On Wednesday, November 28th, CNN commentator, Marc Lamont Hill, gave a speech at the United Nations in which he reaffirmed his support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the state of Israel, and a one state solution that established a secular, democratic state in Israel-Palestine, calling for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Such a claim should be far from controversial. In fact, Ehud Olmert, a former Prime Minister of Israel, warned that if Israel did not grant the Palestinians statehood, Israel would “face a South African-style for equal voting rights” built on a one-state solution which granted “one person, one vote”, regardless of that person being Israeli or Palestinian. In a time where many analysts have declared the two-state solution to be dead, Hill merely reaffirmed the stance of a previous Israeli Prime Minister, and called for the dignity, freedom, and equality of Palestinians alongside Israelis who already live with such fundamental human rights. Despite such a seemingly uncontroversial call, CNN fired Marc Lamont Hill within 24 hours of his United Nations speech. In doing so, CNN firing Marc falls in a line of over 50 years of corporate media silencing Black people who stood in solidarity with Palestine, such as Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, SNCC, and the Movement for Black Lives. One thing Hill mentioned in his UN speech is the idea of people being progressive on every issue except for Palestine. The reality is that such a position can only be upheld if people are blind to the realities on the ground.
Malcolm X is a figure who laid the groundwork for Black-Palestinian solidarity. In 1964, he was speaking out against Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Marc Lamont Hill considers Malcolm X a major inspiration to him, stating that Malcolm “wrote the book that changed, and saved my life” and even sports a tattoo of Malcolm X on his right shoulder. In September of 1964, Malcolm X visited Gaza and met a Palestinian poet named Harun Hashim Rashid. Rashid told Malcolm of his escape from the Palestinian village of Khan Yunis in November of 1956 when the Israeli military murdered 275 civilians. This act was known as the Khan Yunis Massacre. Following this visit Gaza, Malcolm X spoke out against Israeli religious claims to the land and referred to the founding of the Israeli state as an act of “colonialism, imperialism, and racism.”
As a result of his position advocating for civil rights, Malcolm X was criticized by more moderate civil rights leaders. Maytha Alhassen writes in her PhD thesis, “To Tell What the Eye Beholds: A Post 1945 Transnational History of Afro-Arab “Solidarity Politics”:
“[I]n all his writings and speeches, Malcolm favors viewing the situation through a political lens, as “20th century colonialism.” The classic metanarrative interpretation of this and many other statements made by Malcolm about Zionism was read and tagged as “anti-Semitic.” Perceived to be a threat to Black-Jewish relations in the US. Even Martin Luther King Jr. blamed Malcolm for contributing to the “deteriorating of Negro-Jewish relations” because of his position on Zionism. To counter and overcome an alleged divisiveness put into place by Malcolm, King actively reached out to the Jewish community by giving two speeches written by his draft speechwriter Clarence Jones to New York based Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, scheduled for the spring of 1965. Malcolm’s position on Zionism during the time period that preceded the ‘67 war ran dramatically counter-current to mainstream political stances. His rebuke of the state of Israel was viewed not only as unorthodox, but also dangerous to the domestic and international balance of power.”
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which began in 1960, and helped organize anti-segregation activism in the South, such as the lunch counter sit-ins, the freedom rights, and the March on Washington, was also unabashed in its support for the Palestinian struggle. In June of 1967, SNCC published an article in its newspaper titled “Third World Round-up: The Palestine Problem: Test Your Knowledge.” This article portrayed Israel’s “June 1967 war as a war of dispossession, Israel as a colonial state backed by U.S. imperialism, and Palestinians as victims of racial subjugation.”
Stokely Carmichael, the chairman of SNCC, stated that it was because of their stance against Israel’s 1967 occupation of Palestinian land that the organization would be dismantled by a campaign of outside infiltration. Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), stated in a 1990 speech at the University of Minnesota:
“When we read the statement, we were isolated by everybody. And I saw the power of Zionism. I came to see it. I came to know it. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee took a full position against the war in Vietnam…While we did this, Zionists supported SNCC. We spoke against the Vietnam war. We spoke against the draft. They supported us. But once we spoke against Israel, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was destroyed in three months.”
