For 46 years Pat O’Connor has been my best friend, like a brother to me, one of the greatest lawyers I have ever met, and a wonderful partner. In the time that I have known Pat, he has never backed away from a fight when the issue was right vs. wrong. I put his comments concerning Temple journalism professor Marc Lamont Hill in that latter category.
On Nov. 28, Hill, who holds an endowed chair at Temple, where Pat is board chairman, made comments before the United Nations. In his statement, Hill accused Israel of rampant discrimination against Palestinians and endorsed “a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” a phrase that some believe invokes an anti-Semitic and terroristic threat toward Israel. In response, Pat called Hill’s comments “lamentable” and “disgusting" in an Inquirer article.
Speaking not only personally, but as chairman of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and one of the founders of our Countering Anti-Semitism Through Testimony program (particularly on college campuses), I have a fair understanding of both the danger of Hill’s hate speech and the equivalent danger of the support from quasi-progressives such as Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), who last week expressed anger at Pat for not supporting Hill’s right to academic freedom.
Hill’s statements — not only those made to the United Nations, but those previously made in public forums — are clearly some of the worst anti-Semitic hate speeches that I have heard.
Hill and TAUP cannot stand behind the false rubric of academic freedom.
If, in fact, Hill was not representing Temple or the views of Temple at his recent speaking engagement, then he was speaking as a private citizen and academic freedom is not the issue. The issue then is free speech, and as we all know free speech has its limitations. Hate speech is one. In my opinion, the delegitimization of the State of Israel is the equivalent of anti-Semitism and is a form of hate speech. So, Hill had no clear right to speak as he did if he was speaking as a private person. On the other hand, if he was indeed utilizing his reputation as a Temple University professor to gain notoriety through his speech, then there are a myriad of rules and regulations at Temple which place limitations around the concept of academic freedom. He is subject to all of them.
What Pat clearly said is: Professor Hill’s speech was disgusting, and he would need to look at what options Temple University had to respond.
What better performance would the body politic at Temple University like to have?
Let’s not muddy the waters with past wrongheaded criticism from those who are not members of the legal profession, but profess that everyone’s rights should be protected (by adequate representation), particularly those accused of wrongdoing.
I suggest that we focus on Hill’s recent statements and his prior statements, which cannot be misunderstood by any rational listener.
Shame on TAUP for supporting Hill’s remarkably hateful statements and for unfairly criticizing someone who has dedicated a substantial part of his professional life to the betterment of Temple University.