Last week at a UN assembly, on what is known as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, one man showed his support on the most visible political stage. Marc Lamont Hill, activist, journalist, and contributor at CNN openly and passionately criticized the treatment of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government, calling for “a free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
This comment drew immediate rancor and was quickly labelled as anti-Semitic and a possible dog whistle for the eradication of Israel. It wasn’t long before the powers-that-be at CNN sprang into action, firing Hill within hours of his controversial speech; even his job as a lecturer at Temple University seemed to hang in the balance as the institution instantly denounced his comments. Unfortunately, his impassioned speech could not have come at a worse time as the network had been promoting a week-long series which focused on growing anti-Semitism across Europe.
It may seem as though we are stating the obvious here but it seems necessary now; Judaism and Zionism are not one and the same.
Now, while that may have contributed to his termination at CNN, it most certainly was not the only reason for such a quick and adverse reaction. For example, I don’t believe it would be too far a stretch of one’s imagination to deduce that a deciding factor was tied to the identity of the network’s president, Jeff Zucker; proudly Jewish and a staunch supporter of the Israeli state. The irony here, of course, lies in the fact that just last month, Zucker vehemently condemned President Trump’s treatment of the free press after Jim Acosta had his White House press pass revoked following a public confrontation with Donald Trump. This was after Acosta persistently asked pointed questions which the President refused to answer before becoming visibly agitated and referring to Acosta as “very rude”, insisting that CNN should be ashamed of his reporting; a White House staffer then forcibly tried to take his microphone before he was removed from the premises (sans press pass).
This incident was widely-criticized by both Americans and the international media, but none protested louder than Jeff Zucker. He labelled Trump’s contempt and lack of cooperation with the media as antagonistic, even going so far as to state that the President’s constant referral to “fake news” in conjunction with any reporting he didn’t like set a dangerous precedent; one can only speculate what happened to this seemingly unwavering support for journalists who hold those in power to account in the case of Marc Lamont Hill.
The argument for the Israeli right to the land often stems from the belief that it is their divine right, and that the land was promised to them by God, but the idea that ancient religious texts can substantiate modern claims for territories is preposterous and has been widely denounced.
So why the obvious double standard here? It’s simple; Jim Acosta did not offend Jeff Zucker personally, whereas Hill’s political stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clashed with his own, so he took a page straight out of Trump’s playbook and attempted to punish and silence a journalist because this time, the powers that were being called out and held to account were too close to home.
The hypocrisy of this will, of course, no doubt be overshadowed by the usual cries of anti-Semitism anytime an individual dared to protest the atrocities being committed by Israel, but we must be mindful never to use the cover of misplaced outrage to deflect from the very real suffering that is being endured by Palestinians. It may seem as though we are stating the obvious here but it seems necessary now; Judaism and Zionism are not one and the same. Contrary to popular (and mistaken) belief, one is capable of respecting the religion while simultaneously being opposed to the geo-politics of the state. The argument for the Israeli right to the land often stems from the belief that it is their divine right, and that the land was promised to them by God, but the idea that ancient religious texts can substantiate modern claims for territories is preposterous and has been widely denounced. The region of Israel and Palestine has passed hands many times throughout the centuries; as was wont to happen during such times of imperialism and conquerors.
Looking back as early as the Ice Age, there has been proof of human habitation there, with the first migration of the Homo Erectus (the upright man) out of Africa. This is a land which saw the development of the Homo Sapiens (first intelligent men) and the subsequent creation of the Canaanite states; an ancient civilization of successful merchants who practiced paganism and polytheistic religions, not Judaism. Since then, the region has passed through many hands, including the ancient Egyptians, the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, Alexander the Great and so on until the long reign of the Ottoman empire (four centuries).
This reign was interrupted by the invasion of Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, quickly quashed by the British who restored power to the Ottomans in exchange for further capitulations. Having essentially seized control of the region by proxy, the British government soon issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917; a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild from Arthur Balfour (Foreign Secretary), stating that the British government supported the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Not a month later, they captured Jerusalem and in 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain a mandate over Palestine. Soon enough, the mass migration of Jews into the region began, and following the harrowing atrocities of the Holocaust, there was growing pressure for the establishment of an independent Jewish state and in 1948, the Jews of British Palestine declared the State of Israel.
Completely disregarding the Partition Plan which was set in place, Israel overran far more territory than was agreed upon and over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and displaced as the bitter war for control of the region ensued.
An entire country was dissected and handed out like pieces of candy because of what started as a favor to a powerful, Jewish aristocrat from the British government. The international community cheered for the victory of a people who had suffered immeasurably at the hands of a Nazi government, never stopping to contemplate the new suffering they would inflict on the people of Palestine.
Completely disregarding the Partition Plan which was set in place, Israel overran far more territory than was agreed upon and over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and displaced as the bitter war for control of the region ensued. With military assistance and funding from America and legislative support from Britain, Israel took over most of Palestine, killing and pillaging as people resisted; scenes so eerily familiar to the ones their people had just recently survived in Germany and Poland. The difference here was that the plight now befell Arab Muslims who were dehumanized, and received no sympathy from the international community.
The Jewish community has suffered unbelievable persecution and are deserving of respect, compassion and a home, but none of these facts entitle them to get away with mass murder, illegal occupation and attempts at eradicating an entire nation of people.
And when they did? Well, just take a look back at the swift backlash and incensed cries of anti-Semitism aimed at prominent figures in the past who have questioned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Look no further than the reason this very article is being written; a man losing his livelihood because he dared to oppose the politics of a state which seems to be universally off-limits in the way of criticism. Marc Hill has now been forced to issue an apology for his words at the UN, a worrying pattern that has emerged constantly as all of Israel’s naysayers have been silenced under threats of being labelled publicly as anti-Semites.
The Jewish community has suffered unbelievable persecution and are deserving of respect, compassion and a home, but none of these facts entitle them to get away with mass murder, illegal occupation and attempts at eradicating an entire nation of people. It was not so long ago that this very cruelty faced their own community, but victimhood in the past does not justify unchallenged bigotry and xenophobia in the present.
While Hill’s calls for a one-state solution (a secular, democratic state which represents Jewish and Palestinian citizens equally) may be unrealistic in the current state of affairs, we must not be afraid, bullied or silenced into passive agreement as Palestine is slowly erased. While we fight anti-Semitism and the bigoted minds who would spread hatred of the Jewish community, we must also reserve the right to criticize a state that is hiding behind the horrors of WWII to commit the modern genocide of the Palestinians. We must stand with Marc Lamont Hill and all heroes who would jeopardize their personal futures to give voices to the voiceless. We must learn to separate state from religion, giving all due respect to the Jewish people, but with the unwavering commitment that we stand with Palestine. Fear-mongering no longer has a place in politics; this is a new time and while religion and politics can often be interchangeable, they are not mutually exclusive.
“It is not possible to be in favour of justice for some people and not be in favour of justice for all people.” – Dr Martin Luther King