Steven Salaita discusses his recent books and provides context on various inequality struggles around the world in his talk, titled "Native and Palestinian Activism in the Age of U.S. Imperialism," at Goldwin Smith Hall on November 15, 2017. (Omar Abdul-Rahim/Staff Photographer)

November 16, 2017

Former Virginia Tech Prof Equates U.S. Historical Behavior Toward Native Americans and Palestinians

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Espousing the view that the U.S. is a “settler colonial power,” independent scholar Steven Salaita said Native Americans and Palestinians have both, historically, been targets of U.S. imperialism in a lecture Wednesday.

“Palestinians need to have basic human rights,” Salaita said. “They need a social, economic and political transformation that allows them to breathe, that allows them to exist.”

While there are some differences between the histories of indigenous communities and Palestine, he said, they share forms of militarization and disfranchisement of political rights. And after centuries of oppression and mistreatment, he added, Palestinians and Native Americans through global activism have fought against the colonialism that continues today.

Salaita noted the connection between the U.S. and Israel saying we “cannot separate the behavior of Israel with the behavior of the U.S.”

A former Virginia Tech professor, Salaita in 2014 became the center of a national controversy when his job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded after he made comments about the Israel-Gaza conflict criticizing Zionists on Twitter, according to an article in The Chicago Tribune.

Since 2016, Salaita has not been able to obtain another academic appointment after the controversy and recently announced he is leaving academia and pursuing a career writing and lecturing.

William Scherr ’21, who attended the lecture and said he identified as Jewish and progressive, told The Sun that he disagreed with Salaita.

“I felt that my support for Israel was under attack by causes I support,” Scherr said. “I attended because I wanted to make my voice heard and I didn’t want the talk to be one sided.”

While Salaita’s talk were received negatively by some, others said his views are worth hearing.

“We need to encourage dialogue in our campus and society,” said Jolene Rickard, director of Cornell’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies program. “Everything he said was really relevant.”

Salaita highlighted the “responsibility” that we have to indigenous people everywhere and the importance of recognizing them as “national communities.”

Salaita concluded his talk underlining the need to acknowledge the conditions of Native Americans and Palestinians through his previous work in academia and “hostility” that arose.

“It not just that Palestine is making a presence in an American Indian space, it is that we are being asked to simultaneously acknowledge two forms of settler colonization in which most people share some kind of complicity,” he said.