Mondoweiss / September 8, 2023
In 2018, Marc Lamont Hill was fired from his job at CNN over comments he made in support of Palestinian liberation. Now, Israel supporters are angered over his hiring by CUNY.
In August the City University of New York (CUNY) announced that Robin Garrell was stepping down as head of CUNY’s Graduate Center after three years on the job.
A week before the announcement Garrell had faced backlash for hiring academic, author, and television personality Marc Lamont Hill as CUNY’s presidential professor of Urban Education. In 2018 Hill was fired from his job at CNN over comments he made about Israel in a speech at the United Nations. In addition to voicing support for the BDS movement, Hill also called on the international community “to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action, and international action that will give us what justice requires. And that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
The criticism wasn’t cited as a reason for Garrell’s departure, but that didn’t stop pro-Israel voices from celebrating it as a victory. “This is wonderful news,” former state Assemblyman Dov Hikind told the New York Post. “The ouster of the CUNY Graduate Center president sends a powerful message to CUNY campus officials to stop hiring Jew haters. But this is just a first step. Marc Lamont Hill has to go, too.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R-Brooklyn), who vowed to work tirelessly to assure that Hill gets removed from his new position.
“That Marc Lamont Hill was even considered as a professor at CUNY is reprehensible,” she declared “..Every day that Marc Lamont Hill keeps his job at CUNY is a stain on this institution … Hill must be relieved from his post immediately.”
The pro-Israel faculty organization CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI) wrote to university leadership to express their indignation. “If CUNY is not to go down the rabbit hole of selective racism and instead continue its historic tradition of academic integrity and moral clarity, it must reverse course,” reads the letter. “We understand that Professor Hill is a recognized and acclaimed expert on race and educational policy, but this doesn’t excuse his many past offensive remarks and virulent anti-Israel activism, which have landed as deeply offensive on the campus Jewish community at Temple and elsewhere where he has been a guest speaker.”
The Hill hiring certainly wasn’t the only CUNY development that upset Israel supporters during Garrell’s tenure. On May 12, 2023 graduating student Fatima Mohammed gave the commencement speech at CUNY’s law school and openly criticized the country.
“Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes, carrying the ongoing Nakba … our silence is no longer acceptable,” she told the crowd. “Palestine can no longer be the exception to our pursuit of justice.”
Mohammed was immediately attacked by pro-Israel groups and lawmakers. “Imagine being so crazed by hatred for Israel as a Jewish State that you make it the subject of your commencement speech at a law school graduation,” tweeted Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY). “Anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work.”
AIPAC shared Torres’s tweet with the caption, “Thank you Ritchie Torres for your moral clarity in rejecting baseless slander of our ally Israel and speaking out in support of the Jewish state.”
“City University of New York class day speaker slanders Israel and enthusiastically celebrates antisemitism,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) “Cheers on open borders & releasing violent criminals from jail. And decries the ‘fascist NYPD.’ This is a LAW school. Paid for with tax dollars.”
Mohammed was even thrown under the bus by CUNY’s Board of Trustees and its Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez. They put out a collective statement referring to Mohammed’s remarks as “hate speech”.
“This speech is particularly unacceptable at a ceremony celebrating the achievements of a wide diversity of graduates, and hurtful to the entire CUNY community, which was founded on the principle of equal access and opportunity,” reads the statement. “CUNY’s commitment to protecting and supporting our students has not wavered throughout our 175-year existence and we cannot and will not condone hateful rhetoric on our campuses.”
In February 2023 the New York State Division of Human Rights announced that it was opening a probe into alleged discrimination against Zionist and Israeli students at CUNY Law School, after the faculty endorsed a resolution embracing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
However, four pro-Israel professors at the school claim that they are also being investigated for alleged discrimination against anti-Zionist students.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss