Weeks before CNN dropped Temple University media studies professor Marc Lamont Hill from its roster of paid commentators—for an incendiary speech to the United Nations on Wednesday in which he seemed to be calling for the destruction of the state of Israel, using violence if necessary—executives at the cable outlet were aware that several Jewish groups had long considered him an enemy.
Hill's provocative stance, and the growing criticism of it, had been "a festering problem," a CNN insider told The Daily Beast on Friday, a day after the network announced that the 39-year-old Hill, a former Fox News contributor, would no longer appear as a contributor on CNN.
CNN execs pulled the trigger on Thursday, the morning after the right-leaning Washington Examiner asked for comment on Hill's remarks, which were generating a firestorm of indignation on social media, along with a few defenders who condemned Hill's firing.
"I think it's a disgrace," James Zogby, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute, told The Daily Beast. "It's just evidence of what we have known for decades—the lack of tolerance for any deviations from what is accepted as the position on Israel and Palestine."
Zogby slammed CNN for "caving in to an effort to gang up on them until they fired him. It's deplorable."
The 39-year-old Hill—who has published four books focusing on racial issues and has also written for The Huffington Post and hosted a program on BET—was sacked the day after he told the UN's "International Day of Solidarity with Palestine" that "we have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action, and international action that will give us what justice requires. And that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea."
The phrase, "a free Palestine from the river to the sea," has historically been a clarion call of Hamas and other anti-Zionist groups that wish for the obliteration of the Jewish state.
Hill also told the UN gathering that non-violent protest, as prescribed by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., cannot be the only tactic to fight injustice.
The American slave revolts of the 19th century "were equally important to preserving safety and attaining freedom," Hill said. "We must allow—if we are to operate in true solidarity with Palestinian people—we must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility."
Hill added: "If we are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must recognize the right of an occupied people to defend itself. We must prioritize peace. But we must not romanticize or fetishize it."
At another point, Hill paused to drain a glass of water, and joked: "Forgive my thirst. I literally just got off of a flight from Palestine to come to address you this morning and I was boycotting the Israeli water so I was unable to quench my thirst, but thank you for your indulgence."
The Anti-Defamation League—one of several Jewish groups that condemned Hill's remarks—tweeted: "Those calling for 'from the river to the sea' are calling for an end to the State of Israel. It's a shame that once again, this annual Palestinian event at the UN does not promote pathways to a future of peace & instead promotes divisiveness and hate."
Hill and a CNN executive declined to comment to The Daily Beast. But as expressions of outrage accumulated on social media, Hill posted a series of tweets denying that he's anti-Semitic or favors Israel's destruction.
•"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."
•"My reference to 'river to the sea' 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."
•"This isn't a case of throwing rocks and hiding hands. I genuinely believe in the arguments and principles that I shared in the speech. I also genuinely want peace, freedom, and security for everyone. These are not competing ideals and values."
CNN execs were on alert concerning Hill at least since October, an insider said. A May 17, 2017 article in the Jewish-oriented newspaper The Algemeiner—headlined "Yes, Marc Lamont Hill Is an Antisemite"—received quiet attention among CNN types after a friendly photo from a 2016 meeting between Hill and Minister Louis Farrakhan, who recently compared Jewish people to termites, surfaced last month on social media.
"Been blessed to spend the last day with Minister Louis Farrakhan," Hill wrote below an Instagram photo of himself sitting happily on a park bench with the smiling Nation of Islam leader. "An amazing time of learning, listening, laughing, and even head nodding to music. God is Great."