Steven Salaita’s Scholarly Record and the Problem of His Appointment

By Cary Nelson


Despite several published essays about two of Steven Salaita’s books, there has so far been no comprehensive scholarly review of his published work or about how it bears on his appointment in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Salaita’s first book—and the book that was the main justification for his appointment at Illinois—asserts that Palestinians are the one truly indigenous people of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Although Salaita does not give serious attention to the scholarship that would dispute such a claim, he is not alone in staking out that polemical ground. His more distinctive argument is that Israelis were a European colonialist power who actually modeled their nation building on the strategies used to suppress the Indian peoples of North America. For that claim there is no persuasive evidence. And yet it underlies his effort to treat Native Americans and Palestinians within a framework of “comparative indigeneity.” Support for the Palestinian people and unremitting hostility toward the Jewish state are the paired commitments that underlie most of Salaita’s published work. This paper attempts to show that sympathy with Salaita’s politics, rather than appropriate expertise about Middle East history, was the determining factor behind the effort to appoint him at Illinois. In doing so it makes a negative judgment about most of his publications and about whether he should have been offered a position at a major research university.

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Please note that, also in Volume 6, Robert Warrior refutes some of the claims of this article. View the article "A Response to Cary Nelson."