CounterPunch / December 17, 2018
Temple University’s administration announced the unsurprising news that it has found no grounds to punish or investigate Professor Marc Lamont Hill for his speech at the United Nations on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Yet, the university’s Board of Trustees felt compelled, nonetheless, to issue a statement further maligning Dr Hill, albeit indirectly this time, by quoting the slanderous language of others against him.
Remarkably, the Board’s statement implicitly acknowledges there was nothing inherently offensive in Dr Hill’s speech. Rather, the university’s objection lies in the way “many regard[ed]” it and how it was “widely perceived” or “broadly criticized”. In essence, the university was unable to reasonably rebuke what was ultimately a call for justice and freedom for the Palestinian people, the colonized indigenous nation that has continuously inhabited the land between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea for millennia. It is therefore stunning and unprecedented that a university would hold its professor responsible not for his words, but for the ways in which others interpret them.
It is also worth noting that no such statement was issued by the Board of Trustees following the exposure of Temple journalism professor Francesca Viola, who admitted to posting conspiracy theories against Muslims and immigrants. Among other things, her anonymous account posted the word “scum” under a photo of Muslims praying and called to “get rid of them.”
It beggars the imagination to consider why Temple’s Board of Trustees would ignore the abhorrent and overtly racists posts in the account of one professor, while exceeding its mandate in order to rebuke an avowedly anti-racist professor, not for the content of his speech, but for the ways in which that speech was received.
In the second paragraph of the statement, Temple’s Board attempts to divest Dr. Hill from his professional position and identity as a scholar and intellectual using wording crafted to deny his right to academic freedom. The claim that Dr. Hill was speaking as a private citizen and therefore his words simply fall under the purview of the First Amendment belies the reality that his speech as a Temple faculty member is fully protected under the principles of academic freedom. In fact, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is explicit that “freedom of extramural utterance is a constitutive part of the American conception of academic freedom, and the AAUP has investigated and censured many institutions for dismissing faculty members over their extramural utterances.”
The unprincipled way in which members of Temple’s Board have berated and threatened an African American professor for criticizing Israel’s Jim Crow apartheid, while turning a blind eye to the egregious oppression faced by Palestinian students and scholars every day, a reality Dr. Hill described in his U.N. speech, is reprehensible. Comments by individuals on the Board of Trustees, the collective statement by the Board and their failure to defend academic freedom are a testament to the alarmingly corrosive power that defenders of Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid exert on the academy.
In a Philadelphia oped, Stephen Cozen, a member of Temple’s Board, proclaimed himself an authority on anti-Semitism before describing Hill’s words as “hate speech.” For good measure, he cast that disparaging net onto TAUP (Temple Association of University Professors), describing them “an association of folks who promote intersectionality, a practice which has fostered anti-Semitism from the left as well as the right.”
Ironically, the true anti-Semitism lies in conflating a 6000-year old faith with a contemporary settler-colonial nation-state that explicitly apportions human rights based on one’s religion. Indeed, it is anti-Semitic, and patently false, to assume that all Jews are of one mind that reflexively takes offense at criticism of Israel.
Marc Lamont Hill’s call for Palestinian freedom from the river to the sea upholds the noble tenets of justice relevant to all monotheistic religions. It is also an acknowledgement of the basic historic truth that we Palestinians are not merely some miscellaneous Arabs clustered in the West Bank and Gaza, but a native and ancient nation that also comes from Akka, Haifa, Yaffa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Galilee and all parts of Historic Palestine. This fact, which Israel has long sought to erase, is what Israel’s defenders find objectionable. But it is a fact nonetheless.