Free speech sometimes means ugly speech

To me, usually an Israel-supporting American Jew, Kareem Tannous is a loathsome creep with a distorted view of history and vicious, ill-informed anti-Israel opinions.

Kareem Tannous was fired for ugly opinions (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

He was fired as an assistant business professor by Cabrini University in Radnor last August after despicable tweets of his were discovered.

“#zionism is the disease #Free Palestine is the cure dismantle #ApartheidIsrael by any means necessary,” tweeted Tammous, identified by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a 45-year-old Philadelphian-born Palestinian Christian.

In another tweet, he likened Israel to Nazi Germany, which is about the most vicious, and false, statement one can make about the Jewish state: “Today in Zionazi Ukraine, one upping zionazi Israel,” and “Israel and Ukraine are societal cancers and must be eradicated.” Cancers? The radical Tammous seems to have a problem with embattled democracies.

The thing is, the tweets were vomited out on his personal Twitter account, and there is no indication he shared his odious opinions with his students. 

His firing, then, is a violation of his freedom of speech, and he has hired a lawyer to sue the university, claiming his firing for “anti-Semitism” has made him an unhirable pariah.

In effect, attorney Mark Schwartz says, Tammous has been “blacklisted.” [Personal disclosure: Schwartz was my attorney in my successful defamation suit against the Inquirer and is defending me against the Inquirer’s retaliatory lawsuit that claims I “disparaged” them.]

There is a lot to unpack here.

First, being anti-Israel is not identical with anti-Semitism. They are not one and the same, although there can be overlap. None of Tammous’ hateful messages were directed at Jewish people, despite the interpretation of groups such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which fired off a letter of complaint to Cabrini before Tammous was canned.

It claimed his remarks were anti-Semitic and he called for the destruction of the state of Israel.

Yes to destruction, no to anti-Semitic.

As loathsome as calling for Israel’s end may be, it is protected speech as long as he does not foment the violence.

“Posts by Prof. Tammous exploit the sacred memory of the Holocaust for the purpose of painting its primary victim, the Jewish people, as the ‘new’ oppressor in the form of the State of Israel,” the Federation wrote. 

Tammous did that, but it is protected political speech, even if the Federation and I don’t like it.

The Inquirer referenced a 2018 incident in which Temple University Prof. Marc Lamont Hill, an all-purpose tool for the “oppressed,” made a habit of calling Israel an “apartheid” state and calling for its destruction.

“Apartheid” is a lie, but it is an opinion, so I held my nose and wrote in his defense, and Temple did not succumb to calls for him to be fired. If you want to know what “apartheid” means, think of the former South Africa, not Israel which seats Arab Muslims in its Knesset (parliament), educates Arabs in its universities, and allows Israeli Arabs to live anywhere.

Nice speech, pleasant speech, needs no defense.

In their genius, the Founding Fathers recognized what needed protection were unpopular ideas (such as cutting ties with the king).

Free expression seems to be unpopular on Woke college campuses, which think that words can cause physical harm, and the sensitivities of sniveling sophomores should be elevated over the exchange of ideas. 

That’s not what made America great.

As to Tannous’ revolting opinions about Israel, attorney Schwartz tells me, “My own relatives . . . were instrumental in the founding of [Israel] back at the beginning of the 20th century. As their descendent and as a Jew I must take issue with the government’s treatment of Arabs, some of which bear a resemblance to Nazi tactics.”

I think that is an overstatement. I print it not because I agree with it, but because a commitment to free speech demands it.

And how anti-Semitic can Tannous be when he hires a Jew to defend him?

12 thoughts on “Free speech sometimes means ugly speech”

  1. Tough questions. Even the Skokie Illinois Nazis had Jewish Lawyers. I think the distinction here is Mr. Tannous was an adjunct professor who was relatively new to the school. No tenure and probably not even an office there. I do not think he should be fired for his employment of free speech, but rather for not thinking about the consequences of past and present actions when seeking employment. And I read the Jewish Federation was only asking for a censure/warning, not a termination. He is distinctive from Amy Wachs at Penn who has tenure, but you have to wish both stuck to beliefs without attempting to be provocateurs.

