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Marc Lamont Hill Speaks Out After CNN Fires Him for Pro-Palestine Speech at U.N.

StoryDecember 18, 2018
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Less than a month after CNN fired Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill for giving a speech at the United Nations supporting Palestinian rights, we speak with him about the international attention his comments have received, academic freedom and why he feels it’s more important than ever to speak out about Israeli human rights abuses. Marc Lamont Hill is a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University. He is the author of several books, including “Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.” We also speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose recent piece is titled ”CNN Submits to Right-Wing Outrage Mob, Fires Marc Lamont Hill Due to His 'Offensive' Defense of Palestinians at the U.N.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at the ongoing controversy surrounding CNN contributor and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, nearly a month after CNN fired him for giving a speech at the United Nations supporting Palestinian rights.

MARC LAMONT HILL: So, as we stand here on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the tragic commemoration of the Nakba, 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. Thank you for your time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Marc Lamont Hill speaking at the U.N. on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in November. Just one day later, CNN dropped him as a commentator, after conservatives and pro-Israel groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, condemned his comments, calling them anti-Semitic. Temple University’s Board of Trustees also criticized Lamont Hill’s remarks, but the university has said his speech was protected by the First Amendment and that he will remain a professor.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we are joined now by Marc Lamont Hill, professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia, the author of several books, including Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.

Marc, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you said at the United Nations at this annual event and the fallout from it, your firing by CNN?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be here. And I encourage everyone to watch the full remarks. I think in a moment of sound bites and 140 or 80 characters, sometimes we can get reduced to small snippets and not get context and texture.

I gave a speech at the U.N., and I was attempting to offer a framework of human rights and to use that as a lens through which to make sense of, to analyze what was going on in the state of Israel, what was going on in the West Bank, what is going on throughout the diaspora, and to make an appeal for the plight of Palestinians, which was the theme of the day. Throughout the speech, again, I juxtaposed particular human rights issues or particular promises from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the realities of Palestinians on the ground. And at the end of that speech, I also called for a free Palestine, and I used the phrase “from the river to the sea.” In terms of calling for a free Palestine from the river to the sea, I was specifically calling or speaking to my belief that a one-state solution is the most fair, just and workable possibility right now. Throughout the speech, I talked about the need for redrawing the border, the pre-’67 borders. I talked about full citizenship rights and full equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, what Israelis will call Arab citizens of Israel. And I called for other kind of international measures, as well, to respond to injustice.

At no point in the speech did I call for the destruction of Israel. At no point in the speech did I call for violence against Jewish brothers and sisters, both in Israel or around the world. That was not my content. That was not my intent. That was not the spirit of the speech. And I think, in fact, the spirit of the speech contradicts what people say that I was saying. Of course, I never want to do harm. I never want to create any sense of pain or fear or anxiety among anyone, but particularly the people I was talking about, and I mean specifically citizens of Israel or Jews throughout the diaspora. Everyone deserves to live with safety, security, self-determination and peace. Jews are no exception to that. And so, I certainly didn’t mean that in the speech, but I did call for a free Palestine. And a one-state solution, for me, is the way to do that. Many people responded, however, and were frustrated by that or said that I was somehow secretly dog-whistling for violence. I found that a bit hard to believe. But again, part of why I’m here is to talk through that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marc, the immediate response of CNN to your remarks, could you talk about their interaction with you? Also, there’s a long history of solidarity between African-American human rights advocates here and the Palestinian movement, so this should—the fact that you were expressing this kind of solidarity should come as no surprise, even to the people who employed you at CNN.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. My conversation with CNN was relatively brief. I received a phone call, and I was told that the speech didn’t match their values. I pressed a bit to find out what those values were or what part of the speech didn’t match said values. I didn’t get a clear answer. I didn’t get an answer at all, just the repeated refrain, “This doesn’t match our values,” at which point we concluded the call. There wasn’t like a long, drawn-out argument. There was no antagonistic anything. They made a decision, and I moved on.

But, yes, there is absolutely a long tradition of black support for Palestinians. There’s a long support of black internationalism. And if we’re going to be honest, there has been a long and deep support of African Americans and blacks throughout the diaspora for the state of Israel. So, we can’t ignore that history, either. But it’s a long and complicated story. But I think, in the last 51 years, I would say, since the Six-Day War, we’ve seen the black left, for sure, engage in a kind of internationalism that looks for solidarity not just in Palestine, but with movements in Africa, movements in Latin America, in attempt to really shore up a base and a community of freedom fighters that understand that inequality and injustice is not local, but it’s a transnational experience, and in order to redress any problems we have, we have to look internationally. That’s what Malcolm X was attempting to do. That’s what Martin King was doing toward the end of his life. That’s what the Black Panthers were doing. And when we look at current movements, like Black Lives Matter, one of the first things that I found impressive about the Black Lives Matter movement was the fact that they were looking internationally.

