CNN fires commentator after he calls for ‘free Palestine from river to the sea’
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CNN fires commentator after he calls for ‘free Palestine from river to the sea’

Marc Lamont Hill faced accusations of anti-Semitism for using term in UN speech, denies he was advocating for Israel’s destruction or killing Jews

Marc Lamont Hill speaks at the United Nations on November 28, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Marc Lamont Hill speaks at the United Nations on November 28, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

CNN on Thursday said it had ended its contract with one of its political commentators after he used a phrase associated with Palestinian extremists – “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” – during a speech at the United Nations.

“Marc Lamont Hill is no longer under contract with CNN,” the network said in a statement.

Lamont Hill, a professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University who also hosted the syndicated television show “Our World with Black Enterprise,” spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday at an event held for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

“We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action, and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” Lamont Hill said.

“Palestine from the river to the sea” was a slogan of the Palestine Liberation Organization beginning with its founding in 1964, claiming a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and rejecting control by Israel of any land in the region, including areas controlled by Israel prior to 1967. It later became a popular political slogan used by Palestinians who reject compromise with Israel, including the terror group Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel.

Lamont Hill defended his remarks, saying in a tweet that the phrase predates Hamas by some 50 years. “It also has a variety of meanings. In my remarks, which you clearly didn’t hear, I was talking about full citizenship rights IN Israel and a redrawing of the pre-1967 borders,” he retweeted.

Lamont Hill also suggested that Palestinians have a right to use “resistance” against Jewish civilians to achieve their aims, without specifically ruling out violence. He said that Israel sometimes fails to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and fighters and that “we must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility. If we are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must recognize the right of an occupied people to defend itself.”

“We must advocate and promote nonviolence at every opportunity, but we cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians for resisting, for refusing to do nothing in the face of state violence and ethnic cleansing,” he said.

Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel under president Barack Obama, called Lamont Hill’s use of the “river to the sea” phrase “disgusting.” “Calling for the elimination of Israel is anti-Semitic and (being thankfully futile) does Palestinians no favors,” he tweeted.

Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York, also condemned Lamont Hill’s remarks. “Lamont Hill called for the elimination of the State of Israel from the map,” he tweeted. “MLH is a racist, a bigot, an antisemite. The fact that he is all this while in the payroll of @CNN and [Temple University] is appalling.”

Lamont Hill later said in a tweet that: “In my speech, I talked about the need to return to the pre-1967 borders, to give full rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to allow right of return. No part of this is a call to destroy Israel. It’s absurd on its face.”

Were Israel to accept a “right of return” for the 5 million-plus on whose behalf the Palestinian Authority and Hamas demand it, this would mark the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Only a few tens of thousands of those millions were refugees who lived in what is today’s Israel before the state was established; the rest are descendants of refugees. Israel’s position is that a Palestinian state would provide citizenship for refugees and their descendants, as Israel has absorbed Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said he does not seek to flood Israel with refugees, but has formally continued to demand a “right of return” in intermittent peace negotiations.

Marc Lamont Hill attends BET Presents “An Evening With ‘The Quad”’ At The Paley Center in New York, Dec. 7, 2016. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET Networks, via JTA)
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