Saturday, December 01, 2018

A Right To Be Wrong

The chickens are coming home to roost.

They probably are not, but they should be.  On Wednesday, Mark Lamont Hill, who holds an endowed chair in Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communications, delivered a controversial speech to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at a United Nations event commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Craig R. McCoy of the Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily News reports that Mr. Hill

explored numerous ways that he said Palestinians had been mistreated, ranging from their treatment in the courts to restrictions on their ability to travel. He also said violence by Palestinians could be justified as self-defense.

At the end, however, he also

endorsed "a free Palestine from the river to the sea," a catchphrase of the Palestinian cause that critics associate with its most militant wings.

Critics said Hill was in effect calling for an end to Israel. After CNN dismissed him on Thursday, Hill called the criticism "absurd" and noted that elsewhere in the speech, he supported Israel's borders, or at least those that existed before it occupied the West Bank and Gaza after the Six-Day War in 1967.

"No part of this is a call to destroy Israel," Hill wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

He added: "I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things."

But that did not stop Hill from presenting a reasonably lengthy speech in which he neglected to support the nation of Israel as a Jewish state, yet had the time to refer to Israel inaccurately as conducting "ethnic cleansing" and to repeat the slogan of the most extreme and murderous elements wanting to annihilate Israel because of the religion of the majority of its inhabitants.

That does not validate the statement of Patrick O'Connor, the chairperson of Temple University's Board of Directors, who said "it should be made clear that no one at Temple is happy with his comments. Free speech is one thing. Hate speech is entirely different."

Hill did not explicitly ridicule or disparage Jews, though the inference is clear to anyone who listens to the entire speech objectively.  O'Connor should not do, as the left too often has (the result of which we saw on 11/6/18), label  as "hate speech" remarks simply because they are radical, unpopular, or cause discomfort or distress.  Free expression in a democratic society can be unsettling and. yes, offensive. None of those characteristics renders an opinion illegitimate, nor should subject the speaker to punishment.

Consequently, as the legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU is quoted as explaining, "Since Temple is a public university, the Constitution applies. Under the First Amendment, Temple cannot punish an employee for making off-the-job statements that it might disagree with. It's not complicated." CNN, of course, is under no such obligation to treat all political opinions equally and exercised its right to terminate Mr. Hill.

Marc Lamont Hill may or may not be anti-Semitic merely because his passionate advocacy of the self-determination of oppressed peoples does not extend to Jews.  But he surely is anti-Zionist, and finds the continued existence of a Jewish state antithetical to the hopes and aspirations of Palestinians.

Hill has the right, without fear of loss of employment at a public university, to blame Israel while absolving of all responsibility the fifteen (15)majority-Muslim countries of the Middle East comprising approximately 99.9% of the region's land area. Nonetheless, Temple University is well within its legal right, and arguably has a moral obligation, to announce that Professor Hill's views are his alone and do not represent the views of the institution. 

And in a parallel universe, the college would assert Hill's right to be controversial, offensive, and misguided while acknowledging that he has engaged in what is commonly misunderstood as "hate speech."The boost for both freedom of expression and tolerance of offensive speech would be almost  as bold and necessary as it would be unexpected.

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