AMY GOODMAN: While the president of Temple University has defended your right to free speech, the school’s Board of Trustees has condemned your remarks. They said, quote, “That speech included a statement that many regard as promoting violence, the phrase 'from the river to the sea,' which has been used by anti-Israel terror groups and widely perceived as language that threatens the existence of the State of Israel. The members of the Board of Trustees of Temple University … hereby state their disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement with Professor Hill’s comments.” That, the statement from Temple. Professor Marc Lamont Hill, if you could respond? And talk about what happened, after you were fired from CNN, at Temple, what they said.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Well, I think the statements from Temple have been fairly public, and they’ve been sort of litigated in the press a great deal.

From my perspective, academic freedom means that we have the right to engage in public discourse, the right to engage certainly in academic discourse, about issues that are of great importance, both long-term and short-term, both historical issues and current issues, both domestic issues and foreign issues, both popular issues and unpopular issues, and popular ideas and unpopular ideas. And so, I imagine Temple University, or any university in the United States, as a space for academics to trade in ideas, and sometimes they’re unpopular or controversial ideas. And I think that any attempt to intimidate or threaten or undermine academic freedom can set us on a very dangerous course. And that concerns me, not for me personally, and this isn’t specifically about Temple University, but the broader academic climate that we see. The fact that it happened at Temple University was alarming to me, but ultimately they made a decision not to give me any penalty or any punishment, which I think was the right choice.

But I think a statement of condemnation—I respectfully disagree with the board, but the board has its right to do what it wants to do. I simply disagree with it. I think that, also, to send a message apologizing, or, rather, condemning my particular remarks, without condemning any other remarks that have been made by any other university professor at the school, including some folk very close to home who have also made controversial remarks, I think, also sets a very specific precedent. So, again, I respectfully disagree with the university. The board, as private citizens, have their right to respond to my statements and to analyze or critique my statements. And I have a right to offer mine. And I’m just going to move forward and attempt to do careful, principled and disciplined work, as I’ve tried to do my entire career.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marc, in your speech, you also raise criticisms of progressives in the United States for their failure to speak out at times on the issues of Israel and Palestine. Could you talk about that, as well?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. This idea of being progressive except for Palestine is something that can be problematic. I think that if we worry about injustice, we have to be concerned with injustice across the board. Doesn’t mean that everybody has to target Palestine as the issue. There are many issues on the board that we have to take seriously. But if you have a position on Palestine, if you have a position on what we call the conflict, then I think to be silent on that issue—or if your position on Israel-Palestine stands in such sharp contrast to all your other ideological positions, I think that’s where we get a very, very—we enter a very problematic space.

If I’m interested—if I’m outraged by gentrification, if I’m outraged by the separation of families, if I’m outraged by redlining, if I’m outraged by all of these kind of domestic issues, or even American border issues, then I can’t—I have to be able to take that same outrage to every part of the world. And again, it doesn’t mean that we only focus on Israel, of course. I have spent a great deal of my time, particularly when I was at Huffington Post, looking at Syria, looking at Yemen more recently. I have written considerably about Saudi Arabia, because I am deeply concerned. Egypt is complicit in Palestinian suffering, as well. So, I have to look across the board, but Israel can’t be an exception. Palestine can’t be an exception.

And too often in the progressive movement we have folk like Hillary Clinton who will emerge and paint themselves as a progressive figure, but resist any—forgive my earpiece falling—but will resist any criticism of the Israeli state. And I think that that becomes dangerous. We have to be consistent. We have to be morally and ethically consistent.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the comment of Jewish Voice for Peace, who criticized CNN for firing you, Professor Lamont Hill. Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement, “Who gets to talk about Israel/Palestine? Apparently Rick Santorum? A man who egregiously claimed that there are 'no Palestinians in the West Bank.' That’s ludicrous. By firing Dr. Hill, we believe CNN is discriminating against a commentator who spoke up for Palestinian rights. They should make it right and reinstate him.” Before we go back to you, Professor Hill, I wanted to bring Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, back into this conversation. Glenn, you wrote about Marc’s firing, saying CNN submitted to right-wing outrage mob. Respond.

GLENN GREENWALD: One of the things I found most appalling and disturbing about Marc’s firing, aside from the fact that it was just a blatant act of censorship by a news outlet that’s supposed to allow an airing of a wide range of views, is that so many of the right-wing pundits and news outlets, like Fox News, that love to pretend to be defenders of free speech and throw a 3-week-long fit if a sophomore at Oberlin boos a professor that they like, said nothing about Marc’s firing, just like they refuse to cover the story you covered in the first part of your show about this Israel oath resulting in people’s firing. That’s very disappointing that so few, not just right-wing pundits, but also even centrist and mainstream Democrats, were willing to speak up on Marc’s behalf, because of what he said, that there’s so much fear about the Israel issue when it comes to mainstream liberalism.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc Lamont Hill, you have the last word here. If you can talk about what your plans are right now? And are there any behind-the-scenes negotiations going on right now with CNN, the possibility of you coming back?

MARC LAMONT HILL: I haven’t been in any conversations with CNN. My plans right now are to continue to do the work that I’ve been doing, which is activism, which is writing and which is scholarship. I’m open to possibilities, but the key for me is to have a space where we can have a rigorous, honest, principled and humane discussion about everything that’s on the table, with Israel-Palestine being no exception.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Marc Lamont Hill, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia, and Glenn Greenwald, speaking to us from Brazil, co-founder of The Intercept.

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