Temple to investigate if it will reprimand Marc Lamont Hill

The professor and former CNN commentator is in the midst of a national controversy about his comments at the U.N. And his job could be on the line.

Temple University is considering reprimanding Marc Lamont Hill, the media studies and production and urban education professor whose anti-Israel, pro-Palestine remarks in a United Nations speech spurred a national controversy.

In his speech last week, Hill used the phrase “free Palestine from the river to the sea,” a slogan used by Palestinian solidarity movements and sometimes by the Islamic extremist and Palestinian nationalist group Hamas.

Jewish groups across the country said through this phrase, Hill was anti-Semitic and that he was suggesting the destruction of Israel, which Hill has refuted.

Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor requested Temple’s legal department determine if it can reprimand Hill, wrote Cornelius Pratt, the president of the Temple Faculty Senate, in an email to The Temple News. Temple declined to comment multiple times on its considerations of Hill’s employment.

As of now, Hill is still a tenured professor. CNN has suspended his contract. With tens of thousands of tweets sent about the controversy, people across the country and on Main Campus have weighed in. Some are calling for Temple to take a stand for academic freedom. Others are calling for the university to stand up to hate — and fire him.

With the world’s eyes on Temple’s next move, here’s what happened — and what could happen next.

  • Trustee Steve Charles could not be reached for comment.
  • O’Connor could not be reached for comment.
  • Gregory Anderson, the dean of the College of Education, is traveling and could not be immediately reached for comment.
  • David Boardman, the dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication, declined to comment on Hill’s remarks and where the professor stands with the university. University spokesman Brandon Lausch declined to comment about Hill’s employment.

Navigate this story

➤ An apology
➤ Experts weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
➤ Academic freedom
➤ Temple students react to Marc Lamont Hill’s anti-Israel, pro-Palestine UN speech
➤ Criticism from all sides
➤ Student org celebrates Hanukkah days after Hill’s comments

An apology

Hill apologized for the reaction his remarks provoked in an open letter to the Temple community in The Temple News on Saturday. In the letter, Hill defended his political stance — which is for a free state for the Palestinian people — and said his comments were not intended to advocate harm against Israeli Jews.

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What does 'From the river to the sea' mean?

“From the river to the sea” is a phrase that can be interpreted differently depending on perspective. It has been used to describe equality for Palestinians from an Israeli occupancy and by radical Palestinian liberation groups to justify violence. It has also been used to describe an Israeli entitlement to land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict began in 1948 with the first Arab-Israeli war, and it still continues today. The conflict is violent and more than 10,000 people have died since 2000.

“I believed that these demands sufficiently reflected my belief in radical political reform within Israel, not a desire for its destruction,” Hill wrote. “Clearly, they did not.”

“Everyone deserves to live with peace, safety, and security,” he continued. “My vision of justice for Palestinians absolutely does not come at the expense of justice for Jews anywhere in the world.”

Experts weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Alyssa Biederman

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The phrase “from the river to the sea,” which media studies and production professor Marc Lamont Hill used in his speech to the United Nations on Wednesday, comes from the disputed area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The context and pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian stances surrounding the phrase is diverse, said Sean Yom and Ian Lustick, political science professors who both specialize in Middle Eastern studies and politics.

“It’s primarily been about land and people’s conflicting rights to it,” said Yom, who teaches at Temple. “It is about identity. It’s about religion. It’s about history. It’s about memory, but it is a fight about land and whose claim to territory is morally, legally and politically superior to one another.”

Jewish people first occupied the region in the early 1900s as a part of the Zionist movement, which supports Jews finding a permanent homeland.

“Jews have lived without a country of their own for a long time — for hundreds of years — and without the protection of a state,” Lustick said. “As estranged people, they were always subjected to persecutions.”

This persecution led Jewish people to form an official “home,” as Lustick described, and the area surrounding Jerusalem had the religious pull to get masses to move.

The conflict began because the Jews who came to Israel took an “iron-door” stance and expected already-settled Palestinians to compromise, said Lustick, who teaches the “Arab Israeli Conflict in International Politics” course at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1947, the United Nations mandated a “partition,” or a creation of two separate states for the Jewish and Arab people living in the region. Palestinians believed this favored Israel, prompting a war between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Israel then gained some areas originally granted to Palestinians by the U.N. in 1947 through an armistice in 1949.