    1. I accept your distinctions, Larry, and had Tannous talked in a school setting, or to students, or ABOUT students (I.e. Wax) his firing would be justified. In this case, I believe it was not.
      I have not followed the Wax situation closely, but it appears she may have said some things that were racist, and other things that were true and “appeared” racist.

  2. I would like to think that I don’t represent “loathesome creeps” , the blog author included . Otherwise a typically excellent column.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, and, as you know, my opinion of your misguided, loathsome client is an opinion, protected (and, to me, justified). 😎

  3. Ah, the deadly quicksand of language! Say the wrong word and be branded an anti-this-or-that. So, to stay safe, one says nothing — and the result is the same as censorship. Keep speaking out, Stu.

  4. Cabrini has a “right” to fire a person they find loathsome. Pennsylvania is an “at will” state, meaning the employee doesn’t need a reason to fire someone. The exception is reasons that are prohibited by law, such as race. Aren’t you the person who frequently points our that “Freedom of Speech” means that the GOVERNMENT cannot restrict speech, and that private employers can fire someone for whatever reason they choose? You say this guys speech was Anti-Israel, but not Anti-semitic, but that’s your opinion. IMHO, it was clearly anti-semitic. And they hiring a Jewish lawyer doesn’t give him a pass. It’s the old “some of my best friends (or lawyers, or doctors) are Jewish” escape clause. Somewhat related… I just watched “The Devil Next Store”, about the war crimes trials of John Demanjuk (sp?) accused of being the notorious Nazi murderer/torturer known as Ivan the Terrible. One of his lawyers was Jewish, AND an Israeli. So I guess he couldn’t have been Anti-Semitic?

    1. The First Amendment applies to government, yes, and the “right” to fire does not mean it is right to fire for one’s speech, or thoughts. I’m the old fashioned liberal who hates what you say but will defend your right to say it.
      As for Demanjuk, EVERYONE has the right to the best defense they can afford. You believe in fair trials, don’t you? Or only fair trials for those you agree with?

      1. Stu, would you please show me where Naomi said, or implied anything about not wanting some people to get fair trials. I read what she posted and I do not see it.

        As far as Demanjuk getting the best defense it seems you are saying, or implying that Jewish lawyers are the best. It looks like you might be stereotyping Jewish lawyers. Yes Stu, I know you are Jewish but that does not mean you can stereotype Jewish lawyers, nor anyone else.

        As far as Tammous’ hiring of a Jewish lawyer, while he has that right I believe he is pandering. and he should be called out for doing it.

        1. Based on her opinion, I asked a question about her supporting free trials. She is free romamserbit, or not.
          I did not imply Jewish lawyers are the “best.” I will say most are Left and the Left used to be for maximum freedom. The far left no longer is, when they endorse speech codes, for instance. And, from her comments, Naomi would agree.
          Not do I agree the execrable Tammous is pandering. That judgment is yours.

          1. Tammous pandering is a judgement call. None of us will ever truly know if he is pandering or not.

  5. Apropos of the Jewish lawyer flap, see my first posting above. Res ipse loquitur.

  6. You were right that he used protected political speech but that means protected from the government.

    Cabrini is a private university. They can do whatever they want, unless they’re breaking the law or a union/personal services contract.

    I wouldn’t want to pay tuition and be taught by somebody with his views and morals. And I know I’m not alone.

    Freedom of Speech means taking responsibility for what one says. He had the freedom to say what he did and the rest of the world had the freedom to react nonviolently.

    (And he should’ve learned from the story of Natalie at the Agnes Irwin School, who the Inky chose to profile last summer. It could’ve been the only redeeming thing from that article.)

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