Yesterday, CNN fired grassroots activist, professor, and occasional commentator Marc Lamont Hill after his passionate remarks at the United Nations defending freedom in Palestine and supporting the use of grassroots resistance against Israeli policies. In particular, Hill’s critics slammed his call for freedom in the holy land “from the river to the sea,” alleging that this long-standing, unambiguous Palestinian slogan of liberation amounted to calling for the “destruction” of Israel or otherwise contains some sort of anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli sentiment. Hill denies any secret meanings, and it prompts the question of what it says about Israel as an ethnocracy that freedom for Palestinians is perceived as “destruction”.
CNN’s decision to fire Hill, nonetheless, is not surprising. Though Zionist groups regularly allege anti-Israel bias on CNN, the record, detailed below in chronological order, shows almost the exact opposite. While CNN had no shame in firing a prominent black professor for little more than defending Palestinian rights at a United Nations panel, CNN has a long history of hiring Israeli government personnel and lobbyists, and even Netanyahu speechwriters, to freely spout war propaganda designed to dehumanize the Palestinian people and sanitize Israeli government abuses.
- Last November, CNN’s Jake Tapper joined the Anti-Defamation League in mocking a Jewish group for holding a panel event challenging the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Tapper has previously slammed the “ugly sentiments” of Linda Sarsour, the prominent Palestinian activist who spoke at the prior event, and attacked the Chicago Dyke March over bogus accusations that the latter ejected three pro-Israel lobbyists from their march simply for being Jewish. Tapper has also dedicated an entire segment to the supposed bias of the UN against Israel, ignoring that unlike other states, Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is an international issue and necessarily of greater significance to international legal bodies than intra-national issues.
- In 2014, after a CNN camera crew captured an Israeli soldier killing two Palestinian children as they stood idly following a protest against an Israeli prison, alongside raw security footage of the killings and interviews with doctors who removed bullets from the boys’ corpses, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer invited former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren to explain the situation. Oren, then on contract with CNN, alleged that CNN’s own footage was fabricated. Oren further suggested that the security camera footage was also fabricated and that the boys might still be alive, echoing the conspiracy theories that fringe right-wing extremists circulated about the Sandy Hook massacre (which was not recorded). Blitzer, a long time pro-Israel lobbyist (see 6, below) made no effort to defend his own network’s footage of the murders.
- While on contract with CNN as a paid commentator from January to August 2014, Oren was CNN’s primary commentator on Israel & Palestine, including during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. During the war, Michael Oren was given more appearances than all Palestinian officials put together. At one point, Oren even held the title of “analyst,” obfuscating the fact that Oren was not a neutral commentator and actually an Israeli diplomat.
- Overall, CNN consistently ensured that Israeli officials and Oren were given far greater coverage during the 2014 invasion. Independent fact-checking by Politifact established that CNN broadcast twenty-six appearances from Israeli officials, including Oren, during the Israeli invasion, alongside appearances from only five Palestinian officials and two former PLO officials.
- Oren has previously argued that accepting the UN’s investigation of Israeli war crimes was the equivalent of denying the Holocaust, criticized US Jews who don’t support Israel while insisting they are nonetheless wedded to the Israeli state, and attempted to have 60 Minutes ax a segment about Israeli discrimination against Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. None of these comments or actions, nor his suggestion that a video-recorded killing of two Palestinian children was fabricated by CNN, were sufficient for CNN to fire him as CNN has done to Marc Lamont Hill. Oren later ended his contract with CNN on his own accord to appear on additional news stations, though it is rumored he left when CNN chose to begin clarifying that he was an Israeli ambassador in future segments.
- Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s primary news anchor, is a former AIPAC lobbyist who argued fervently that opposing Zionism is racism. Blitzer was the editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report and traveled the US talk show circuit as “the voice of Israel”.
- Blitzer spent the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, when Israeli soldiers killed some 2,000 Palestinians in a series of indiscriminate strikes, embedded with Israeli soldiers. During that time, he relayed Israeli government claims that Hamas was using tunnels to sneak into Israel and kill Israeli civilians. In fact, the tunnels were exclusively used to target military installations.
- During the 2012 Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza, Blitzer gave a polite and friendly interview to Israeli President Shimon Peres, complimenting the Israeli leader’s good looks and allowing Peres to comment uninterrupted when blaming Hamas. Meanwhile, CNN’s Christianne Amanpour grilled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal the same day, asking leading and inflammatory questions about dead civilians and insisted, contrary to the entire body of international refugee law, that Palestinians who have been expelled from what became Israel are not entitled to return.
- The former Executive Vice President of CNN’s parent company, Gary Ginsberg, admits to extensive speechwriting for the Israeli Prime Minister during President Obama’s effort to negotiate and sign the Iran deal. Ginsberg’s suggestions included some of Netanyahu’s widely mocked comments about Iran.
CNN’s role and importance as a mainstream news network has been predicated primarily on operating as a check on abuses of the government — including the recent effort by Donald Trump to deprive a CNN anchor of access to White House press briefings. This role as a check on American policy, which is now more supportive of Israeli aggression than ever, makes CNN’s decision to fire Hill that much worse. Instead of operating as a check on those in power, CNN’s role vis-a-vis the Middle East involves suppressing voices critical of Israel while promoting Israeli government staff and lobbyists and their perspectives.