In December 2018, a Temple University professor faced backlash after making pro-Palestine remarks that many deemed anti-Semitic. He was subsequently fired from his position as a CNN contributor, and the university’s board of trustees condemned his comments. However, the board did not take any disciplinary action against him.
Marc Lamont Hill is a prominent professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University, a public institution in Philadelphia with an undergraduate population of about 30,000 students.
Hill made the remarks at a Nov. 28 United Nations (UN) meeting focused on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, a UN-organized observance.
“We must advocate and promote non-violence,” Hill said. “We cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians for resisting, for refusing to do nothing in the face of state violence and ethnic cleansing.” Hill also endorsed a boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel.
Most notable, however, was Hill’s call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” a phrase that, according to The Washington Post, has been used by several anti-Israeli terrorist groups to advocate destruction of the Jewish state. Given its varied use in the past, the exact meaning of the phrase remains unsettled.
Hill’s comments drew severe and immediate backlash. Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York, compared the remarks to a “swastika painted in red.” Seth Mandel, executive editor of the Washington Examiner, described them as an “explicit call for Jewish genocide.”
On Nov. 29, Hill sought to clarify his comments, saying the phrase “river to the sea” was not explicitly ideological in any way, and rather implied “freedom, safety, and peace” throughout the region, including in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
“I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice,” Hill said. “I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.”
On Dec. 1, Hill apologized for “the reception of [his] message,” telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that “we must reject anti-Semitism in any form or fashion.”
The controversy also harkened back to a 2016 incident in which Hill was photographed with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has long been viewed as anti-Semitic.
Hill fired as CNN commentator
On Nov. 29, CNN fired Hill from his contributor role, giving little explanation. Because the termination came as criticism over Hill’s remarks began to mount, many were concerned at the precedent set by the move.
“We all have a right to speak up about injustice any and everywhere,” tweeted Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
Glenn Greenwald, of The Intercept, called Hill’s firing “a major defeat for the right to advocate for Palestinian rights, to freely critique the Israeli government, and for the ability of journalism and public discourse in the U.S. generally to accommodate dissent.”
University Board of Trustees condemns Hill’s comments, but defends his Free Speech rights
On Dec. 11, the Post reported that the Temple University Board of Trustees had unanimously condemned Hill’s comments and reaffirmed their opposition to anti-Semitism. Though Chairman of the Board Patrick O’Connor called the comments “hate speech,” he and other members acknowledged that such language was protected by Hill’s Free Speech rights under the First Amendment.
“He spoke as a private citizen and his right to do so is protected by the Constitution,” university president Richard Englert said. In an Inquirer op-ed, several Temple professors defended Hill’s “academic freedom to express his views on the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and called out the university for distancing itself from Hill.
Condemnation notwithstanding, the Post also noted that the university chose neither to dismiss nor punish Hill for his remarks.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded December 17, 2018