After a series of wars, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 and 1995. The accords promised that Israelis and Palestinians would find peace and gave Palestine independent control of parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — the main location of conflict today.

Guerilla war between the two sides continues there, and radical groups emerged on both sides. Hamas, a Palestinian nationalist group, has used violence to claim a Palestinian state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas has had control for more than a decade.

Additionally, there were two Palestinian uprisings against Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. In some cases, Palestinians protested peacefully, and in others, violence broke out on both sides. According to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territories, more Palestinians died in these conflicts than Israelis.

There are two prominently debated solutions to the conflict: one-state and two-state, Yom said.

The most often used definition of a “one-state solution” would give Israel complete control over the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The “two-state solution” would fulfill the U.N. partition and allow Palestine and Israel to declare two separate, independently controlled states. But some Palestinian liberation movements, like the Temple chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, said they support returning the region to the Palestinians.

Lustick said Hill’s “free Palestine from the river to the sea” statement could mean that he advocates for equality and democracy for Palestinians in a “one-state solution,” in which both Palestinians and Israelis can live peacefully.

In the end, it is impossible to determine Hill’s exact meaning because it has been historically used by different groups and can be interpreted in several ways, Yom said. Palestinians have used this to advocate for a separate state and Jewish people have used the phrase to justify their control over the disputed land.

“When two different communities have a fundamental and internationally recognized claim to exist, any language which can be remotely interpreted as questioning either right to exist can be seen as inflammatory and a frontal assault on a people,” he said.

“Most people are not focusing on creating two states,” Lustick said. “They’re instead focusing on making whatever arrangement is made between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River democratic for everybody.”

For this reason, Yom and Lustick said, “Chofshi b’ar-tzeinu,” Hebrew for “free in our own land” is included in Israel’s national anthem, while “horra min al-nahr ila al-ba’har,” Arabic for “free from the river to the sea” has become a popular slogan for pro-Palestinian activists.

“You have a situation where both speakers can claim to be right and morally justified in their statement,” Yom said. “The only problem is that neither speaker can be fully aware of the other’s meaning of the phrase.”

In his speech on the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Hill said the state of Israel is committing injustices against Palestinians and called to “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” These injustices are the Israeli government’s actions toward Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip, which include imprisoning, injuring or killing protesters.

In an effort to make amends at Temple, Hill said in his open letter that he wants to engage in “healthy public and private dialogues” with university administrators, students and community groups about their differences in opinion.

Academic freedom

Hill, a 2000 alumnus and Germantown native, began teaching at Temple in 2005 as an education professor. He left the university for several years and returned in 2017, after being named the first endowed Steve Charles Chair in Media, Cities and Solutions at the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication and also teaches in the urban education program in the College of Education.

On Friday, O’Connor criticized Hill’s remarks, calling them “lamentable” and “disgusting,” the Inquirer reported. Some at the university wanted to fire Hill right away and are looking into reprimanding him, O’Connor said.

“Free speech is one thing. Hate speech is entirely different,” O’Connor told the Inquirer.

The United States Supreme Court held up protections of hate and disparaging speech against a racial or ethnic group under the First Amendment’s free speech clause in the 2017 decision in Matal v. Tam. Hate speech is also defended in other Supreme Court decisions, argued Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

“Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” Alito wrote in the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision.

Hill is a tenured faculty member, according to the Temple Association of University Professionals. This gives Hill enhanced academic freedom and protection from discipline by the university, said Steven Newman, TAUP’s president.

No formal proceedings to take action against Hill have been initiated as of Monday, but O’Connor’s comment suggest officials are posturing to do so, Newman said. Under the legally binding 2014-18 faculty contract, there is a specific investigation and hearing process the university must conduct with tenured faculty members.

In an email to the Temple community on Friday, President Richard Englert affirmed that Hill’s comments, while protected under the First Amendment, did not reflect the views of the university, which condemns anti-Semitic and racist language.

“The university, in the best interest of its community, will take necessary and proper action to protect these values when they are threatened,” he continued. “At the same time, we pride ourselves on our diversity, in all its forms. We will always be a place where divergent points of view will find a home. These are the values the Temple community embraces.”

TAUP released a statement on Saturday criticizing O’Connor’s comments and Englert’s failure to mention Hill’s academic freedom protections in his Friday message. The statement was intended to remind O’Connor of the procedure the university must follow to reprimand Hill, Newman said.

Temple students react to Marc Lamont Hill’s anti-Israel, pro-Palestine UN speech

By Will Bleier

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Professor Marc Lamont Hill said he didn’t intend for his comments to leave an aftermath of emotion in the Temple community.

But that’s not how some Temple University students saw it. Some interpreted his pro-Palestinian comments at the United Nations last week as anti-Semitic. Others saw Hill to be fighting for Palestinian freedom.

Hill referenced a liberated Palestine “from the river to the sea,” which is a phrase used by extremist, anti-Israel movements.

Because of this, President Richard Englert reaffirmed the university’s values, condemned hate speech and reiterated Hill’s constitutional right to speech in a message to the Temple community on Friday. CNN cut its contract with the urban studies and media studies and production professor, a network spokesperson confirmed on Thursday.

Several Jewish and Palestinian students reacted strongly against, or in favor of Hill’s remarks.

Englert’s statement was unimpressive, said Aviv Reif, a junior finance and international business major who is Jewish. Reif, who has served on Hillel at Temple’s executive board for the last two academic years, said he would like Hill to have a conversation with those who are offended by his statements.

“It’s concerning that we have a member of the faculty who holds those opinions and is educating other students with those opinions,” Reif said.

“To me, it’s not something political, it’s something anti-Semitic because it isn’t a statement that acts against the Israeli army or the Israeli government,” he added. “They are attacks against fellow Jews living in Israel.”

Palestinian rights and anti-Semitism are not mutually exclusive, said Tara Faik, a senior political science major and the treasurer of Temple’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Faik is Iraqi.

“Just because we want Palestinian rights, just because we want justice in Palestine, does not mean we hate Jewish people,” Faik said.

However, Abby Sullivan, a freshman public health major who is Jewish, said the phrase “from the river to the sea,” has grown from a pro-Palestinian call — to action to an anti-Semitic one.

“It frustrates me because I see this school as a very open and safe place for Jews, and when you hear things like that, that professors are openly saying anti-Israel things, it makes you as a Jew feel really uncomfortable,” Sullivan said.

“It shakes your confidence on how you look at an organization,” she added.

Temple should expand its education on Jewish and Israeli issues through the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, Sullivan said.

Jasper Saah, who is Palestinian, is a senior history major and secretary of SJP. Saah believes Hill’s speech was taken out of context.

“The statement that he made at the U.N. was simply calling for equal democratic rights in a secular, democratic state for everyone who lives within historic Palestine,” Saah said. “And I think that people who see that as an attack on all Jews are purposefully distorting the facts.”

“Marc’s work with regard to gentrification, police brutality and the African-American struggle in this country has been thorough,” Saah added. “He’s a man who’s very, very dedicated to justice for all people.”

Saah said there were times they’ve felt “uncomfortable” on campus as a Palestinian student by “racist” statements from students and faculty. They said being a Palestinian student on campus is difficult, but worth the struggle of holding an unpopular opinion.

Cameron Morris, a junior media studies and production major, is in one of Hill’s classes this semester.

“I don’t want to downplay what he said because obviously there is a very loaded history behind the term that he used,” Morris said. “But I also believe that as far as my prior experience with him as a professor, he has been nothing but respectful to everyone of every background.”

“I believe just having an open door to students who were offended is helpful, and I think it’s just a matter of being sensitive and having that door open to students that may have been upset by what he said,” he added.

Greta Anderson, Alyssa Biederman, Grace Shallow and Colin Evans contributed reporting.

Per his university contract, Hill has the First Amendment rights of a private citizen when speaking publicly. As a tenured professor, he has even greater protections for academic freedom than other faculty, said Jennie Shanker, the vice president of TAUP.

Hill can only be removed from his position or reprimanded for “just cause,” which includes “dereliction of duties, professional incompetence, grave misconduct or academic dishonesty or continued patterns of misconduct in cases of dismissal.”

If just cause is found, under the current contract, the university may issue a letter of reprimand, make a professor ineligible for sabbatical and “professional development funds,” or may suspend a professor without pay for varying lengths of time.

