The controversial comments that got Marc Lamont Hill booted from CNN last week have “unnecessarily blackened” the name of Temple University, a board chairman argued.
Patrick O’Connor, chairman of Temple University’s Board of Trustees, nailed Hill to the wall over a speech he delivered at the United Nations last Wednesday criticizing Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians, calling the professor’s comments “lamentable” and “disgusting.”
“It should be made clear that no one at Temple is happy with his comments …,” O’Connor said in a statement. “Free speech is one thing. Hate speech is entirely different.”
The remarks ultimately cost Hill, 39, his job as a contributor at CNN. Although the network didn’t give a reason for parting ways with the academic, news of his firing came amid fierce backlash to his speech delivered before the UN’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the address was part of the organization’s Int’l Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People during which, Hill, who teaches Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University, accused Israel of discriminating against Palestinians. In his speech, Hill proceeded to call on countries to boycott and divest from Israel.
It was one sentence in particular that landed the professor in hot water: “We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grass-roots 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.”
Critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, decried Hill’s use of the phrase “a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” arguing it was an anti-Semitic slogan often spewed by militant Palestinian groups.
In essence, critics said Hill was calling for the destruction of Israel.
Hill, who also holds an endowed chair in Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communications, denied the accusations in a series of tweets following his ouster from CNN but defended his speech.
“My reference to ‘river to the sea’ was not a call to destroy anything or anyone,” he wrote on Twitter. “It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things.”
Hill wrote in a follow-up tweet, “I support Palestinian freedom. 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.”
Still, O’Connor was less than pleased with the negative publicity Hill’s comments have brought to Temple.
“I’m not happy. The board’s not happy,” he said. “The administration’s not happy. People wanted to fire him right away. “We’re going to look at what remedies we have.”
University president Richard M. Englert issued a milder rebuke of Hill’s speech, saying his reference to Palestine from “the river to the sea” was interpreted by many as a “perceived threat.”
The Philadelphia Enquirer pointed out that Hill is a tenured employee, making it much more difficult and unlikely that he’ll be fired from Temple.
“Long-established tenure rules exist to protect academic freedom, the right of a professor to say unpopular things,” the newspaper reported.
Had Hill worked for a private institution, O’Connor told the paper that he and others would have moved to “fire him immediately.”
Hill has since apologized for his remarks.