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Palestinian solidarity is not anti-Semitism

This week, activist and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill was fired from his position as a CNN commentator only days after giving a speech at the United Nations to recognize the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. In his speech, he spoke about the normalization of settler colonialism in Israel, the displacement of Palestinians due to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the continued human rights atrocities targeting civilian protesters in Gaza, ultimately calling for the liberation of Palestinian people who continue to live under an apartheid occupation. 

In the final portion of his speech, Hill called for Palestinian freedom “from the river to the sea,” suggesting that from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, Palestinians will be free within their native territory. While critiques have argued that this protest anthem is anti-Semitic and a call for the destruction of Israel, this is a gross mischaracterization of a freedom anthem and is an attempt to smear those standing in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation. Palestinians face a harshly limited freedom of movement, maintained by an extensive infrastructure of walls and checkpoints which confine the population of Gaza within what many have called an “open-air prison.” Palestinians also face the highest rate of disability in the world, primarily because of bombing and live ammunition used as a form of population management by the Israeli military. 

While this issue is incredibly complicated, it is important that students learn to understand the difference between legitimate criticism of Israeli settler colonialism and anti-Semitism. The conflation of criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism falsely suggests that all Jewish people support the state of Israel and that the state and its people are interchangeable. In reality, many Jewish communities and activist organizations within the United States are leading national campaigns against ongoing Israeli occupation, groups such as If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace. In an era where real anti-semitism of the far right is materializing in violence against Jewish people in their places of worship, it is dangerous for the media to continue to paint Palestinian liberation activists (many of whom are themselves Jewish) as anti-Semitic for criticizing the state of Israel or supporting Palestinian human rights. 

Marc Lamont Hill’s UN speech must be contextualized within the long and rich history of Palestinian solidarity in the Global South and within U.S. civil rights organizing. Hill’s speech is a reflection of intellectual traditions criticizing Israeli occupation by global thought leaders and civil rights activists including Angela Davis, Cornell West, Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler. Activist and Harvard Professor Cornell West spoke out against the firing of Hill in a recent interview expressing that “the degree to which we are still unable to have a public dialogue recognizing the humanity of both sides is the degree to which we will find ourselves impoverished.” Political commentators, activists and scholars continue to risk professional and material consequences when they stand in solidarity with Palestinian human rights. As we consider Hill within this legacy, let us not also forget to center Palestinian voices, silenced within global debates about their fundamental human rights.

Caren Holmes, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at CHolmes17@wooster.edu.

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