Hill speaking at the United Nations headquarters this week.
For over half a century, Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under an illegal military occupation — one that provides their Jewish neighbors with the franchise and basic civil rights, while providing them with neither. In recent years, this de facto apartheid rule has been shading into the de jure variety. In 2017, the Israeli Knesset (i.e. parliament) enacted a law that instructs its army to confiscate privately owned Palestinian land, and transfer it to Israeli settlers. As Michael Sfard observed in the New York Review of Books, “This law is not only a naked sanction of land theft; it is also an unprecedented imposition of Knesset legislation on Palestinians who have no parliamentary representation.”
For over a decade, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been living under an Israeli blockade that restricts their access to basic goods, their ability to fish for sardines (their fishing industry’s “most important catch”), and their capacity to export agricultural products. Israel justifies this blockade in the name of security, as Gaza is currently ruled by the terrorist group Hamas. In reality, many of the blockade’s most damaging provisions merely serve Israel’s parochial economic interests. As Peter Beinart has explained:
In 2009, Haaretz exposed the way Israeli agricultural interests lobby to loosen restrictions on imports into Gaza when Israeli farmers want to sell surplus goods. In 2011, Israel found itself with a shortage of lulavs, the palm fronds that observant Jews shake on the holiday of Sukkot. So Israel lifted its ban on Gaza’s export of palm fronds. Had the security risk suddenly changed? Of course not. What had changed were the needs of Israeli consumers.
This arrangement might work well for Israeli consumers and farming interests — but it has rendered Gaza all but uninhabitable for its Palestinian residents. That is no rhetorical flourish: A recent U.N. report found that Gaza could become unfit for humans life by 2020, if the blockade continues apace. Already, only 10 percent of Palestinians in Gaza have access to adequate drinking water, the blockade has depressed the productivity of Gaza’s agricultural sector by 40 percent, and most Gazans enjoy the benefits of electricity for only a couple hours each day.
Meanwhile, Palestinian residents of Israel proper have been living under a state that treats them as second-class citizens, in word and in law, for its entire history.
The Israeli government has signaled utter disinterest in ending its occupation and affording Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the right to self-determination in their own state. Rather, many of the ruling coalition’s members have endorsed annexing the occupied territories, and upholding apartheid rule there in perpetuity.
Marc Lamont Hill believes that this is unacceptable. More specifically, the academic and television personality believes that Palestinians have a right to resist their occupation through international boycotts of Israel, and even by defending themselves from the Israeli military with the use of force.
He also believes that Israel’s desire to exist, in perpetuity, as a majority Jewish state, does not supercede the right of those Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 to return to their homes inside Israel.
Here is how Hill expressed these sentiments, during an appearance at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week:
Solidarity from the international community demands that we embrace Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions as a critical means by which to hold Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinian people. This movement – which emerges out of the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society – offers a nonviolent means by which to demand a return to pre-67 borders, full rights for Palestinian citizens, and the right to return by international law.
… Contrary to western mythology, black resistance to American apartheid did not come purely through Gandi and nonviolence. If we are to operate in true solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility. 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.
We must advocate and promote nonviolence at every opportunity, but we cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians for resisting, for refusing to do nothing in the face of state violence and ethnic cleansing.
… 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.
This argument challenged many conservatives’ ideological presumptions. And its wording struck them as insensitive, if not outright triggering; after all, “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” is a sentiment that has been endorsed by terrorists (and to the right-wing PC police, guilt by association is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). And so, rather than countering Hill’s viewpoint with reasoned debate — and trusting that the marketplace of ideas would allow the truth of their counterarguments to prevail — these right-wing snowflakes organized a Twitter mob, to demand the de-platforming of Marc Lamont Hill.
And CNN complied, firing its on-air political analyst less than 24 hours after his appearance at the U.N.
One can make reasonable arguments against Hill’s views on Israel–Palestine, and fair criticisms of the commentator’s decision to use the phrase “from the river to the sea,” or his failure to acknowledge the historical experiences that have caused many Jews to believe in the necessity of maintaining a majority Jewish state. Separately, one probably should take exception with Hill’s past ties to — and shameful defenses of — the virulent anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.
But the right-wing Twitter mob declined to take that path.
Instead, Seth Mandel, the executive editor of the Washington Examiner — and prominent critic of “the internet outrage machine” and “outrage mobs” — decided to declare that Hill’s remarks were a literal endorsement of a second Holocaust, and thus, that Hill’s point of view merited suppression, not critique.
Hill clarified his position on Twitter Thursday, writing, “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.” But this clarification was hardly necessary — Mandel made no attempt to disguise the fact that he had wildly misrepresented Hill’s position. Mandel posits that there is literally no distinction between saying that there should be a single, binational state in Israel–Palestine — in which all residents are afforded the right to vote — and an “explicit call for Jewish genocide.”
Ironically, this equation is itself deeply bigoted. Mandel’s ostensible premise is that, if Palestinians secured basic political rights, they would inevitably use those rights to orchestrate genocidal violence — and, further, that this reality is so obvious, one can fairly assume that anyone who calls for Palestinian enfranchisement desires the liquidation of the Jewish people.
Notably, if one presumes that the two-state solution is dead (far from a crazy presumption), then a majority of the American public actually supports Hill’s position: In a recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland, 63 percent of Americans said that if a two-state solution is not possible, they would prefer “a single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories,” over Israel annexing the occupied territories without giving Palestinians citizenship, or maintaining its occupation indefinitely.
The fact that Hill’s argument — that providing all residents of Israel with full, democratic rights should take precedence over the maintenance of a majority Jewish state — strikes most Americans as reasonable is (almost certainly) why Mandel wishes to brand it as genocidal. He and other right-wing defenders of Israel do not want to permit free and open debate on this subject because they lack confidence in their own position (which doesn’t merely hold that a one-state solution is unacceptable, but that any effort to pressure Israel into so much as ceasing settlement expansion in the West Bank is illegitimate). Explaining why Palestinians shouldn’t be given the right to vote for the government that rules them is difficult; persuading for-profit media outlets not to tolerate debate over that question is, apparently, easy.