To the Temple University Community:
I am writing this letter to directly address the controversy that emerged in the aftermath of my speech at the United Nations last week. As President Englert has indicated, the speech has sparked strong responses, particularly from my sisters and brothers within the Jewish community. For that reason I would like to address this issue directly.
Let me begin by saying that I unequivocally reject anti-Semitism in any form or fashion. As I have articulated in previous writing and speeches, I am keenly aware of the threats faced by Jewish people around the world. Threats of physical violence against Jews are animated and compounded by ugly anti-Semitic images, stereotypes, conspiracy theories, and mythologies. These realities are not only historically persistent, but intensifying in numerous places around world. As an activist and scholar, I have done my best to point out these realities and challenge them whenever possible. Simply put, there is no space for anti-Semitism in the world.
At the conclusion of my speech, I used a phrase ("Free Palestine, from the River to the Sea") that some have interpreted as anti-Semitic. Specifically, they believe that the phrase signified a call to physically destroy the state of Israel, or otherwise do harm to Jewish people. To be clear, this was not my intention at all. Indeed, I was genuinely saddened that my comments produced such an interpretation.
Throughout my speech, I spoke explicitly about the need for Israeli political reform, specifically as it pertains to Arab citizens of Israel. I also called for a redrawing of borders to the pre-1967 lines, as well as a greater attention to human rights for those living in the West Bank and Gaza. I believed that these demands sufficiently reflected my belief in radical political reform within Israel, not a desire for its destruction. Clearly, they did not.
While I stand behind my political beliefs, I have learned that my use of language produced interpretations, feelings, and responses that I did not intend. For that, I am deeply sorry. Everyone deserves to live with peace, safety, and security. My vision of justice for Palestinians absolutely does not come at the expense of justice for Jews anywhere in the world. To anyone who felt that my comments suggested otherwise, I apologize.
I would also like to acknowledge the Temple University faculty and staff whose professional and personal lives have been interrupted by these recent events. I can only imagine how challenging the past few days have been. I apologize.
In the coming weeks and months, I hope to engage in healthy public and private dialogues with board members, administrators, faculty, students, and community groups. We will likely disagree on key issues. Such disagreement is central to healthy and functional democratic spaces. But I can promise that any dialogue in which I engage will begin from a place of respect, trust, and a fundamental belief in safety, security, and self-determination for everyone.
Marc Lamont Hill is an urban studies and media studies and production professor at Temple University.