CNN’s decision to drop Marc Lamont Hill has met with resistance on the left, with some prominent progressives calling for the network to rehire him and challenging the widely held view that his comments before a United Nations panel were anti-Semitic.
Harvard professor Cornel West, “Avengers” star Mark Ruffalo, Democratic Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib, and a host of journalists were among those who rushed to Mr. Hill’s defense after CNN released the liberal commentator last week following an uproar over his speech.
Mr. West said he was in “deep solidarity” with Mr. Hill, while Mr. Ruffalo said that “[c]riticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic” and urged supporters to sign a petition posted by the left-wing group IfNotNow calling for him to be reinstated “immediately.”
“Once again we are seeing the American Jewish establishment censor conversations about Palestinian rights by falsely claiming antisemitism, and it is setting a terrifying precedent,” said the petition.
Meanwhile, Ms. Tlaib tweeted: “Calling out the oppressive policies in Israel, advocating for Palestinians to be respected, and for Israelis and Palestinians alike to have peace and freedom is not antisemitic.”
While CNN offered no explanation for why it cut Mr. Hill, the move came a day after his Nov. 28 speech condoning the use of force by Palestinians against Israel and concluding with a call for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
That mantra has long been associated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and more recently, the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas, which has used the phrase to refer to the elimination of Israel, but Mr. West insisted that Mr. Hill meant no such thing.
“Hill’s words – though used by the PLO and Hamas – were not intended to be either antisemitic or a call for genocide,” Mr. West said in a Tuesday op-ed for the [U.K.] Guardian.
The backlash comes with the debate over what constitutes anti-Semitism intensifying as the progressive left increasingly sides with the Palestinians against Israel by, for example, backing the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Miriam Elman, Syracuse University associate professor of political science, said that the State Department and International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance both list “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination” in their definitions of anti-Semitism.
She said examples would include “claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor” or “rejecting the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and advocating that Israel should be replaced with another state: ‘a Palestine from the river to the sea’ in which Jews would effectively become a minority in their own country.”
“So I do think that Hill’s comments were antisemitic in effect, even if they were not intended to be construed in this way,” Ms. Elman said. “Marc Lamont Hill claims to be an expert in Middle East affairs, thus he should know that ‘Palestine from the River to the Sea’ has long been a call for the elimination of Israel.”
Anti-Defamation League senior vice president Sharon Nazrian told the Jewish Journal: “Those calling for ‘from the river to the sea’ are calling for an end to the State of Israel.”
Mr. Hill apologized for the “confusion” in a Saturday op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, denying that he supported anti-Semitism and saying he was “stunned” and “saddened” by the response.
“Rather than hearing a political solution, many heard a dog-whistle that conjured a long and deep history of violence against Jewish people,” he said in the article. “Although this was the furthest thing from my intent, those particular words clearly caused confusion, anger, fear, and other forms of harm. For that, I am deeply sorry.”
Others defending Mr. Hill include Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and CodePink, while denouncing his comments were Israeli general counsel Dani Dayan; former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka; the National Council of Young Israel, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.