The City University of New York's (CUNY) hiring of prominent academic and anti-Israel commentator Marc Lamont Hill as "presidential professor" of urban education in the school's Graduate Center has "shaken" the academic community there, according to a letter obtained by The Algemeiner on Monday.
Hill's appointment has stirred controversy because of both his past comments concerning Israel and Zionism and numerous civil rights complaints alleging that CUNY itself fosters a hostile, antisemitic environment in which members of the Jewish community are threatened and harassed.
"If CUNY is not to go down the rabbit hole of selective racism and instead continue its historic tradition of academic integrity and moral clarity, it must reverse course," the CUNY Alliance for Inclusion (CAFI), a faculty group that seeks to combat antisemitism, wrote to the university's leadership. "We understand that Professor Hill is a recognized and acclaimed expert on race and educational policy, but this doesn't excuse his many past offensive remarks and virulent anti-Israel activism, which have landed as deeply offensive on the campus Jewish community at Temple and elsewhere where he has been a guest speaker."
CAFI went on to argue that Hill appears to be obsessed with maligning Israel and that his views have led him to make offensive comments and questionable political alliances — such as his friendship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has called Judaism a "gutter religion" and said the Star of David is satanic.
"This indicates a lack of seriousness in his broad approach to scholarship," the group continued. "These flaws cannot be overlooked in a person hired in the rank of Presidential Professor. While we find his biased views on the Jewish state abhorrent and antisemitic, we acknowledge his right to have and express these views. The question we ask is if these views are consistent with the high standard of scholarship, which we and the public except from academics who occupy the highest academic ranks at CUNY."
The group concluded by inviting Hill to attend an event — titled "Advocating Empathy and Reconciliation in the Midst of Conflict — that will be led by Palestinian peace activist Mohammed Dajani Daoudi at the CUNY Graduate Center on Sept. 21.
In 2018, Hill was rebuked by Temple University, his former employer, and fired by CNN after calling for a "free Palestine from the river to the sea," a slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel.
Recently, Hill posted online a photograph of himself holding a sign that said he supported the American Anthropological Association's endorsement of the the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel from the international community as a step toward the Jewish state's eventual elimination.
During a 2018 interview with The Breakfast Club, a popular urban radio broadcast, Hill called Farrakhan his "brother" and accused Israeli police of training American officers to kill Black people. That year, he also repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Farrakhan is antisemitic or denounce his antisemitic statements.
"What is happening is a normalization and legitimization of Jew-hatred that has really become part and parcel of the academy," Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who founded the AMCHA Initiative nonprofit to research and track antisemitism in American higher education, said of CUNY's decision to hire Hill last week. "And it's not just that he's proud of that and proud to tell you that, it's that this is how he sees himself as an academic. His obsession with the Jewish state is actually the centerpiece of his scholarship, and that is probably why he was hired at CUNY."
CUNY has defended its hiring of Hill as a decision driven by merit, adding that several Jews served on the hiring committee that selected him.
The school is currently under investigation by the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for allegedly neglecting to discipline a student, Nerdeen Kiswani, who threatened to set her classmate on fire for wearing an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hoodie, and for failing to protect another Jewish student from harassment. CUNY is also the subject of another complaint, which was filed in July 2022 by the American Center for Law and Justice after accusations of antisemitism at CUNY campuses were aired during a New York City Council hearing held the previous month. It alleges that CUNY has intentionally ignored "a sustained pattern of antisemitism."