Scholar sues Illinois university for nixing his tenure over anti-Israel tweets

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A scholar who lost a tenured professorship at the University of Illinois because he made inflammatory statements against Israel sued faculty and donors over the decision not to hire him.

Steven G. Salaita filed the lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the university and some of its donors because the institution in September rescinded its job offer to him, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.


The lawsuit, which does not name the donors because the university redacted their names from records pertaining to its decision on Salaita, says they influenced faculty’s decision not to hire Salaita by threatening to withhold funding.

The university vowed to defend itself and called Salaita’s claims meritless.

In explaining its decision to rescind its offer to Salaita, the university said in a statement that he lacked “judgment, temperament, and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty,” and  “particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”

During Israel’s war last summer with Hamas, Salaita wrote about Israel’s prime minister on Twitter: “If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised?”

He also wrote: “Zionists, take responsibility: If your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”

Salaita later removed both tweets.

The lawsuit accuses the donors of wrongful interference with contractual and business relations, and includes them in its claims that all of the defendants conspired to violate Salaita’s First Amendment free-speech rights and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon him.

The named defendants include the university’s president and vice president, Robert Easter and Christophe Pierre respectively, the chancellor of the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus, Phyllis M. Wise, and seven out of the eight members of the university’s Board of Trustees.