Steven Salaita was born in Bluefield, West Virginia on September 15, 1975. His mother was of Palestinian heritage and was born in Nicaragua, while his father hailed from Jordan.
Salaita earned a B.A. in political science in 1997 and an M.A. in English in 1999, both from Radcliffe University. After subsequently obtaining a Ph.D. in Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, he taught American and Ethnic American Literature for three years at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. In 2006 Salaita became an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech, where in 2009 he was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor.
Salaita, who has referred to the Islamic terror group Hamas as “an often contradictory and always compelling social movement,” is a supporter of Students for Justice in Palestine and speaks frequently at that organization's events. He also promotes the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Hamas-inspired initiative that aims to use various forms of public protest, economic pressure, and court rulings to advance the Hamas agenda of permanently destroying Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Moreover, Salaita is an official signatory of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
In September 2013, Salaita was accepted to fill a tenured professorship in the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and was slated to begin teaching there the following August. But that plan was suddenly placed in jeopardy when, on July 21, 2014, UI chancellor Phyllis Wise was alerted to a series of anti-Semitic tweets in which Salaita had recently articulated his disgust with “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel's military response to a massive barrage of Hamas rockets that were being fired indiscriminately from Gaza into Israeli towns and cities. One tweet, which Salaita posted shortly after three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas operatives in June 2014, read: “I wish all the f**king West Bank settlers would go missing.” Other noteworthy Salaita tweets read as follows:
- “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.”
- “Zionists: transforming 'antisemitism' from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”
- “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”
- “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”
- “Zionist uplift in America. Every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime.”
- “The @IDFSpokesperson receives money to justify, conceal, and glamorize genocidal violence. Goebbels much?”
- “Only Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim.”
- “#IsraelIndependenceEquals sustenance of the European eugenic logic made famous by Hitler.”
Wise and her fellow UI administrators were troubled by the content and tone of these tweets. Then, over the next two days, Salaita posted additional tweets in which he compared Israel to the genocidal Islamic terrorist organization ISIS:
- “#Israel and #ISIS are but two prongs of the same violent ethnonationalism.”
- “Zionists: give it a rest. My criticism of #ISIS comes from the same ethical context as my profound dislike of #Israel.”
Salaita also accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and said that Operation Protective Edge was “not a 'conflict',” but rather, “a colonial power using disproportionate force to suppress an Indigenous insurrection.”
In light of the views that Salaita had expressed in the foregoing tweets, in September 2014 the UI Board of Trustees withdrew its offer of employment for Salaita, prompting the latter to file a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and First Amendment violations. The case dragged on until November 2015, when UI offered Salaita a financial settlement of $875,000, which he accepted.
In 2014-15, Salaita voiced support for the Islamic terrorist operative Rasmea Odeh, who at the time was fighting federal charges of immigration fraud and was trying to avoid deportation.
Salaita served as the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years. During that period, he continued to post tweets expressing his commitment to “deligitimizing Israel”; his belief that Israel's existence is “predicated on” such things as “racism,” “theft,” “displacement,” “chicanery,” and “ethnic cleansing”; and his view that Israel is “an ethnocracy in which non-Jews are legally dispossessed because a few thousand ideologues from the American suburbs need a spare country to fulfill their Orientalist fantasies.”
In July 2017, Salaita announced that he was having difficulty finding and maintaining a job in academia, and that he thus would be moving to the Washington, DC area to devote his energies to writing and public speaking.