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Free speech — especially on controversial topics — must be based in facts | Dom Giordano

Comparing free speech incident and making sure they are based in facts.

Marc Lamont Hill is provocative, but he also needs to speak factually and not just from rumors and speculation.
Marc Lamont Hill is provocative, but he also needs to speak factually and not just from rumors and speculation.Read moreED HILLE / Staff Photographer

Thanks to Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill for his “provocative” comments at the United Nations, which led to local debates on academic freedom, hate speech, Israel, Palestine, and the meaning of the phrase “from the river to the sea.”

These debates resulted from the speech that seemed to reject nonviolent approaches by the Palestinians to gain more rights in Israel and condoned the use of violence as a self-defense measure. Many analysts have argued that the phrase used by Hill that caused the most outrage — “a free Palestine, from the river to the sea” — has been used frequently by Hamas and other terror groups in their calls to wipe Israel off the map.

Hill wrote a column denying this charge and declaring solidarity with Jewish people. He used similar rhetoric at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights on Sept. 28, 2018. According to the Jewish Journal and the Washington Free Beacon, at this conference, Hill, in discussing whether the Palestinians should use only nonviolent tactics to oppose Israeli oppression, said: “How can you romanticize nonviolence when you have a state that is at all moments waging war against you, against your bodies, poisoning your water, limiting your access to water, locking up your children, killing them? We can’t romanticize resistance.”

I have watched the video of this event and Hill does appear to claim the Israelis are poisoning the water of Palestinians. This kind of claim is at the heart of what I think Temple should do: I propose a body that evaluates whether Hill can offer evidence that backs up his statements.

I support his freedom to make statements, but I think college professors must have a basis in facts, particularly on matters such as this. Does he really have evidence that Israelis are poisoning the water or is this just another example of the conspiracies that have been placed on Jewish people over hundreds of years?

Temple experienced another academic freedom case that got national attention. Bruce Rind, an adjunct professor, produced a study in 1998 titled “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples.” The key finding was that adult sex with children is not always psychologically damaging to the child and, in some cases, it was a “positive” experience for willing young people.

I was the first local media source who exposed this study and its publication in the journal of the American Psychological Association. This publication was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I did not call for Rind’s firing, but I wanted a panel to analyze the facts, the science of his statements.

The New York Times reported that Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford University psychiatrist and member of the Family Research Council, said the study contained serious methodological flaws and that the researchers “use meta-analysis the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support rather than illumination.”

I’m not saying that Hill and Rind’s controversies are the same, but I am saying that both are useful to demand that facts be at the core of the debate. So, when Hill says essentially the Israelis are oppressing the Palestinians, that is a matter of debate, but, when he lists specific acts of oppression, then we have a teachable moment for students and supporters of the truth. If Hill can produce evidence of Israel’s poisoning the water, then this whole debate will be remembered as advancing the truth.

I’ll admit that I feel there is no evidence that Israelis are poisoning the water, and I think statements such as that make people not buy the idea that his U.N. statements were misinterpreted. That’s why when incidents such as this happen, universities should sort them out publicly rather than dividing into camps that either immediately call for a professor’s firing or assert that freedom of speech protects every utterance.

I’ve debated Hill on my own show and at other venues. He is a smart and articulate guy who says a lot of provocative things. However, given his status at a major university, he must engage in factual speech.

Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at On Twitter at @DomShow1210