“They have rights to speech that, it’s controversial, because that’s a necessity in order for us to move forward as a culture, both in the arts in the sciences and all of our fields,” Shanker told The Temple News. “Oftentimes new territory, new knowledge, might contradict things that people hold dear. And in academia, we have to value that work and those voices.”

Hillel at Temple encourages university officials to “review the potential impact Professor Hill’s comments may have on Jewish students on campus,” Rabbi Daniel Levitt, the executive director of the on-campus Jewish organization.

“We stand ready to engage in dialogue and discussion to ensure that students are provided with a complete understanding of these complex and challenging issues,” Levitt added.

Rabbi Daniel Levitt
Executive Director of Hillel

“While I agree that not all criticism of Israel can and should be considered anti-semitism, I would be interested in knowing if in his mind it is possible for criticism of Israel to cross the line into anti-semitism and what that line is.”

Lila Corwin Berman
Jewish Studies professor and the director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History

“I think that we should listen to how he explains what he meant. He’s explained it in a way that makes clear that he did not have the intention, or does not have the intention, of being anti-Semitic.”

Richard Englert
Temple University President

“Professor Hill’s right to express his opinion is protected by the Constitution to the same extent as any other private citizen.”

In May, The Temple News reported that a social media account registered to the Temple email address of Klein professor Francesca Viola posted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant comments on alt-right and national news sites.

The account called Muslim people “scum” and posted “They hate us. Get rid of them,” on an article on The Gateway Pundit. Viola admitted to writing some of the comments, but denied using the derogatory terms about Muslims, Klein College Dean David Boardman wrote in a statement at the time.

“We are troubled by the content of some of the other cited posts but acknowledge that those in the Temple community are entitled to exercise free speech within constitutional parameters,” Boardman wrote.

Viola remained a journalism professor in Klein for the Fall 2018 semester.

Journalism professor Lori Tharps, who has been at the university since 2009, said she is confused about the strength of Englert’s statement and O’Connor’s comments on Hill.

“I’m particularly confused by the response of Temple administration given how many people, particularly in the recent past from our own journalism department, have also been caught spewing language that is offensive to multiple people, without the same level of outrage,” she said.

Criticism from all sides

Some contend whether Hill’s remarks were anti-Semitic, or hate speech.

Several national Jewish advocacy groups praised CNN for firing Hill as a contributor to the news organization on Thursday. Then, they called on Temple to follow suit.

Jewish groups, like the National Council of Young Israel, B’nai B’rith International and the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Hill for not referencing the violent attacks the Palestinian government has launched against Israel, and for not calling for peace, or a “two-state solution,” which promotes ceasefire and coexistence of the two sides.

Other Jewish groups said the language in Hill’s speech was anti-Semitic and similar to language used by Hamas. They said Hill called for the destruction of Israel.

The NCYI called on Temple again on Friday to fire Hill. The organization of 25,000 Jewish families and 135 synagogues in the United States, Canada and Israel wrote in a statement to The Temple News that Hill invoked violence against the Israeli state and has a history of making anti-Semitic comments.

“The reality is that Dr. Hill is a member of Temple’s faculty, and he, therefore, does indeed represent Temple as a result, despite the university’s perplexing assertions to the contrary,” wrote Aaron Troodler, an NCYI spokesperson.

“If he is a Temple professor, his hate-filled diatribe is a reflection of the university, and the administration should do the right thing by severing its ties with him,” he added. B’nai B’rith International, a human rights and Israel advocacy group, echoed this notion.

Hundreds of pro-Palestine organizations, including several chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, university professors and more than 400 students nationwide signed a letter criticizing Englert’s message to the Temple community and calling CNN’s decision “unjust.”

“We cannot pretend that painting Hill as a threat that Temple University must remove is fueled by anything other than racism,” the letter reads. “Policing black voices in academia and in public spaces is part of a much larger history of anti-Blackness.”

“CNN and Temple University should have celebrated Hill’s call for justice and equality, but instead used it as an opportunity to silence and intimidate those who criticise the state of Israel,” the letter continues. “The racist nature of this incident should not be overlooked nor can it be excused.”

Nine members of the Temple community signed the letter as of Tuesday.

