A Temple University professor who questioned the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust and engaged in what human rights observers described as anti-Semitic discourse is entitled to promote his controversial ideas, according to a university spokesman who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
Adjunct Temple University Professor Alessio Lerro came under fire from Jewish scholars after he and other professors were caught on a secret listserv engaging in highly inflammatory anti-Semitic discourse about a resolution by the Modern Language Association (MLA) to boycott Israel.
Lerro accused "Jewish scholars" of having "humungous influence" over the entirety of academia and stated, "It is time that Zionists are asked to finally account for their support to the illegal occupation of Palestine since 1967," according to message left on the listserv.
It further came to light that Lerro, in a now deleted Facebook posting, also questioned the deaths of 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
Asked to comment on Lerro’s discourse and accusations by Jewish leaders that the rhetoric amounts to anti-Semitism, Temple University spokesman Brandon Lausch told the Free Beacon that the university welcomed his controversial views on campus.
"Temple University promotes open discussion and expression among its diverse community of scholars," Lausch said after being informed of Lerro’s comments. "The exercise of academic freedom necessarily results in a vigorous exchange of ideas."
Lerro is entitled to express his point of view, Lausch said in a statement.
"The views and opinions of any individual instructor are those of the individual and not those of the university," he said.
Lausch would not say if the university has addressed the issue with Lerro and would not comment on the controversial rhetoric itself. Lerro himself did not respond to messages on Facebook asking for comment.
However, Temple’s president and provost have officially come out against academic boycotts of Israel in the past.
Temple’s response to the current controversy fails to address the core issues of anti-Semitism, according to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which works to combat anti-Semitism.
"’Vigorous exchange of ideas’?" Cooper asked. "Let us be clear. A person who questions and mocks the central fact about history's worst crime is not acting like a scholar but a bigot."
"I refuse to believe that the true scholars at Temple University would equate hate with historic fact when any group would be targeted in such a way," Cooper added. "Of course he has the rights to such hateful views but why doesn’t the administration of Temple University have the decency to actually condemn these statements?"
Other professors that were engaged in discussion about the MLA boycott resolution also lashed out at those they dubbed "Zionist attack dogs."
Professor Elizabeth Ordonez, a retired Spanish professor from Metropolitan State University in Denver, wrote that "Zionist attack dogs" are unduly pressuring the resolution’s supporters.
"As on the broader political scene, moves to seek justice and opportunity for Palestinians (or to remove obstacles to achieving those goals) are countered by Zionist attack dogs," Ordonez wrote in a March 22 post on the leaked listserv. "When the Zionist lobby railroads its way through Congress, universities, and civil society no request is made for equal time for the other side."
Ordonez, who refers to controversial Palestinian academic Edward Said as "our beloved late leader," advised her colleagues to vote "yes" on the boycott measure.
Another listserv participant, Professor Basem Ra’ad of the Palestinian Al Quds University, defended Ordonez’s comments and condemned the "unfair pressures being exercised on universities by Zionist funders and lobby groups."
Professor Richard Pressman, a communications teacher at St. Mary’s University in Texas, wrote that he is "pleased to see the tactfulness of the Palestinian resolution, as I’m tired of Zionists constantly carping at those who support Palestinian rights … such as this Jewish American."