Constitutional Freedoms

Fired CNN Commentator’s Remarks Have Hurt Temple University ‘Immeasurably’

Board of Trustees chair notes a potential loss of donations after professor's anti-Semitic commentary

Image Credit: Facebook, Temple University / Shutterstock

The fallout from former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill’s anti-Israel comments at the United Nations last month could yield big money troubles for Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Patrick O’Connor, chairman of the Temple University Board of Trustees, earlier this week told The Temple News — the school’s student publication — that Hill’s anti-Israel comments have caused the school “immeasurable” damage, including a possible loss of donations to the university.

O’Connor said he has received “maybe 50” emails regarding Hill’s comments from “alums, professors, students, friends of Israel, politicians, young, old, black, white.”

In his speech at the United Nations, Hill, a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple, called for a “free Palestine from river to the sea.”

That’s a phrase often used by Hamas and other groups that advocate the end of the Jewish state.

A native of the “city of brotherly love,” Hill — after those and other controversial remarks — was fired from his high-profile commentator’s position at CNN, as many news outlets reported at the time.

Still, Temple University is keeping him on staff, according to a December 11 statement, citing his free speech rights.

“Professor Marc Lamont Hill delivered a speech on November 28 at the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. That speech included a statement that many regard as promoting violence, the phrase ‘from the river to the sea,’ which has been used by anti-Israel terror groups and widely perceived as language that threatens the existence of the State of Israel. Professor Hill’s remarks have been broadly criticized as, among other things, ‘virulent anti-Semitism’ and ‘hate speech,’ and have ignited a public furor,” the university said.

“In giving this speech outside of his role as a teacher and researcher at Temple, Professor Hill was not speaking on behalf of or representing the university,” the statement went on. “We recognize that Professor Hill’s comments are his own, that his speech as a private individual is entitled to the same constitutional protection of any other citizen, and that he has through subsequent statements expressly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence.”

The Board of Trustees decided to unanimously condemn Hill’s comments but noted that the professor has a constitutional right to free speech, according to Campus Reform.

O’Connor of Temple also suggested Hill’s comments will affect the university from a financial standpoint, as multiple donors have vowed not to give money to the university after the incident.

The Board of Trustees condemned the remarks but O’Connor told The Temple News that some of the trustees “wanted [Hill] fired.” He also noted, “It’s not the trustees’ domain to do discipline.”

Hill issued a mea culpa in an opinion piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer on December 1.

“Over the past week, I have been embroiled in a controversy regarding my speech at the United Nations regarding the plight of Palestinian people. My remarks have sparked heavy controversy, around the nation and right here in Philadelphia,” he wrote. “Specifically, some have argued that my remarks endorsed or reflected anti-Semitism. For this reason, I feel morally compelled to respond.”

“First, I strongly believe that we must reject anti-Semitism in any form or fashion,” he wrote. “This means not only preventing physical violence against Jews, but also ugly anti-Semitic images, stereotypes, conspiracy theories, and mythologies.”

“As an activist and scholar, I have done my best to point out these realities and challenge them whenever possible,” he also said in part.

“For example, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, I not only decried it as an ugly act of terrorism, but spoke about the broader rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and around the globe. Throughout my career, I have done my best to identify and uproot anti-Semitism in every political and social movement of which I have been part. One simply cannot be committed to social justice and not be committed to battling anti-Semitism.”

For some people, Hill’s plea for forgiveness fell flat.

“He [Hill] has advocated the killing of Jews. He has advocated violence,” said Harvard Law school professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz on “The Laura Ingraham Show” after Hill’s divisive remarks.

Dershowitz added, “The greatest dangers of anti-Semitism today, because they involve the future, are what’s going on college campuses from the hard, hard, hard-Left. [Hill] should be the poster child for increasing anti-Semitism among college and university students and violence against Jewish students.”

See the video below for a look at Hill’s recent and controversial U.N. comments:

Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. 

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