Another letter by the Scholars for Black Lives, a nationwide collective for improving African-Americans’ material conditions, voiced its support for Hill and academic freedom. The letter condemned O’Connor’s comments. Eleven members of the Temple community signed the letter.

“Indeed, Dr. Hill’s speech before the United Nations regarding Palestinian freedom demonstrates critical judgment and his independent search for truth,” the letter reads. “Therefore, instead of distancing itself from Dr. Hill, Temple University should embrace and applaud him for courageously exemplifying its espoused ideals.”

Hill’s apology should be believed, said Lila Corwin Berman, a Jewish studies professor and the director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History in the College of Liberal Arts. She said Hill did not use the “river to the sea” phrase in an anti-Semitic way.

“It certainly is a phrase that has been used by groups that have anti-Semitism as part of their agenda,” Berman said. “I don’t think there is a dispute about that. The question as to whether Hill intended it to be an anti-Semitic statement, I think he has answered.”

Student org celebrates Hanukkah days after Hill’s comments

By Grace Shallow

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Steve Feldman clutched an Israeli and American flag as he watched members of Chabad at Temple University light three candles on a nine-foot-tall menorah in honor of the second night of Hanukkah.

Like the other attendees at Monday’s ceremony near the Bell Tower, Feldman wanted to honor Temple’s Jewish community. Unlike others, he wanted to make it clear that he felt the university’s response to Marc Lamont Hill’s comments “fell woefully short” of rightfully condemning the media studies and production professor.

“Not only was what he said anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, but I felt it was anti-American because he’s calling for violence,” said Feldman, a 1983 journalism alumnus and the executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia chapter. “He called for the destruction of Israel. … I felt the need to be here.”

The group of about 30 attendees included Provost JoAnne Epps and President Richard Englert, who addressed the crowd. Chabad at Temple University, an on-campus Jewish organization, annually lights the menorah at the Bell Tower, where it will remain through the end of the holiday on Sunday.

Jesse Laitman, the president of Chabad at Temple University, said the student organization would have held the event regardless of the controversy surrounding Hill’s remarks, but it’s a timely example of the strength of Temple’s Jewish community. He hopes other students support their Jewish peers.

“I hope he still is in this negative spotlight and that the consequences that he brought on himself stay,” he added.

Feldman called Englert’s university-wide statement about the situation “repugnant.” Englert condemned all discriminatory speech and said the university is “a place where divergent points of view will find a home,” in an email sent to the Temple community.

Englert was not able to comment on the controversy surrounding Hill at the event.

“We’re here for a celebration,” he told The Temple News. “And as the rabbi says, this is the triumph of lightness over darkness.”

He noted that this is the first Hanukkah since 11 people were killed and six were injured in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27. Days after, a vigil was held at the Bell Tower to honor the victims of the tragedy, which was the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.

No matter the situation, Laitman said Temple’s Jewish community is committed to unity.

“We’re not going to stand for anti-Semitism, we’re not going to stand for violence and we’re not going to stand for incendiary rhetoric,” Laitman said. “We are here, all together as one.”

“I don’t know why he chose that phrase, what it means to him or what it meant to him when he said it, but I think that we should listen to how he explains what he meant,” she added. “He’s explained it in a way that makes clear that he did not have the intention, or does not have the intention, of being anti-Semitic.”

Still, any anti-Israel speech that suggests the elimination of the state of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic, Rabbi Levitt said. And the way in which Hill expressed his support of Palestine could make Jewish students feel targeted or silenced on campus or in Hill’s classes.

“I would like to believe he’s unaware of how his anti-Israel stance makes Jews uncomfortable,” Levitt said on Friday. “But I don’t think we should ignore the potential threat.”

“He is a role model to many student activists, and I believe he has a responsibility to his students and this community to do better in the future,” he added.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Greta Anderson is a current student of Lori Tharps. She did not interview Tharps for this story, Grace Shallow contributed reporting.

Words by Greta Anderson, Alyssa Biederman, Grace Shallow and Will Bleier. Colin Evans contributed reporting.

Photos by Dylan Long and Sydney Schaefer.

Graphics by Julie Christie and Myra Mirza.

Web Page produced by Julie Christie.

Illustrations by Claire Halloran.