Earlier today on the contingent-academics listserv adj-l, Cary Nelson complained about an article critiquing his support of Steven Salaita’s ouster from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. His complaint rested on two charges: the first, that the Electronic Intifada had perpetrated “vicious slander” against him for describing his monitoring of Salaita’s tweets as “monitoring” (which the article in question referenced), and, secondly, that the listserv member who posted the article exhibited “deep hatred” for Nelson simply because he circulated the article, one of numerous circulating critiques of Nelson at the moment.
Other listserv members rallied to our colleague’s side, including one who called for Nelson to recant his remarks, another who posted a number of readings on Nelson and the Salaita case, and a third who questioned Nelson’s denial that he monitored Salaita’s tweets. I also responded to Nelson, a response which I include here along with his statements to the listserv (the original one and a follow-up) as well as the quote from the article that caused his ire. I have redacted the first names of listserv members, except when I have received permission to include them, so that they aren’t dragged publicly into the current debate vis-a-vis Nelson because I choose to post my response publicly.
A link to the article in question was posted along with this quote:
Professors and educators, who are experiencing a steady erosion of academic freedom along with pay and job cuts, should take Nelson’s involvement in the Salaita case as a warning. They can put no faith in a “union” whose most prominent member publicly boasts of monitoring the statements of a new faculty hire and defends that hire’s dismissal on grounds of objectionable speech—even when university administrators are not openly making such a claim. [Emphasis in original.]
Nelson responded as such:
This “monitoring” charge is a vicious slander by The Electronic Intifada, now amplified by [redacted] in McCarthyite style. I have been writing about the BDS movement for a year and have just completed editing a book titled THE CASE AGAINST ACADEMIC BOYCOTTS OF ISRAEL. I try to keep up with the work of all the major BDS supporters, from Judith Butler to David Lloyd to Steven Salaita, etc. I READ their books, I read Steven’s essays, I read his tweets. I explained all this to The Electronic Intifada when they asked me how long I had been READING (their word) Salaita. They then turned this into “monitoring,” which [redacted] has now amplified into a broad political charge. In the past I’ve “monitored” Adrienne Rich, monitored W.S. Merwin. On this list I “monitor” [redacted]. I guess the rest of us are doing so as well, but all of you apparently read, while I “Monitor.”
Although [redacted] and I have had our differences in the past, I’ve always respected his energy and dedication. I didn’t realize he’d developed a deep hatred for me.
Later, after the first round of reaction to the above, Nelson responded as such:
I understood [redacted] to be agreeing with and elaborating on the “monitoring” remark.
I discovered Nelson’s intervention in the list when I was copied on a response to the listserv, which I saw upon checking my email about an hour ago. I responded to Nelson, and the listserv, as follows:
It’s amazing but unsurprising that Prof. Nelson brought his “McCarthyite style” “vicious slander” campaign, currently deployed against Steven Salaita, here to this listserv to accuse [redacted] of the same. [Note: Upon rereading Nelson’s original statement, I see he accused the Electronic Intifada of “vicious slander,” but as he explained in his follow-up statement, he “understood” the listserv member as “agreeing with and elaborating on the ‘monitoring’ remark.”] Not only that, but then to claim that “critique”—and by a third party at that, since [redacted] was quoting from a source—is somehow equivalent to “deep hatred.”
This is incredibly troubling rhetoric from someone who apparently played a role—though he’s yet to fully disclose it—in the firing of an academic for his political views and the consequent upheaval in that academic’s—and his family’s—life. Please don’t play the victim card, Prof. Nelson, when it’s you that has caused so much damage.
As Ana [M. Fores Tamayo, of Adjunct Justice and this petition] avers, Prof. Nelson was quoted directly as follows in the Electronic Intifada piece about his “monitoring” of Prof. Salaita: “There are scores of tweets. I have screen captures. The total effect seems to me to cross a line.” If that’s not “monitoring,” then apparently its definition has changed—but given that Prof. Nelson doesn’t believe that Gaza is under Israeli occupation, as he also stated in the Intifada piece—in contradiction of all accounts except for Israel’s mystifying “facts on the ground,” of which Prof. Nelson is a chief promulgator—he’s not necessarily referring to material reality when he discusses Palestine, Palestinians, and their advocates such as Prof. Salaita.
Among the readings [redacted] helpfully posted, the CCR one makes clear that an individual’s constitutionally protected political views cannot be separated from the manner in which they’re conveyed, as the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled. And Corey Robin’s itemized account of Prof. Nelson’s contradictions on “civility,” academic freedom, and academic boycotts is especially helpful in seeing how far Prof. Nelson has drifted from his days of embracing justice, not, as he does now, working against it.
To these resources I will add Mondoweiss’s extensive review earlier this year of Prof. Nelson’s longtime machinations regarding Israel, especially vis-a-vis his role at AAUP.
As Noura Erekat put it today on Facebook, “Opponents to Palestinian freedom, liberty, & dignity have made a policy of censoring & punishing scholars who dare to speak on Palestine. Supporting Steven [Salaita] is also about resisting entrenched practice in academia that has harassed/stifled scholars for decades.”
I stand with the countless others who reject Prof. Nelson’s—and the Israeli government’s and its global lobby’s—campaign against Palestine, Palestinians, and their supporters, and I join Jack’s call for Prof. Nelson to retract his vicious ad hominem against [redacted].
I will also be posting this to my blog to document and circulate Prof. Nelson’s actions here.
I’ll post and circulate any further responses by Nelson.