Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN commentator and professor of media studies at Temple University, was fired by the US cable network shortly after delivering a speech at the United Nations on the occasion of its International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
The network did not give a reason for his dismissal, but the move came amid strident criticism of Hill’s speech by various pro-Israel groups, including the Anti-defamation League (ADL). The groups’ criticism focused mainly on one specific part of the speech, where Hill advocated for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” – a reference to the territory of historical Palestine, situated between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. Zionist groups interpreted these words to mean that Hill advocates the destruction of the state of Israel.
Hill responded by saying that his use of the phrase “river to the sea” was “an invocation of a long history of political actors – liberal and radical, Palestinian and Israeli – who have called for their particular vision of justice in the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”.
He further explained that he believes “justice will come through a single bi-national democratic state that encompasses Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza”. But Hill’s words clearly supporting a single bi-national state with equal rights for all was interpreted by Zionist groups as a call for the destruction of Israel.
As many pointed out, this interpretation can only be founded on the notion that the state of Israel must be conceived as an ethno-national state for Jews only.
The debate over whether or not Israel is a democracy or a Jewish state has turned into a vicious battle at educational institutions which were founded on the principles of free speech and academic freedom precisely in order to allow for the energetic sorting-out of truths and untruths.
Conservative forces, especially those backing the state of Israel, have a far more egregious and well-financed programme for making sure that debate on Palestine is not only silenced but punished as well. And they do so with material and other support from Israel.
This is evident in Hill’s case. Patrick O’Connor, the President of Temple’s Board of Trustees has asked its legal office about possible punishment. O’Connor declared: “I’m not happy. The board’s not happy. The administration’s not happy. People wanted to fire him right away … We’re going to look at what remedies we have.”
In this case as well as many others, university administrators have sided with the Israel lobby. As Mint Press News recently reported, Leonard Barrack, a Temple alum, a trustee and a major donor, who said: “[Hill] called for the destruction of the State of Israel in code words,” is the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The website of the group currently carries a banner denouncing Hill and advertises its connection to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
Another influential Temple alum, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A Klein, also attacked Hill, saying: “As a Temple University alumnus from where I received two degrees, I am especially shocked, embarrassed and ashamed that Mr. Lamont Hill teaches at my alma mater and has a named Chair no less. His working at Temple can only hurt fundraising and support for the University. And it is immoral as well. There isn’t a safe space large enough to get away from Lamont Hill. Fire Marc Lamont Hill!!”
Now it is perfectly fine for both of these individuals to voice their opinions and in fact, it would be unrealistic to imagine that anybody could set aside their political beliefs entirely when acting in another capacity. But when that other capacity is as a member of a board of trustees overseeing a university, and universities are charged with protecting free speech and academic freedom, and when the professor in question is being criticised for utterances he made outside the university, it is clear that several procedural lines have been crossed.
The American Association of University Professors has made it clear that a professor cannot be punished by the university for what they say outside the university.
Marc Lamont Hill joins the ranks of several other professors who have been targeted by Zionist and pro-Israel pressure groups demanding that universities “discipline” critics of Israel and those who work for Palestinian rights. These include John Cheney-Lippold and Lucy Peterson at the University of Michigan, Rabab Abdulhadi at the San Francisco State University, and Steven Salaita.
As in Professor Abdulhadi’s case, these organisations often engage in “lawfare”, bringing frivolous and harassing lawsuits to tie up administrators, faculty, and students. They also engage in ” astroturf” campaigns on campuses that target pro-Palestinian student groups.
Apart from cracking down on the freedom of expression rights of faculty members, universities have also turned to hate sites such as Canary Mission for information on students, and in some cases have actually passed that information on to the FBI.
All this attention to US universities and colleges should not at all be surprising. Zionist groups see the campus as a battlefield and the faculty and students who refuse to accept Israel as an ethnic Jewish state as their enemy. This escalation is just another sign that they know they are losing the battle.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.