CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta had his White House press pass temporally revoked after essentially getting into a verbal brawl with the US President that involved in a minor physical encounter with a White House aide. Despite Acosta’s overly confrontational and aggressive approach to questioning, CNN stood by its journalist, the freedom of the Press, and equal treatment under the law by suing the Trump Administration, which resulted in the reinstatement of Acosta’s press pass. Weeks later, during a meeting at the United Nations on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, CNN political contributor Marc Lamont Hill made the following statements: "...we must advocate and promote non-violence,… 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… free Palestine from the river to the sea...." After his statements sparked controversy, Hill apologized and clarified the meaning of his words. CNN fired him.
“Palestine from the river to the sea” is apparently a popular phrase used by Palestinians who reject cooperation with Israel. Originating as a slogan for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the phrase is especially popular among the terrorist group Hamas. Recognizing the sensitive nature of the Israeli-Plestinian conflict and the politics surrounding it, it is understandable why Israelis would be offended by Hill’s use of the phrase. Where the Israelis are offended by the phrase, however, it resonates with many Palestinians, including peaceful factions. Consequently, it is also understandable why Hill would use the phrase in solidarity with the Palestinian People at a pro-Palestine rally. More importantly, it is highly conceivable that Hill was rallying people to take political action against the status quo and fight for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, a resolution that places the Israelis and the Palestinians on equal footing. Hill was advocating for the Palestinians to take political action to guarantee their human rights and civil liberties while condemning the use of the indiscriminate, excess force used by Israeli troops.
Although characterized as antisemitism, Hill’s comments were far from antisemitic. Criticizing Israel, its policies, and its leadership is not antisemitic. Supporting the Palestinian People is not antisemitic. Even if Hill was advocating for the abolition of the Israeli government in favor of a government that represents both the Palestinian and Israeli Peoples, much like that of the post-Apartheid government in South America, it would not necessarily be a call for violence or an act of antisemitism. The countless political commentators and pundits who have advocated for regime change in places like Iran, Iraq, and Libya were not anti-Muslim nor were they fired for advocating war. Even if they had, their words would have fallen under the category of protected free speech. The problem is that it is taboo to criticize Israel inside the United States. It is sacrosanct to criticize Israel. For anyone who actually believes in free speech and freedom of the Press, however, it is not sacrosanct to criticize Israel or any other government. It is both a proper and necessary function of a free Press and a free society where the freedom of speech is sacrosanct. The US may be a friend of Israel, but that support for Israel does not come at the cost of free speech.
Recognizing much of the world considers Israel an apartheid state and the global blow-back of Israel’s military campaigns against the Palestinians, such as Operation Protective Edge, Israeli needs criticisms. At the moment, President Donald Trump has given Israeli hardliners like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the room and support they need to act as please and expose themselves to the world, but Trump’s support is conditional and his time in power even more limited. The Peoples of the Middle East are globalizing in terms of developing a far-reaching Muslim identity while they are also democratizing in terms of demanding far more responsive governance. In practice, this means more and more individuals throughout the region see the Palestinian People as their mistreated brothers and the overly aggressive, uncompromising Israeli government, and People, as the enemy. Despite unwavering US political support, the Netanyahu government’s hardliner stances and impulses to engage in catastrophic acts of war against the Palestinians as a first resort are unifying the world against Israel. For those who care about Israel’s future, change is needed.
Had Hill explicitly made antisemitic remarks, CNN as an organization would have been justified in firing the pundit, even if the First Amendment protects his freedom to say antisemitic things. As it was, Hill, who was hired as a liberal political commentator for his biased perspective, simply said something that was controversial and offensive to a powerful foreign special interest group. CNN should have stood by their contributor’s right to express his views. Beyond CNN, journalists and other media professional should have stood up for Hill, ;ole they did for Acosta. Just because a political figure says something confrontational, controversial, or upsetting does not mean that person should be blacklisted. Facing his third corruption allegation of the year, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s self-serving and heavy-handed policies serve as examples of what happens when the Press is unwilling to criticize government officials. Quite frankly, a healthy political system requires the freedom to do just that. By destroying Hill’s career for his controversial criticism of Israel, media executives and his critics are undermining the freedom of the Press, free speech, and free society. Israelis, Jews, and supporters of Israel around the world can be offended by the remarks of people like Hill, but they should also defend his right to offend.
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