The curious case of Marc Lamont Hill

Hill CNN

His remarks on Palestine were nothing new. Yet he was called anti-semite and banished from the CNN

On November 27, CNN fired Marc Lamont Hill, a professor at Temple University, Philadelphia, as its on-air political analyst. The reason was the comments Hill made a day earlier during a discussion on the rights of the Palestinians at the UN. In his speech, Hill accused the Israeli government of practising “settler colonialism” and apartheid, supported the international boycott movement—boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. He also called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea”.

Immediately after the speech, all hell broke loose on Twitter. Both the right-wing and liberal supporters of Israel and Zionism attacked Hill for his “anti-Semitic comments”. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein said the phrase “river to the sea” is a Hamas slogan that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea eliminating Israel. Seth Mandel, executive editor with the magazine, said Hill has called for “another Jewish massacre”. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish NGO based in the US, said Hill is calling for wiping out Israel from the map. As the online attack against Hill picked up momentum, CNN, the liberal TV network that’s a favourite of anti-Trump #resistance commentators,  immediately fired him.

Even the chairman of Temple University’s board, Patrick O’Connor, slammed Hill over the remarks. In his view, Hill’s comments were lamentable and disgusting. “It should be made clear that no one at Temple is happy with his comments. Free speech is one thing. Hate speech is entirely different,” said O’Connor. He added that the board and the administration were not happy with Hill’s speech and “people wanted to fire him right away… We’re going to look at what remedies we have.”

Anti-Semite, really?

But Hill, a 2000 graduate of Temple who holds a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, strongly denies allegations that he’s an anti-Semite. “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things,” he tweeted a day after CNN fired him. Hill also explained his reference to “from river to the sea”. It “was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things. No amount of debate will change what I actually said or what I meant.”

Actually, he was referring to the establishment of a binational state in which both Palestinians and Jews will have equal rights, or the single-state solution. The single-state solution has supporters both within Palestine and Israel. Their main argument was that Israel since Oslo has not given in much ground to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Not just that. Israel has also deepened occupation of the Palestinian territories by building more and more Jewish settlements in the West Bank and grabbing more Palestinian land by building a “security barrier” (or apartheid wall) that cuts deep into the West Bank.

Israel has also tightened its grip over Jerusalem (Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state) and shown no interest to reviving the peace process. During the last election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even said that an independent Palestine won’t be formed under his watch, which was a flagrant violation of the Oslo accords. After US President Donald Trump decided to move American embassy to Jerusalem, Palestinian President Abu Mazen publicly said that the Oslo process — for the two state solution — was dead. The other solution is the one state solution.

The mistake Hill did was to speak of it publicly, at an international forum. None of his criticisms is new. There’s already a growing call for the one-state solution. Israeli leaders themselves have warned of the country slipping into apartheid. The former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once said “Israel faces the slippery slope towards apartheid”.

But in the mainstream American media, it’s very difficult to raise even valid criticisms against Israel’s occupation and rights violations in the Palestinian territories. Such criticisms will be extrapolated to anti-Semitism and the critic will be termed anti-Semite. That’s exactly what has happened in the case of Hill. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, “You can attack the Palestinians in America uninterrupted, call to expel them and deny their existence. Just don’t dare say a bad word about Israel, the holy of holies.”

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