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Professor Known For Anti-Israel Remarks Speaks At Brooklyn College; Some Critics Furious

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Steven Salaita, who has drawn heated controversy and lost a professorship for anti-Israel comments he posted on social media, spoke at Brooklyn College Thursday night.

As CBS2's Weijia Jiang reported, some students and other critics thought Salaita had no business at the campus in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and wanted him to stay quiet.

"There's nothing for him to lecture about here in the heart of Brooklyn," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn.) "And Brooklyn College? Shame on you."

Hikind's is himself an alumnus of Brooklyn College, and was furious at the school for hosting Salaita, a former Virginia Tech professor.

In September, Salaita lost a subsequent job at the University of Illinois. He had accepted a job in October 2013 to transfer from Virginia Tech and teach in the U of I's Native American Studies program.

But the board of trustees voted not to hire Salaita because many deemed his hundreds of anti-Israel posts anti-Semitic.

In June, after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and later found murdered, he wrote: "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing."

He also tweeted, "#Israel and #ISIS are but two prongs of the same violent ethnonationalism."

This past summer, U of I English professor Cary Nelson told Steve Miller of WBBM Newsradio in Chicago that some of Salaita's tweets crossed the line.

"Some of them seem to cross the line recently into advocating violence against people," Nelson, the former president of the American Association of University Professors, said in August.

Nelson said he has defended the hiring of controversial professors before, but this is not a matter of academic freedom.

"Academic freedom does not protect incitation of violence," he told Miller in July. "There was an American reporter – who someone else Tweeted, saying his articles should be met on the point of a shiv. And Steven Salaita re-Tweeted that, apparently approvingly."

Hikind likewise said Thursday that Salaita's remarks had gone too far.

"You can criticize Israel. That is not the issue," Hikind said. "But when you cross the line and your rhetoric, your words, your hate speech can lead to violence -- then you've crossed the line."

But the president of the Brooklyn College group that asked Salaita to speak, Students for Justice in Palestine, defended the invitation. Sarah Ali said Hikind is confusing free speech with hate speech.

"Speaking on issues that are critical of Israel have been a struggle at this university," Ali said. "For us to silence him again tonight, under similar pressure, is sort of just a slap in the face."

Brooklyn College released an official statement late Thursday, reading in part, "The College continues to reaffirm its commitment to foster a vibrant, inclusive, and respectful academic community. We expect visitors to our campus to uphold these same principles."

The speech was held between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

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