The Cowardice of American Jewish Academia – Temple University Edition

Twenty blocks north of my office in Center City Philadelphia lies Temple University, one of the finest and most prestigious public colleges in the United States.  In recent years, one of Temple’s best known professors has been Marc Lamont Hill, who teaches Media Studies and Urban Environment.  An African-American, Hill is an outspoken critic of Israel and a supporter of the BDS movement.

Professor Hill has not been shy about verbalizing both his support for violent Palestinian “resistance” and his Israel hatred.  In 2012 he warned against romanticizing “non-violence”, justifying the killing of three Israeli boys by stating that “this starts with occupation.  There is an apartheid state in Gaza.  There’s an apartheid state in the region.  That’s what we need to talk about.  That’s what starts as resistance.  It’s not terrorism.”

Hill is considered one of the leading Black intellectuals in the United States.  In October, he gave the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Dinner in Atlanta.  Frequently he appears on CNN as a contributor, or at least he did.  CNN fired him last week following Professor Hill’s actions at the November meeting of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  There, Hill called for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.”  Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the Middle East debate knows what that means – the destruction of Israel.

For Professor Hill, this language was just a continuation of an anti-Israel diatribe he’s articulated for years.  But a curious thing happened.  This UN speech sparked a backlash.

Professor Hill seemed unprepared.  On Sunday, Hill wrote an op-ed in our local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, apologizing for his tone but being very hypocritical about his desires.  He wrote “…I believed these demands (for changes in Israel’s settlement policy, criminal justice system, etc.) made in the speech sufficiently reflected my belief in radical change within Israel, not a desire for its destruction.”  Yet he also wrote that “for some like me, justice will come through a single bi-national democratic state that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

Professor Hill’s weekend article may be the clearest example of what passes currently for  “intellectual” discourse about Israel.  The same academic voices that say on the one hand they wish to see change in Israel then say they wish to destroy it as a Jewish homeland.  The same tongues that speak constantly about social justice turn a blind eye to the daily atrocities committed against Israelis, and now Jews in general.  Have there been any college protests against the incendiary balloons and condoms being launched daily into Southern Israel from Gaza for the sole purpose of killing and burning Israelis?

Professor Hill’s comments are nothing we in Philadelphia haven’t heard from him before.  After publishing pictures of himself with Lewis Farrakhan, Hill dismissed criticism by saying he would associate with whomever he wished.  Temple has a large Jewish population among both its students and faculty.  They said nothing.  I doubt they would have been so reticent to criticize association with such naked racism had a Temple professor published photos of him/herself with former KKK leader David Duke.

Inside the Temple Administration, pressure is growing to fire Professor Hill.  Leonard Barrack, whose name adorns Philadelphia’s Hebrew High School, is a Temple Law School graduate and a University Trustee.  As of now, Temple is standing behind Professor Hill’s employment.  Those refusing to fire him remind us that Hill’s actions and words are his own and not those of the University.  Providing a variety of voices with different, and sometimes offensive opinions they remind us, is part of the University environment.

This is quite true.  It’s also true that Temple, like many other universities, has favored one political orientation of voices over others.  Support of Israel, certainly is among the “others”.

Through it all, of course, the Jewish professors at Temple have been mute.  Opposing thinly veiled racism like Professor Hill’s is not part of their program if it means standing up for Israel, flawed a nation as it is.

The push back against Hill’s racism shouldn’t be coming now from the Temple Administration.  It should have started years ago from the same faculty members who profess to abhor racism.  Now, these faculty members must fight for the survival of the universalist ideals they claim to support with their words, but have done so much to undermine by their silence.

About the Author
Daniel B, Markind is an attorney based in Philadelphia specializing in real estate, commercial, energy and aviation law. He is the former Chair of the National Legal Committee of the Jewish National Fund of America as well as being a former member of the National Executive Board and the National Chair of the JNF National Future Leadership. He writes frequently on Middle Eastern and energy issues. Mr. Markind lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and children.
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