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December 21, 2018 3:37 pm

Temple University Board Chair: Marc Lamont Hill’s Comments on Israel Caused ‘Immeasurable’ Damage to School

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The student center at Temple University. Photo: Jeannine Keefer.

The head of Temple University’s Board of Trustees rebuked a faculty member who called for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” — saying the comments caused the school “immeasurable” damage.

Patrick O’Connor said in an interview with student-run Temple News on Tuesday that he had received up to 30, “maybe 50” emails about the controversy involving Marc Lamont Hill, a tenured professor who was fired from CNN after his Nov. 28 remarks, which were seen as endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state in place of Israel.

In his speech, Hill also backed the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, and did not rule out violence as a means of Palestinian “resistance.”

Hill has since rejected criticism that his comments were antisemitic or called for the destruction of Israel, saying in a Dec. 1 open letter that his “vision of justice for Palestinians absolutely does not come at the expense of justice for Jews anywhere in the world.” He apologized “to anyone who felt that my comments suggested otherwise.”

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O’Connor said the university was still dealing with fallout over Hill’s comments, which were condemned by local and national Jewish groups. He noted that he had received messages from “alums, professors, students, friends of Israel, politicians, young, old, Black, white” — including promises from donors to cut financial ties with the university.

“I’ll let you know at the end of the day [what the damage is] when people who used to give us significant amounts of money follow up on their promise never to give another dime,” O’Connor went on to say.

He revealed that some trustees felt that a statement unanimously issued by the board last week — which expressed “disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement” with Hill’s comments, but also recognized his right to free speech — was not strong enough, and that others still “wanted him fired.”

When asked about his claim last week that the university was “evaluating” remedies for Hill, O’Conner only added that the power to take disciplinary actions was held by the administration, not trustees.

Earlier this month, O’Conner told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Hill’s remarks were “lamentable” and “disgusting.”

“I’m not happy. The board’s not happy. The administration’s not happy. People wanted to fire him right away,” he shared, before noting that the university’s legal department was reviewing whether any action could be taken in reaction to Hill’s remarks.

In response, more than 30 Temple professors signed a letter of no confidence in O’Conner that defended Hill.

“We thought his arguments were passionate, considered, and thoughtful, and that they respected the humanity of Palestinians and Israelis,” the letter’s signatories said. “Regardless of whether we  agree or disagree with him, we support his freedom to espouse his views.”

Speaking on a popular radio show last week, Hill reiterated that his “river to the sea” comment was not a call for Israel’s destruction, and argued that the phrase was “not a commonly accepted dog-whistle.”

The professor also rejected calls to denounce Louis Farrakhan — who he previously called “a hero to Blacks of all religions” — while noting his “key issues” of disagreement with the Nation of Islam leader, namely on “the question of antisemitism” and “LGBT issues.”

Farrakhan has repeatedly denounced “Satanic Jews” and referred to gay relationships as “degenerate crap.”

Hill has in the past rejected accusations shared by multiple leading Jewish groups that Farrakhan “is an anti-Semite.”

In the same radio segment, the professor also claimed that Israeli security forces train New York City police officers, who then go on to kill minorities. “I can’t stop one without the other, there’s a relationship,” he said.

BDS groups have previously advanced similar allegations, accusing US Jewish groups that host exchanges between American and Israeli police forces of promoting violence against minorities. These claims have been roundly rejected by the sponsoring organizations, among them the Anti-Defamation League, which notes that its program in Israel focuses on strategies “to deter and disrupt terror attacks and strengthen community resilience.”

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