USACBI statement on the cancellation of the Edward Said Professor search at CSU Fresno and ongoing repression of critical scholarship

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) is deeply disturbed by some recent, shocking assaults on academic freedom and interference in faculty governance and autonomy centering on repression of critical scholarship about Palestine-Israel and discrimination against Palestinian and Arab scholars by university administrators, in collusion with Zionist faculty and outside interest groups.

At California State University (CSU)-Fresno, the administration abruptly canceled the search for an Edward Said Professor of Middle East Studies which had already been completed, and after it had been approved by the appropriate administrators. The Director of Middle East Studies, Vida Samiian, a senior scholar and former Dean at CSU-Fresno, resigned from her position in objection to the unethical and discriminatory cancellation of the search by the Associate Vice President of Faculty Affairs, Rudy Sanchez. Samiian has publicly shared that her decision was also undertaken in protest against the harassment of Search Committee members by Zionist faculty, and external interference and complaints about the finalists and their politics by Zionist interest groups. This interference and pressure was reported to the university administration, which disregarded these complaints and declared the search closed. Instead of acting to protect the integrity of the search and faculty autonomy, administrators complied with the intimidation by Zionists and the anti-Palestinian/Arab assaults on academic freedom.

All four of the finalists were Arab or Palestinian in origin and at least two were advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, challenging Israeli human rights violations, and of the academic boycott in particular. Professor Joe Parks, the Equal Employment Opportunity representative on the Search Committee at CSU-Fresno, wrote to condemn the final cancellation of the search on May 11, 2017:

“As a young man during the 1960s, I am an old Civil Rights fighter and recognize racism when I see it in front of me. I believe the administration ‘caved’ to racism because the four finalists were of Middle Eastern ethnicity…. I believe the administration violated the integrity of the academic search and the Academic Freedom of Higher Education in the United States of America. It is shameful that we are still fighting racism, bigotry and hatred during this new 21st century.”

This outrageous assault on faculty governance and bullying by Zionists is nothing new. Discrimination against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims has been increasing in the academy. A major focus of that discrimination has been against BDS, an anti-racist and anti-colonial strategy to expose and eventually end apartheid in Israel. University administrators have repeatedly supported the apartheid agenda of Zionism by stifling, punishing, or censoring BDS supporters. We have seen this, for example, in Prof. Steven Salaita’s firing by administrators at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and in the recent, ongoing tenure-denial case of Prof. Sean McMahon at The American University in Cairo. President Joseph Castro at CSU-Fresno, through his decision, participates in this repression..

This trend, if it continues, amounts to an academic embargo on critical inquiry about Palestine-Israel and a racist blockade on the entry of Palestinian scholars into the academy and against those who support global justice activism in the form of BDS. It is painfully ironic that it was the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said who described criticism of Israel as “the last taboo” in the United States. And it is a profound travesty of Said’s remarkable legacy that a position named in honor of this renowned postcolonial studies scholar should be canceled arbitrarily, without democratic consultation or credible explanation. It is also shameful that administrators at a U.S. university seem to be working at the behest of off-campus pro-Israel lobby groups and anti-Palestinian individuals. As with other, related cases, CSU-Fresno’s discriminatory practices violate ethical and legal obligations of academic freedom, the First Amendment rights, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to protect faculty and students.

It is tragic to note that a brilliant and prolific Palestinian scholar such as Salaita, and also some finalists for the CSU-Fresno position, have had to go into academic exile and cannot get stable academic jobs in the U.S. The deepening adjunctification of the neoliberal university is being compounded by the expulsion of some of the finest and most principled scholars in Palestine studies, whose lives are made more precarious due to the Zionization of the U.S. academy. Creating a class of academic refugees who wander from one country to another is even more painful for Palestinians, whose entire people has been displaced and dispossessed by the Zionist state, with the ever-increasing aid of the United States. This historical irony has also resulted in a deformation of academic knowledge about Palestine-Israel, insofar as the views which CSU-Fresno and other universities are attempting to ban from the U.S. academy have as their aim the analysis and critique of the very settler colonialism and apartheid which has resulted in exile and ruined lives.

CSU-Fresno’’s cancellation of the search must be understood in the context of increasing racist attacks against Arabs and Muslims across the country. We live in a moment when many Americans are outraged by the authoritarianism of the president. Students and faculty across the U.S. are concerned about preserving democracy and dissent. Actions of the kind we are seeing at CSU-Fresno contribute to the erosion of democratic practices, revealing as they do that democracy and dissent are outlawed on college campuses when it comes to Palestine-Israel–the apparent exception to academic freedom.

USACBI calls for the faculty search at CSU-Fresno to be re-opened and for it to proceed free of racial bias and Zionist interference, and for scholars to join the movement for the academic boycott of Israel.

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Photo: Edward Said mural at San Francisco State University

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