A student coalition called for DePaul University in Chicago to censure Philosophy Professor Jason D. Hill and for him to issue a public apology for an op-ed he wrote on Tuesday about Israel annexing the West Bank. The incident is the latest in an ongoing series of disputes surrounding free speech, Middle East policy and anti-semitism on college campuses nationwide.
In the op-ed published in The Federalist, Hill argued Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently won a historic fifth term in office, should make good on his promise to annex Jewish settlements in “occupied Palestinian territories.” He claimed Palestinians should not be able to vote, Israel has the “moral right” to wage war against Hamas, and that the only “viable option” for a policy toward the Palestinians is “radical containment or expulsion.”
On Saturday, Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA) at DePaul created an online petition calling for the school to meet several demands including censuring Hill, having him release a public apology for the "immoral conduct" and attend racial sensitivity training.
“His comments create unsafe and uncomfortable spaces for everyone, especially Palestinian and Muslim students who now all refuse to enroll in a class that is taught by Professor Hill,” the petition said.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) told Newsweek they were "completely appalled and outraged" by the op-ed, but their anger later transformed into concern for their safety and comfort at the university.
"Regardless if DePaul chooses to meet our demands, the coalition will continue to organize, mobilize, and disrupt until our demands are met in order to promote justice and equality for all marginalized communities on campus," SJP explained.
The DePaul College Democrats told Newsweek condemning his "outright offensive statements" shouldn't be a bipartisan issue. His rhetoric, the group said, "denigrates the academic environment" of the school.
Hill told Newsweek that he anticipated the op-ed would receive criticism after the positive treatment he gave Jewish and American civilizations in his 2018 book, We Have Overcome: An Immigrant's Letter to the American People.
“Some people hated that I thought Jewish civilization should be a model on which an aspirational identity could be developed. So I was not surprised by the backlash,” Hill told Newsweek about the reception of his book. “We still live in an age of deep anti-Semitism where people hate the Jewish people for their extraordinary success.”
The student coalition included the DePaul Students for Justice in Palestine, United Muslims Moving Ahead, DePaul Socialists, Students Against Incarceration, CAPA, Lambdas and the College Democrats. In a joint statement, the student groups expressed their outrage with what they termed a pattern of “racist, anti-Palestinian, xenophobic, sexist and Islamophobic” statements from Hill. They also criticized his use of words such as “uncivilized,” “barbaric” and “primitive” in reference to Sharia law and the Middle East.
“As a Palestinian student at DePaul, I don’t feel welcome or safe knowing people like this teach there,” Suemaya Haydar posted on Twitter. “This racist, gross professor needs to suffer the consequences of his actions and of these violent, discriminatory views.”
As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 181 signatures out of its goal of 200, but Hill told Newsweek the school had yet to contact him. While he wouldn’t speculate as to whether DePaul would give in to the students’ demands, he remained firm in his own convictions.
“We live in an age where there is an abysmal lack of intellectual and moral leadership,” Hill said. “I take myself to be such a leader, and I have no intentions of issuing any apologies. I've spoken what I believe to be the truth, and I stand firm in what I believe in.”
A spokesperson for DePaul University told Newsweek that his statements are his personal views on the subject and aren’t reflective of the university’s.
“Protecting academic freedom requires that we maintain an environment where the members of our university community articulate, challenge and defend their ideas; however, that does not eliminate the need for empathy and concern,” the spokesperson said.