The View From Here | Freedom of Speech for All, or None

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Like many institutions of higher education in the United States, Temple University is a haven of academic freedom and discovery.

Underpinning Temple’s mission, indeed one of the pillars that enables the entire enterprise to succeed, is a fierce embrace of freedom of speech, the hallmark of the freedom of inquiry that characterizes modern education and progress. Our nation long ago deciding to err more often than not on the side of protecting abhorrent speech instead of granting to an elected elite — or, worse, an unenlightened mob — the power of deciding what is and is not an acceptable word, phrase or idea. (Full disclosure: I am a third-year student at Temple’s Beasley School of Law.)

It has always been better, it is assumed, to fight objectionable speech with more speech — all the more so in an environment in which open dialogue is supposed to win out over doctrinaire pronouncements. Those who defended University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Amy Wax last year impliedly understood this when, in the wake of an opinion article in which she appeared to endorse the virtues of white, “bourgeois” culture over a “non-white” urbanism, they argued that, however offensive her views, she did not deserve to be punished by Penn for them.


And yet, some of Wax’s defenders have lined up against Temple media professor Marc Lamont Hill, who last week seemed to call for the destruction of the state of Israel during a speech at an event marking the U.N. International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Either free speech is a right to presumptively be enjoyed by all, or it should be guaranteed to none.

To be clear, there’s not much that is up in the air about what Hill said. He called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” He also remarked that while “we must advocate and promote nonviolence,” “we cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians for resisting, for refusing to do nothing in the face of state violence and ethnic cleansing.”

Responding to the uproar that led to his firing as a commentator by CNN, Hill clarified on Twitter that in using “river to the sea” — a phrase embraced by Hamas and Palestinians as encompassing a Middle East free of Israel or Jewish Israelis — he was voicing his belief “in a single secular democratic state for everyone.”

Hill may or may not have endorsed violence in his wink-wink, nudge-nudge way of calling for the non-shaming of “resisting” Palestinians mere weeks from the lobbing of explosive rockets from Gaza at the homes and communities of Israeli civilians. But he certainly was calling for the political eradication of Israel as a Jewish state from the Middle East.

It’s the “river to the sea” comment that has many in the Jewish community calling for Hill, a tenured professor, to be fired. But Hill is far from the only professor in America to espouse such nutty and hateful views.

Far more problematic is what may indeed be Hill’s endorsement of Palestinian violence, despite his protestations to the contrary. In doing so, he may have violated a Temple policy that forbids violent speech, one of the few restrictions on speech that most of us would agree is valid. Whether he did, however, is a question for the lawyers who, at the request of Temple chairman Patrick O’Connor, are now investigating — in accordance with the university’s policy governing the discipline of tenured faculty — whether or not Hill can be reprimanded.

Such nuances, however, seem to be lost among those who are reflexively calling for Hill’s banishment from campus. They seem to be more concerned with keeping students safe from the damaging ideas of a man who clearly does not love Israel, a curious posture given that many in the same group grouse repeatedly at the notion of university students needing “safe spaces” and trigger-warnings.

Hill is no friend of Israel.

But that fact alone shouldn’t lead to his dismissal. It should lead to his public censure and disapprobation, which has already occurred in several op-eds and countless social media posts.

If Hill, however, engaged in violent speech, then he should face the full wrath of a policy that seeks to protect an environment in which students can feel free to be who they are without the fear of being physically attacked. Let the investigation proceed.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected] jewishexponent.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a wishy washy column. Screaming fire in a theater is not free speech. He called for the absolute destruction of the land of Israel. You write like a real “Jew” whose ancestors were Jews. Would you like this anti-Semite lover of Islamic terror to teach your children? BDS anyone? This column is even more disgusting then BDS.

  2. This column is not “more disgusting (than) BDS” but is a nuanced approach to a real problem. When did we stop being able to express conflicting opinions to each other in a reasoned manner? Why are we always going to opposite corners and throwing verbal or written garbage at each other? That said, I agree Hill’s speech was a call to violence and was violent speech which should cause his termination of employment from both Temple University and CNN.

  3. I earned my Ph.D at Temple University in 1976 and I voted for Donald Trump in 2016. A 2016 Anti-Defamation League study reported that 23 percent of African-Americans demonstrated anti-Semitic views. The study subsequently notes that “anti-Semitic propensities within the African-American population continue to be higher than the general population,” Anti-Semitism among some segments of the black community has been a growing campus force since the early 1980s, largely paralleling the increasing popularity of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Black Americans of all education levels are significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be anti-Semitic. There is a relationship between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. The “Golden Age” (1955-1966) period of black–Jewish cooperation is often downplayed by blacks and romanticized by Jews.

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