Temple University reaffirmed its commitment to the free speech rights of its faculty when asked about a tweet from a professor who praised a Palestinian activist previously convicted of a failed terrorist bombing decades ago.
Professor Marc Lamont Hill on Friday tweeted, “Just heard about the death of Fatima Bernawi. She is a legend among Afro-Palestinians and a beloved daughter of Jerusalem. Much needs to be written about her life and struggle. انا لله وانا اليه راجعون”
The last phrase written in Arabic is from the Quran and translates to, “We belong to God and to Him we shall return.”
Bernawi was convicted for her role in a plot to bomb a Jewish cinema in Jersualem in 1967.
Since the tweet, Hill has faced criticism in the media and on Twitter.
“Fatima Bernawi planted a bomb in a movie theater in Jerusalem in 1967, earning her the dubious distinction of being the first Palestinian woman to plan a terrorist attack in Israel. She was sentenced to life in prison,” tweeted Avi Meyer, a Jewish media personality and former spokesperson for the Israel Defense Fund and the American Jewish Committee.
“Marc is glorifying a terrorist who tried to murder Jews,” Meyer concluded.
“She tried to blow up Jews in a movie theater, Marc,” tweeted Melissa Weiss, managing editor of Jewish Insider.
This most recent controversy comes as antisemitism has been continuously in the news in the last month, in large part due to the remarks of Grammy-winning rapper Kanye “Ye” West and NBA star Kyrie Irving. Over the weekend, shabbat services in neighboring New Jersey were on high alert after the FBI confirmed threats to Jewish congregations.
Hill is a Temple University graduate who now teaches media studies from a chaired faculty role, according to the university’s website.
The university did not directly condemn Hill’s tweet.
“To be clear, Marc Lamont Hill was not speaking on behalf of or representing the University, and the views he expressed are his own,” said Stephen C. Orbanek, Temple University’s director of communications.
“As a public university, Temple is bound by the First Amendment. This means that we must continue to support a learning and work environment that is open to a wide diversity of thought, opinion and dialogue — even when some of those thoughts and opinions can be upsetting or offensive. It is only by facilitating more dialogue that we serve our mission of teaching students to think for themselves and become engaged and productive citizens,” Orbanek said.
Hill did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
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Hill has been through controversies similar to this one, and did not emerge unscathed. In 2018, he made remarks that he supported “a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” which is often seen as a coded phrase supporting the elimination of Israel.
CNN cut ties with Hill over that remark, as he had been a contributor to the cable news station.
Hill said his remarks were being misinterpreted, perhaps purposefully so.
“My reference to ‘river to the sea’ was not a call to destroy anything or anyone,” Hill wrote in a tweet. “It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things. No amount of debate will change what I actually said or what I meant.”
Even then, however, the university rebuffed calls for Hill to be fired, citing his First Amendment rights.
“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,” a statement by the university’s board of trustees said at the time.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports