“Free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
With these words, commentator Marc Lamont Hill’s employment with CNN came to a swift end.
Widely criticized for calling for violence against Israeli Jews, Hill emphatically rejected such an understanding of his statement in a letter he later penned: Of course he hadn’t called for Palestinian terror against Israel! He simply was expressing his aspiration for the dismantling of the Jewish state and its replacement with a “secular democratic state.”
As he explained:
“My use of ‘river to the sea’ was an invocation of a long history of political actors — liberal and radical, Palestinian and Israeli — who have called for their particular vision of justice in the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. For many, justice will come from a two-state solution. For some, like me, justice will come through a single bi-national democratic state that encompasses Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. I strongly believe that this is the best method to achieve peace, safety, security, and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. Justice requires that everyone, not just a single side, is free and equal.”
Let’s unpack Hill’s argument that his call for a single bi-national state in place of Israel is rooted in civil rights, as opposed to anti-Semitism.
First, the idea that Israel’s six million Jews will lose their national sovereignty and be peacefully incorporated into the majority Arab-Muslim Middle East is, at best, delusional.
In a bi-national entity encompassing all of “Palestine from the river to the sea,” Jews will quickly become a minority. Such a state will also certainly welcome the millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war, amplifying this disparity. One need only recall the images of Palestinian mobs, triumphant over their defeat of the “Zionist occupiers” following Israel’s 2005 Disengagement from Gaza, tearing apart the greenhouses and synagogues the strip’s former Jewish communities left behind. Following almost a century of mutual hostility and conflict, how will Palestinians treat Israel’s Jews once the entire Jewish state is dismantled? The Muslim world’s current judenrein status doesn’t leave much room for optimism.
Second, even if we were to indulge in the fantasy (or nightmare) of Israel’s non-violent dissolution, Hill’s denial of the right of self-determination to the Jewish people is, according to the widely-adopted IHRA definition, itself anti-Semitic.
The State of Israel is not a theoretical proposition. The Jewish people have fought and maintained their national independence for the past seventy years, after over a century of intense political effort and almost two millennia of longing and hope for national revival. Is there any other group for whom we would consider it acceptable to strip their sovereignty after decades of independence?
Throughout the centuries of exile in Christian and Muslim lands, the institutionalized subjugation and second-class status of Jews played a central role in ruling ideologies.
For both Christians and Muslims, the fact that Jews had lost their national sovereignty and been exiled from the Land of Israel conclusively demonstrated the falsity of Judaism and its replacement by Christianity or Islam. When Europe offered equal citizenship to Jews at the dawn of the modern era, it came at the price of having to relinquish their national identity to become, for example, “Germans of the Mosaic faith.” This 20th century experiment of Jewish integration into European society, however, ended tragically in German gas chambers and crematoria.
Almost a century and a half before, Jews began actively working for the reestablishment of the Jewish state.
Rejecting the Faustian bargain that European society placed before them, Zionism was the Jewish liberation movement, providing Jews with both an outlet to embrace their 2,000-year-old dream to return to their homeland and a safe haven from rising anti-Semitism. Israel has fulfilled these purposes repeatedly in the seventy years since its establishment, taking in the survivors of the European Holocaust, Jewish communities expelled from Muslim lands, Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
The dissolution of this state, violent or not, would mean reversing the condition of the Jewish people and once again being at the mercies of a resurgent anti-Semitism.
Hill’s proposition that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict necessarily entails striping Israeli Jews of their sovereignty and independence is inherently anti-Semitic.
CNN should be commended for ensuring that its network remains free from this sort of dangerous and discriminatory rhetoric.
Russell Shalev is currently editor-at-large of the J'accuse Coalition for Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, and serves as an articling clerk at the international law department at one of the top firms in Tel Aviv. He holds a BA in political science from McGill University as well as an MA in Middle Eastern studies and an LLB (Common Law) from Bar Ilan University. An avid reader and a whiskey enthusiast, Russell lives in Givat Shmuel with his wife and daughter. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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