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.