’ve read Salaita–or, let’s say, I’ve endeavored to read him.   Even Google has yet to invent a translation program that makes coherent sense of his prose.

As of now, Salaita hasn’t lost a day of work (he spent the current academic year occupying the prestigious Edward Said chair at American University in Beirut), and he reportedly walks away from University of Illinois with nearly a million dollars.

That’s not bad for someone with a PhD from the University of Oklahoma who, before being hired to teach Native American Studies at an excellent second-tier university, last taught English composition at Virginia Tech.

He did not deserve to get fired, but in a rational world it would be cause for wonder how he got hired in the first place.

It’s a telling commentary on the state of the humanities that his tweets got greater scrutiny than his (so-called) scholarship.

You are free to quote this in full, but not to excerpt it.  [Underlining in the original.]

There are two factual errors in the statement above.  First, it is not true that Salaita “hasn’t lost a day of work.”  Salaita did not teach in the fall semester of 2014 or in the spring semester of 2015.  Secondly, Salaita received $600,000 in the settlement, not “nearly a million dollars,” as stated by Finkelstein.

Dr. Salaita, when asked by this writer to respond via email to Finkelstein’s statement wrote, “No comment.”

UPDATE #1: After publication, I was emailed this article, titled, “Dershowitz and Finkelstein: comrades at heart?,” by Steven Salaita which was written in 2013. I was unaware of the article’s existence when writing the above post.

UPDATE #2: Dr. Norman Finkelstein has informed me via email that at the time of my interview with him he believed that the settlement awarded Salaita was $875,000.  This is due to the fact the some reports incorrectly stated that amount, neglecting to acknowledge that $275,000 was awarded to Salaita’s attorneys.

Ira Glunts is a Jewish-American, recovered liberal Zionist, retired university librarian and avid fan of the Tottenham Hotspur.  He and his wife live in Madison, NY with their five cats. Read other articles by Ira.