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Illinois university settles with professor who criticized Israel

The University of Illinois said on Thursday that it would pay $875,000 to settle a lawsuit by a professor who lost out on a tenured position after he made Twitter postings critical of Israel.

Steven Salaita, 40, had sued the university for violation of his rights to free speech, saying that donors had pressured trustees to withdraw their offer due to public criticisms he made about Israeli military strikes in Gaza.

The settlement includes $275,000 for Salaita's attorneys. Salaita will not be hired by the university, which does not admit to any wrongdoing, according to a university statement. The settlement will be covered by the university's self-insurance and institutional funds.

“Although the amount is significant, it is less than what we would spend if the case were to continue and proceed to trial over the next year,” said Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, in the statement.

The flagship state school, based in Urbana-Champaign in central Illinois, has already spent $1.3 million litigating the case, said spokesman Tom Hardy.

Salaita left a tenured position at Virginia Tech to take the job in Illinois and the withdrawal of the offer harmed his reputation and caused him economic hardship, according to his federal lawsuit, filed in January.

The suit sought both money and reinstatement to his position as an indigenous studies professor in the American Indian Studies program.

The university said examples of messages posted by Salaita included, “Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a monstrous colonial regime.”

Salaita, who is married with a young son, said in his complaint that he is not anti-Semitic but “felt an obligation to speak out” after news reports of military action in Gaza. 

The messages Salaita posted showed he “lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity” the university said in response to Salaita's suit.

Salaita currently has a one-year post at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

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