ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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NY college system draws fire for hiring commentator CNN axed for anti-Israel remarks

City’s CUNY education network, grappling with alleged campus antisemitism, harshly criticized for signing on Marc Lamont Hill

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Marc Lamont Hill at an event in New York City, December 7, 2016. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET Networks/AFP)
Marc Lamont Hill at an event in New York City, December 7, 2016. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET Networks/AFP)

NEW YORK — While grappling with allegations of widespread campus antisemitism, New York City’s public university system also came under fire this week for hiring a high-profile professor with a history of anti-Israel rhetoric.

Marc Lamont Hill will serve as a “presidential professor” of urban education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), the center said, highlighting his work researching Palestinians.

Hill, a progressive political commentator, was fired by CNN in 2018 for using the term “from the river to the sea,” a call used by the Hamas terror group to advocate for Israel’s destruction.

“We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” Hill said at a pro-Palestinian United Nations event.

He later sought to walk back the comments, saying, “I’m sorry my word choices caused harm.”

“My reference to ‘river to the sea’ was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza,” he said. “One simply cannot be progressive if they ignore the plight of Palestinians.”

A BDS supporter, Hill has also complained that Israel’s Iron Dome defense system hampers Hamas’s “military leverage” over Israel, lauded Palestinian terrorists, suggested mainstream media outlets are “Zionist organizations,” placed sole blame for Gaza violence on Israel, and defended his ties to the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The American Jewish Committee decried CUNY for hiring Hill, saying the commentator “was fired from CNN for his unabashed anti-Israel rhetoric that often borders on antisemitism.”

“Why, then, has he been hired by CUNY? CUNY’s lack of intellectually diverse faculty at several of its schools is a detriment to every student, particularly for Jews,” the committee said in a statement.

Jewish New York City council members Inna Vernikov and Ari Kagan, who have opposed antisemitism at CUNY, and the college Jewish groups SAFE CUNY, Alums for Campus Fairness the AMCHA Initiative also blasted the decision.

The Jewish advocacy group CUNY Alliance for Inclusion protested the hiring in a letter to the school system’s chancellor and administrators. The group called on CUNY to adopt a clear definition of antisemitism and hire public intellectuals “who can stand for justice for all, without exception.”

The school system has several well-known public figures on staff who are harshly critical of Israel, but no high-profile Israel supporters. A number of Jewish groups have demanded CUNY adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which covers certain forms of Israel criticism, but CUNY has refused.

Illustrative: Anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian activists in New York City, May 15, 2021. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

CUNY told The Times of Israel that Hill was a “widely respected expert” who had been unanimously selected by the college system’s urban education hiring committee, based on his scholarship and public comments. CUNY highlighted Hill’s condemnations of antisemitism and said the hiring committee included individuals who identify as Jewish.

The university system is publicly funded, and the salaries for most positions are publicly available, but CUNY did not respond to a request for information on Hill’s salary.

CUNY has long been part of the city’s social fabric, with 25 colleges around the five boroughs, more than 240,000 students, and around 40,000 staff. Alleged antisemitism on CUNY campuses has been a concern for years, with Jewish students and faculty reporting harassment and discrimination, and demanding action from the administration.

The past two commencement speakers at CUNY Law, one of the system’s better-known institutions, dedicated much of their commencement speeches to harsh anti-Israel rhetoric. Both speakers are activists who have publicly advocated for Israel’s destruction and have ties to individuals convicted of antisemitic hate crimes. Jews are targeted in hate crimes in New York City far more than any other group.

Last year, the US Department of Education opened an investigation into allegations of widespread harassment of Jewish students at CUNY’s Brooklyn College.

The CUNY faculty union has passed anti-Israel resolutions, sparking backlash from Jewish professors.

The school system has responded by saying it is taking steps to improve campus life for Jews.

Earlier this year, CUNY partnered with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism in a campaign against anti-Jewish racism. The college system also announced a new advisory council on Jewish life.

Late last year, CUNY committed to a series of measures to combat antisemitism on its campuses, including a partnership with Hillel, an online portal to report discrimination, and $750,000 for programming to combat hate.

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