Does Temple University Condone Historical Revisionism?

By Melissa Landa, Ph.D.

Temple University professor Marc Lamont-Hill has spent the last three weeks sparring in-person and on-line with a group of Zionists who are no longer willing to sit idly by as he defames the Jewish people and promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. On May 4, six members of the organization, Alliance for Israel—including Jews from South Africa and the former Soviet Union— attended and videotaped his participation on a panel at the University of Massachusetts where he refused to denounce the Hamas missiles that were landing in civilian areas in Israel as he spoke. We sat and watched in dismay as an Israeli among us was asked by Vijay Prashad, the moderator, to leave the auditorium after breaking down in tears and shouting that his friend in Israel had been killed in a terror attack, and we continued to listen in disbelief as Lamont-Hill argued that we need to reevaluate what constitutes terrorism.

Despite Lamont-Hill’s 2015 Huffington Post essay called, “Why Every Black Activist Should Stand With Rasmea Odeh,” in which he celebrated the convicted terrorist and murderer of two university students in a grocery store in Israel in1969, watching him condone terrorism was a moment I will not soon forget.

Three days later, when Alliance for Israel alerted the public about his behavior at the University of Massachusetts in a Twitter message, Lamont-Hill issued the unequivocal denial, “I literally did the opposite of everything you just said.”

Undeterred, as if engaging in a hazing process to earn himself a secure position among the leaders of the BDS campaign, on May 20, Lamont-Hill contradicted an autobiographical ethnography written by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli Mizrahi Jew, and an Alliance for Israel Advisory Board member. In response to Mazzig’s article in the Los Angeles Times that described his family’s violent oppression and expulsion from Iraq and their migration to safe haven in Israel, Lamont-Hill challenged Mazzig with the following outrageous claim about the origin of the Mizrahi Jews: “The racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”

At best, Lamont-Hill has exposed his lack of historical and cultural knowledge of the Middle East and of the Jewish people. At worst, he is deliberately engaging in historical revisionism to facilitate his personal crusade against Israel, falsely portraying the Jewish state as a European colonial project, thus, justifying terrorism against innocent Israelis as noble Palestinian “resistance.” Regardless, Lamont-Hill’s actions warrant immediate attention from all Temple University stakeholders.

Temple University administrators should and must take disciplinary action against Lamont-Hill based on his failure to demonstrate intellectual and scholarly honesty and integrity as articulated by the American Association of University Professors. It would also behoove the administration to recall the 2014 incident when a member of Students for Justice (SJP) in Palestine punched a Jewish student in the face on the campus of Temple University and recognize that SJP is the official student arm of the BDS campaign that Lamont-Hill promotes.

If they are unwilling or unable to dismiss Lamont-Hill given their policies on promotion and tenure, the administration certainly should pursue other disciplinary actions, including denying him sabbatical and preventing him from advising doctoral students. In concert, Temple University alumni should begin to exercise their influence by withholding financial donations to their alma mater until the administration acts in accordance with the standards expected of an accredited American institution of higher education. Finally, Jewish students, prospective and current, should give serious thought to whether Temple University is an institution that will ensure their safety or a university that recognizes and respects their history and identity.

With three months before the start of the next academic year, Temple University has ample time to determine the nature of its affiliation with Professor Lamont-Hill and, in turn, with the American Jewish community.

Photo credit:Joe Piette https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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