At the United Nations on Wednesday, Marc Lamont Hill was rewarded with enthusiastic applause for his speech that ended with a call for "a free Palestine, from the river to the sea."
But once the news of his speech spread on social media, there was considerable dismay and outrage. The Anti-Defamation League soon weighed in, noting that calling for Palestine "from the river to the sea" inevitably means "calling for an end to the State of Israel," while many others pointed out that the slogan echoed the rhetoric of Hamas leaders.
When CNN announced not long afterwards that Hill would no longer be a commentator on the network, it was widely assumed that this decision was prompted by Hill's remarks at the U.N. However, the U.N. speech may just have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
The ADL describes Farrakhan as "the leading anti-Semite in America;" the Southern Poverty Law Center also calls him "an anti-Semite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power" and views NOI as a group that has "earned… a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate."
Yet Hill has been reluctant to acknowledge the notorious bigotry of NOI and its leader. A decade ago, when he was confronted with Farrakhan's description of Judaism as a "gutter religion," Hill refused to denounce the NOI leader as an anti-Semite.
In 2010, he made clear that he was "excited" to hear a talk by Farrakhan, even though he felt that Farrakhan had been "a little too pro-Obama lately."
In the summer of 2016, Hill once again advertised his admiration for Farrakhan when he posted a photo of himself and the NOI leader with the text, "Been blessed to spend the last day with Minister Louis Farrakhan. An amazing time of learning, listening, laughing, and even head nodding to music. God is Great."
Given that Hill claims to be "one of the leading intellectual voices in the country" and will retain his position at Temple University, one might hope he would feel a special responsibility to oppose anti-Semitism. But the fact that he has known about Farrakhan's well-earned notoriety as a rabid Jew-hater for at least a decade and has still seen fit to tout him as an admirable leader demonstrates that he couldn't care less about it.
In an interview Hill gave to the NOI publication "The Final Call" just a few weeks ago, he finally acknowledged that Farrakhan may have made some anti-Semitic comments, but concluded:
In other words, Hill remains rather confident that he knows better than the ADL and the SPLC.
Do I believe that he is an anti-Semite? No.
But Hill would actually have to consider himself an anti-Semite according to the rather bizarre definition he espoused in "The Final Call," where he explained: "when you say someone is 'anti-Semitic,' you are saying they have a particular investment in doing harm to Jewish residences, to promoting narratives about them for a particular end"?
Unfortunately, Marc Lamont Hill does seem to have "a particular investment in doing harm to Jewish residences."
In August 2014, Hill participated in a CNN panel and complained that Israel's Iron Dome defense system against rockets "takes away all of Hamas's military leverage."
Hill went on to argue that Iron Dome therefore:
The inescapable conclusion is that Hill welcomes the fact that since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the Islamist terror group Hamas has launched thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli towns with the goal of "doing harm to Jewish residences" and preferably their inhabitants, too.
not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they [i.e. the US] are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.
It is also noteworthy that Hill is apparently unable or unwilling to understand that without the attacks from Hamas, Israel would have no interest and no reason to "assault and siege Gaza."
Unfortunately, it seems that Hill, like many committed anti-Israel activists, believes there's no such thing as Palestinian terrorism. Some of his previously reported statements, such as his warning not to "romanticize nonviolence," and his insistence that Palestinians should be encouraged "to resist in real robust ways," were also reflected in his recent UN speech. It is thus hardly surprising that Hill has a long record of arguably anti-Semitic anti-Israel activism.
To be sure, Hill would maintain that he engages in entirely legitimate pro-Palestinian activism, and he once even claimed:
But when you call for "a free Palestine, from the river to the sea," you obviously don't leave any room for a Jewish state.
I'm not anti israel. and i've fought, and continue to fight, anti-semitism my entire life. But i oppose occupation of Gaza.
Indeed, some four years ago, Hill provided a powerful illustration of how completely illegitimate Israel is in any borders as far as he is concerned.
In early January 2015, Hill joined a group that calls itself "Dream Defenders" on what was described as "a historic trip to Palestine." Hill posted a photo of the group with everyone making a V-sign, adding the hashtags #visforvictory #freepalestine. As graffiti in the background as well as a comment indicate, the photo was taken in Nazareth, a town in northern Israel well inside the 1967 Green line.
During their stay in Nazareth, the traveling "freedom fighters" also produced a video of a "Solidarity Demonstration."
A clip taken from this video shows Hill speaking to the camera [emphasis mine]:
When Hill claims to be in "Palestine" and advocates "revolutionary struggle" while standing in an Israeli city, he signals unmistakably that he doesn't think the world's only Jewish state should exist.
We came here to Palestine to stand in love and revolutionary struggle with our brothers and sisters; We come to a land that has been stolen by greed and destroyed by hate; We come here and we learn laws that have been co-signed in ink but written in the blood of the innocent and we stand next to people who continue to courageously struggle and resist the occupation; People continue to dream and fight for freedom; From Ferguson to Palestine the struggle for freedom continues.
He echoes age-old anti-Semitic tropes invoking the greedy Jew who steals, the hateful Jew who destroys and the Jew who is after "the blood of the innocent."
Hill thus provided a perfect example of what the British scholar Alan Johnson has described as "anti-Semitic anti-Zionism," which "bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical anti-Semitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world."
Perhaps now that Marc Lamont Hill will no longer be a CNN contributor, he'll have some time to educate himself about how the oldest hatred has been adapted over centuries to always cast the Jew — and now the Jewish state — as an evil that can't be tolerated.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Follow her @WarpedMirrorPMB