Pressure is mounting on the administration at Lincoln University to repudiate the views of a longtime literature professor who has called for the destruction of Israel and promoted denial of the Holocaust.
So far, Lincoln -- a state-funded, historically black college in Chester County -- has stood by Pakistani-born Kaukab Siddique, a tenured instructor, and affirmed the right of faculty members to express their views outside of the classroom and away from campus -- no matter how controversial the subject matter.
Two state senators have scheduled a meeting Oct. 28 with university president Ivory V. Nelson, and were planning to ask that he condemn Siddique's rhetoric. Also this week, several Jewish advocacy organizations in the region were planning to meet and devise a coordinated response plan.
Siddique made headlines last week when a speech he made on Labor Day in Washington was posted by www.investigativeproject.org and reported by the Christian Broadcasting Network.
In the footage, Siddique tells a crowd at an anti-Israel rally: "We must stand united to defeat, to destroy, to dismantle Israel -- if possible by peaceful means."
In the same talk, he also refers to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a "Zionist plot."
Siddique, who heads a Baltimore-based organization that promotes anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, has also written that "the Auschwitz 'gas chambers' story has been meticulously analyzed, rebutted and destroyed by critics like Mark Weber, David Irving. Germar Rudolf and Wilhelm Staeglich. These are scholars following the highest levels of scholarship."
'Not Something We Stand For'
"We've got to apply some kind of pressure," said Adam Kessler, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who is convening the meeting with representatives of Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America. "It's just not something that we can stand for."
So far, no major player has publicly called on the university to fire Siddique.
The case of Siddique is raising questions about whether there are limits to free speech, and if public institutions can fire employees for private behavior. It also focuses attention on the issue of academic tenure, and whether it affords too much cover for teachers to say and do outrageous things.
The publicity that Siddique has received has also brought to the fore the perennial question of just how the Jewish community should respond to anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
In many ways, this situation is different from others that have focused on academic freedom. The controversy around Siddique appears to center on views expressed outside the university setting -- though the ZOA, for one, is citing indications that he has spoken about Israel on campus.
Several sources expressed concern that, if Jewish organizations acted too rashly, the whole issue could be seen through a black-Jewish lens and become a flashpoint for inter-ethnic tensions.
State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-District 8), an African-American lawmaker from Philadelphia, stated: "We don't want this to be just a Jewish issue. It's an American issue."
Williams and State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-District 17), a Jewish lawmaker from Montgomery County, sent a letter to Nelson last week, pressing for more information on the matter.
Williams labeled Siddique's comments as hate speech and said that the university -- founded in 1854 and formally associated with the state since the 1970s -- was created as a response to prejudice, not to help perpetuate it.
"We're not on a hunt to get rid of this guy," said Williams, but rather to press Lincoln "to be true to its character."
His message to the president when he meets him will be that "he has to repudiate these comments to give Lincoln its greatest value and weight," said Williams.
Lincoln University spokeswoman Ashley Gabb acknowledged that Siddique has a history of making controversial comments outside the classroom.
She sought to distance the university from Siddique's "personal views," and said that "there is no evidence of his personal views being presented or articulated in the classroom."
She added that Siddique has every right to exercise his First Amendment rights outside of the classroom. She also said that she was a student of Siddique's, and described him as an excellent instructor who "challenged you to learn."
Steve Feldman, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America's Greater Philadelphia District, pointed to a post on Siddique's online magazine,www.newtrendmag.org , stating that, back in September, the professor answered questions on campus about his controversial statements.
While many are hearing Siddique's views for the first time, Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, noted that his organization has been tracking the professor's comments for about five years.
Morrison said that Siddique heads a Baltimore-based organization called Jammat Al-Muslimeen, which promotes anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
According to the ADL's website, Jammat Al-Muslimeen rejects Western-style democracy and considers the U.S. government to be under Zionist control. The group also promotes conspiracy theories about Jews, according to the ADL.
'Not Jews as a Whole'
Morrison has previously asked Nelson to repudiate the instructor's views, but the college president has not done so.
Siddique did not answer an e-mail requesting comment. But in an e-mail to the Christian Broadcasting Network last week, he wrote: "When I refer critically to the 'Jews,' I am referring to the current leadership of the 'State of Israel' and to their major supporters, not to the Jewish race as a whole."
In an interview this week with Inside Higher Ed, Siddique invoked academic freedom. He also warned against universities being intimidated by politicians and outside commentators.
"That's freedom of expression going up the smokestack here," he was quoted as saying.
Jeffrey Pasek, a lawyer and First Amendment expert who chairs the board of the liberal-leaning Jewish Social Policy Action Network, said that while Siddique's views are indefensible, the university lacks legal grounds to pursue terminating the educator's job.
That's not because Siddique has tenure, but because he works at a public institution, explained Pasek. While a private employer isn't bound by the First Amendment free-speech rights, a public university is, although it can regulate what is said and taught in the workplace.
In fact, 30 years ago, a group of professors successfully sued Lincoln University in federal court on the grounds that the administration had trampled on their First Amendment rights, said Pasek. The professors had spoken out against a plan to trim the size of the faculty.
In his view, trying to force a concession from the school is not the way to go.
"In a conflict over ideas, good ideas will win out," he said. "This fellow's crackpot thinking has been exposed in ways that have given him publicity, but which also allows the marketplace of ideas to address it. The answer to bad speech is more speech, not suppression of speech."
Feldman said that while he respects the First Amendment, "the fact that people might look to him as a role model is troubling."
The ZOA head, who planned to take part in the JCRC meeting, questioned whether the university would have reacted differently if a professor made questionable comments about, for instance, Muslims or gays.
"We saw what happened last week to Juan Williams," said Feldman, referring to National Public Radio's decision to fire the journalist after he said on a Fox News program that when he's seen passengers on a plane wearing "Muslim garb," he becomes nervous.
Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said that the Jewish community should not press the university to disavow its faculty member.
Instead, he said that Jewish groups should use this episode as an opportunity to develop a relationship with officials at Lincoln. Right now, he said, practically none exists.
"We're going to have to devise a strategy that deals forcefully with the individual, but at the same time, is sensitive to the academic culture of the university," said Alpert. "I have no indication that the university itself harbors anti-Semitic or anti-Israel culture."