Talk of antisemitism moving from the margins of American society into the mainstream often centers on white nationalism, that is, Jew hatred from the right. One need look no further than the November elections, in which two Holocaust deniers received 56,000 and 43,000 votes in bids to win Congressional seats in Illinois and California, respectively.
Presumably, many registered Republicans who voted for these antisemitic candidates were ignorant of their extremism and reflexively chose the candidate with an "R" next to their name.
And at least the Jewish community could take comfort in the fact that from the outset, the Republican Party categorically rejected both candidates, each of whom lost by wide margins.
White nationalists, it would seem for now, are still universally denounced and abhorred by all people of conscience.
On the other hand, there's far too much tolerance for antisemitism on the left, which often masquerades under the cover of anti-Zionism. To make matters worse, it's sometimes abetted by Jews themselves. All of which brings me to the case of Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia and former CNN political commentator.
In November, Hill was fired by CNN after appearing at a UN event during which he endorsed a political slogan associated with Palestinian extremists calling for Israel's destruction. Speaking at the UN's annual "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People," Hill called for "action" to "give us what justice requires...a free Palestine from the river to the sea [emphasis added]." He also stated that Palestinians have a right to "resistance" against Israel without specifically ruling out acts of violence and terrorism.
The question isn't whether CNN should have fired Hill; rather, it's this: Why did it take CNN so long to part ways with a contributor with a long history of antisemitism and vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric?
For years, Hill used his appearances on CNN to portray Israel as a contemptible Apartheid state guilty of committing "ethnic cleansing," a claim he repeated during his UN diatribe. Not surprisingly, he's a staunch supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and considers BDS founder Omar Barghouti, who rejects Israel's right to exist, someone "we must stand behind."
In 2015, merely weeks after he tweeted about fighting antisemitism, Hill traveled to the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth, which he insisted was in "Palestine." During the visit, he declared that he had come to a land "stolen by greed," thus reinforcing the ugly antisemitic stereotype of greedy Jews.
In October of that year, Hill wrote an opinion piece in the Huffington Post entitled, "Why Every Black Activist Should Stand with Rasmea Odeh." In it, he referred to Odeh, a convicted Palestinian terrorist, as a "venerable woman" and "freedom fighter." As far as Hill is concerned, the murder of two young Israeli Jews in a 1969 bombing planned by Odeh wasn't a horrific crime – it was an act of "justice."
None of these troubling issues was enough for CNN (let alone Temple) to fire Hill. Nor, shockingly, was his close association with Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam founder whom the ADL has called the "leading anti-Semite in America." Farrakhan once called Adolf Hitler "a great man," and recently, he compared Jews to "termites." In August 2016, Hill uploaded onto Instagram a picture of the two smiling together. His caption read, "Been blessed to spend the day with Minister Louis Farrakhan. An amazing time of learning, listening, laughing."
We Jews aren't laughing. That CNN, which claims to be "the most trusted name in news," could keep Hill under contract for so many years is indicative of a much larger problem.
Whether it's university professors declining to write letters of recommendation for Jewish students applying to study in Israel, progressive social movements barring Jews who refuse to disavow Israel, or a major news network's indulgence toward a contributor's toxic views, left-wing antisemitism has seeped into the mainstream, especially because it can hide behind "acceptable" progressive ideas like anti-Zionism.
What makes this problem even more challenging is the fact that antisemites on the left, in contrast to white nationalists, are often defended by radical Jewish groups. The latter flaunt their Jewish identity to shield people like Hill from allegations of antisemitism. Both Jewish Voices for Peace and IfNotNow posted online petitions demanding that CNN reinstate Hill: "Tell CNN that advocating for Palestinian rights isn't antisemitic."
True, it isn't. But advocating for the dismantling of the Jewish state, standing in solidarity with a murderer of Jews and supporting Louis Farrakhan all qualify as vile antisemitism. It's irrelevant whether the antisemite holds otherwise progressive views. We must make it clear: Antisemitism, no matter what form it takes, has no place in civil society.
The writer is Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland