Since arriving from Jamaica with $120 in his pocket, DePaul University professor Jason D. Hill in many ways has embodied the American dream, until he received a rude awakening over his unabashed admiration for Israel.
His article last month declaring that Israel has a “moral right to annex all of the West Bank” has made him persona non grata on campus, the focus of student protests and a Faculty Council vote condemning his article for promoting “racism toward Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular.”
At a campus forum Tuesday on Middle East politics and academic freedom, a dozen students walked out chanting, “Jason Hill, you can’t hide, we know you want genocide,” as shown on video by Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul.
For Mr. Hill, who rose to become a tenured philosophy professor after immigrating at the age of 20, the uproar encapsulates what he describes as the ongoing threat from the left to free speech in higher education, particularly when it comes to Israel.
“I think that it’s part of the growing anti-Semitic culture that is pervading American campuses,” Mr. Hill said in an interview.
So far, the Catholic university has resisted the students’ demands to have him censured personally, undergo “racial sensitivity training” and “release a public apology for his immoral conduct.” At a protest two weeks ago, students chanted and waved signs saying, “Dump Hill.”
“His hateful comments contribute to an unsafe academic environment for marginalized communities on campus,” Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hill said he is weighing his options after retaining legal counsel via the conservative American Center for Law and Justice. He has continued to teach classes but steered clear of Tuesday’s forum at the Chicago campus.
“I have received death threats. There have been student protests on campus, lots of protests,” said Mr. Hill. “It’s not that I’m afraid of debate or discussion — I am a scholar — but I’m not going to put myself into a situation where I’m going to be harassed.”
Last week, the Faculty Council voted 21-10 to condemn his April 16 article, “The Moral Case for Israel Annexing the West Bank — and Beyond,” which appeared in the Federalist, a top conservative opinion website whose writers include Ben Domenech, David Harsanyi and Mollie Hemingway.
In the op-ed, Mr. Hill argued that “not all cultures are indeed equal.” He blasted the Palestinian Authority as a “terrible government” beset with “kleptocracy, corruption, nepotism, and authoritarian forms of government subject to none of the checks and balances that characterize Israel’s Knesset.”
“Jewish exceptionalism and the exceptionalist nature of Jewish civilization require an unconditional space for the continued evolution of their civilization,” he said in his op-ed. “What’s good for Jewish civilization is good for humanity at large.”
The Faculty Council affirmed his right to “express and publish his opinions” but condemned “in the strongest possible terms both the tone and content of Professor Hill’s article,” which the professor described as an “egregious move.”
“This is a blow to free speech, make no mistake, although you say it’s not,” said Mr. Hill, referring to the Faculty Council. “But when you accuse someone of contributing to racism, you’re implying the person himself is racist and the work is racist. That’s a form of censure and a form of intimidation.”
Faculty Council President Scott Paeth defended the vote.
“This is not a judgment on Jason Hill as a human being; it is, however, a judgment that his writing had a particular kind of content to it, which the majority of members of Faculty Council found to be morally objectionable,” Mr. Paeth told The DePaulia student newspaper.
‘Intimidation and fear’
The article’s views would likely be unpopular on campus coming from any faculty member, but Mr. Hill believes identity politics has played a role in that he doesn’t fit the mold of the typical Israel defender, “being an immigrant, being black, and not being Jewish myself.”
A self-described conservative-independent who has taught at DePaul for 19 years, Mr. Hill was already on the left’s radar for his multiple appearances on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” His latest book, “We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People,” was published in July.
“This is something I’ve never been forgiven for,” he said. “I not only wrote a very pro-American book, but I went on the record to say that Israel is really the most beleaguered country on the planet, and that Jewish civilization is an exalted and international treasure trove.”
DePaul University President A. Gabriel Esteban weighed in last month with a measured email to students saying the school “holds academic freedom in the highest regard.”
“Should faculty be allowed to express a provocative position?” Mr. Esteban said. “The short answer is yes. Yet, DePaul aspires to be a community marked by mutual respect, always aware of the potential impact of our words and actions. Both of these outcomes are achievable.”
The DePaulia applauded the Faculty Council vote in a Monday staff editorial and denied that Mr. Hill’s free speech rights had been abridged.
“What Hill and Carlson fail to understand is that students and faculty do not want to censor him,” said the editorial. “Rather, they want him to apologize for spreading hate speech so publicly and aligning our campus with it. As a tenured professor, when he speaks, he represents DePaul, whether he agrees with that or not.”
Added student Abdallah Awwad in a Monday letter: “[Mr. Hill] has continued in his ways, calling DePaul students anti-semitic because we oppose his rhetoric. His rhetoric is indeed harmful to Palestinian students at DePaul.”
Debates over Middle East politics are nothing new on campus. Coinciding with the fallout over Mr. Hill’s article was the start Tuesday of DePaul’s annual Israeli Apartheid Week. In 2014, DePaul students voted in favor of a referendum to divest from Israel.
In Mr. Hill’s corner were Israel advocates such as StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein, who said Tuesday that the “effort to intimidate and silence Professor Hill due to his views about Israel is unacceptable. There is no place for actions that chill free speech on campus.”
Mr. Hill said some faculty have offered him support behind the scenes, even some who disagree with his position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
“I think we live in a climate of intimidation and fear,” he said. “Faculty members who have been here for 35 years, who have tenure, have said privately that they would be fearful of coming out publicly because they don’t want to be ostracized. And not even the article — some of them disagree with the article — but coming out in favor of my right to publish in my own name.”