Nelson Mandela was also threatened with an end to support for his cause as a result of his allyship with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In a 1990 trip to the United States, Nelson Mandela spoke at the City University of New York on the importance of sanctions on apartheid South Africa as the negotiation process from apartheid to democracy came about. Ted Koppel, a journalist, scolded Mandela for the support that his anti-apartheid political party, the African National Congress, took in solidarity with Palestinians. Mandela stated that “We[Black South Africans] know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Koppel suggested that his support for Palestinian rights may “cause some people to call up their Congressmen and their Senators, and say, go ahead, lift the sanctions [on South Africa]”. Mandela responded by reaffirming his support for Palestinian rights, and stating that the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, is a “comrade in arms.”
Just like Nelson Mandela, the modern Black Lives Matter movement has too outlined its allyship with the Palestinian cause. In his speech at the United Nations, Marc Lamont Hill mentioned the fact that Palestinian activists advised Ferguson protestors on how to clean tear gas out of their eyes after the murder of Black teen, Michael Brown. Hill has also accompanied delegations of Black American activists to Palestine. In August of 2016, the Movement for Black Lives was harshly criticized for their platform titled “A Vision for Black Lives” which referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” and endorsed a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complied with international law. Many pro-Israel organizations condemned the group and stopped giving to the 51 organizations that helped author the platform. Alan Dershowitz, author of the book, The Case for Israel, condemned the platform’s “absurd idea of intersectionality“ and called Black Lives Matter “bigoted and anti-Semitic.”
In response, Dream Defenders, one of the Black Lives Matter organizations that helped author the platform, stood by their support for Palestinian human rights. They wrote in a press release that
“Since our launch, some Zionist organizations have condemned the platform and have announced that they will cut all ties with the Movement for Black Live, going so far as to label some in the BLM movement anti-semitic.
Their response has made it all the more clear why we stand in solidarity with Palestine and with Black and Brown people around the world fighting for justice.
Those who have previously claimed to be allies of the Black lives matter movement have shown us that they are comfortable with our resistance so long as it fits within particular confines and restrictions. It is convenient to endorse black lives matter when it benefits you. And as long as we stay silent about Israeli apartheid, they will “stand” with Black liberation in the US. Now that our movement has taken a stand against all forms of white supremacy and oppression, Black lives no longer matter. We want no part in this quid pro quo form of politics. True solidarity does not come with strings attached.
We’ve been dealing with this type of hypocrisy with our supposed “allies” for generations. On the American left, there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. You have revealed yourselves. And now that we know who you are, we will not forget.
We remain steadfast in our condemnation of the State of Israel and their illegal occupation of the Palestinian people’s homeland no matter the consequence.”
Hill’s firing too coincides with a muzzling of support for the movement for Palestinian rights. Professors such as Steven Salaita and Norman Finkelstein have lost employment due to their support for Palestinian rights.
To the average American, there is no compelling case for why stop and frisk is wrong in New York City, but is okay in East Jerusalem. There is no compelling case for why giving kids poisoned water is wrong in Flint, Michigan, but is okay in the Gaza Strip. There is no compelling case for why segregated roads were wrong in the Jim Crow South, but are okay now in the West Bank. The Israel lobby has acknowledged that they cannot win the war of ideas. Rather, they seek to take voices like that of Marc Lamont Hill out of the realm of public debate in the hope that no one will hear them.
In his principled stance in support for Palestinian human rights, Marc Lamont Hill stands on the backs of over half a century of Black American support for the struggle against Israeli occupation. Movements of Black Americans from the radical Black Panther Party to Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference have all stood with the Palestinian cause. The great Black academic, James Baldwin, famously wrote that “The state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of the Western interests.”
The reality is that the Israel lobby chastising Marc Lamont Hill falls into a right of passage of Black people, in America and abroad, being punished and silenced for their support for Palestinians rights. They are silencing him just as they attempted to silence Malcolm X, SNCC, Nelson Mandela, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether the year be 1964, 1967, 1990, 2016, or 2018, scolding Black people for supporting Palestinians has been all too prevalent.
But the silver lining is that the movement for Palestinian rights in the US is as strong as ever. Support for Israel is at an all-time low. Divestment resolutions at colleges are passing day by day. Even some members of Congress are announcing support for BDS. They attempted to silence Marc Lamont Hill, Malcolm, Mandela, SNCC, and BLM. But the American people cannot be unaware of an illegal military occupation forever. As Martin Luther King Jr once put it “The arc of the moral universe is long. But it bends towards justice.” Day by day, this arc is bending towards a day of justice for Palestinians.