A Talel of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 28 Jan 2019
21 Jan 2019 – In my last post I criticized the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, that of the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN ever since 2016 helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as nothing more serious than ‘a reality show.’ Beyond the obsession itself, is the inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of major developments elsewhere in the world.
It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which is the reverse side of the plutocracy coin. An insidious part of this post-political reality show is to reduce politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. In effect, the consensus imparts an apolitical stamp of permanent approval to global militarism and neoliberal capitalism.
Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, the reverse effects occurred. By declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equality; proclaiming a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured post Cold War ‘bipartisan consensus’ that has guided American public policy since the early 1990s. It is endorsed by both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, and is the presumed underpinning of CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at worst be tamed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish as the authoritative depiction of America’s global political identity.
The dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was summarily dismissed as news consultant in deference to pressures mounted by Zionist organizations. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at the UN in support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. No fair reading of what Hill said or his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contest territory in forms of their own choosing. Apparently, his closing line was enough to provoke Zionist watchdog to call for Hill’s dismissal: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether ripping this phrase from Hill’s text was a pretext to discredit and intimidate pro-Palestinian sentiments or an illuminating misunderstanding of his speech. Any careful reading of Hill’s text would reveal that the clear intention of the talk was to condemn anti-Semitism and to promote peace and justice for both peoples.
The only alternative reading that is plausible suggests that this single phrase was all that was read by those who ranted in reaction about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when a UN report on Israel/Palestine of which I was co-author was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This word alone seemed enough of a red flag to cause Nikki Haley to become hysterical when voicing her demand that the UN denounce the report.
As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various forms of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational one-state vision that Hill and many of us affirm as alone viable and desirable. To consider such a sentiment as anti-Semitic is to accpet a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly and effectively pro-Palestinian. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else suffer the consequences!”
Surely, an irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual figures are as a matter of racism told to limit their concerns and activism to their own grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If you speak in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are sure to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to be mum when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.
As Michelle Alexander recently reminded us in a forthright column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was rightly perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not considered a provocation by that stage in the war if white liberals publicly opposed the Vietnam War, and certainly did not warrant words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ For an African American leading figure, such as King, to do so was existentially different then, and now. It was rather widely viewed by liberal thought controllers as an imprudent and impudent assumption that a black man was fully enfranchised and had the same right to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race as did a white person. The ugly reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either directly or indirectly served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and prominent, will be punished it they act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of rights and concerns as the rest of us.
For King to comment on the Vietnam War was to enter the main lane of political controversy and thus cast himself as an uppity black who offended even the colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at regretted, his Vietnam stand as an unwelcome distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered as a dog whistle by liberals, both black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.”
We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal by their employer exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the new anti-Semitism without even assessing whether the call for dismissal was; this action by CNN in effect equated such alleged severe criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, which is a distinct malicious interference with freedom of expression. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. Thus, what CNN exceeded even the contours of Zionist definitions of ‘new anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to tread the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill.
Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill is a warning to CNN itself as to the backlash it would face if it should venture outside the confines of its lane in the future. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they had better watch their words and deeds, or be ready to receive, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching, which would have a variety of seen and unseen harmful career effects.
Such an interpretation is not exaggerated. It was confirmed in relation to Hill by the response of his employer, an institution of higher learning supposedly dedicated to upholding academic freedom. Instead of doing the right thing, and supporting their faculty member, Hill was separately lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. Various calls were made in the days after the CNN that he be stripped of his tenured position at Temple. Hill’s offense: Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.
What is striking here is that the backlash against Hill was so extreme under the circumstances, including the UN auspices. Freedom of expression and academic freedom should be available to those who are less humane and careful in articulating their opinions than was Hill.
As Michelle Alexander makes us consider the question of whether Martin Luther King would today, on this holiday celebrating his extraordinary life, speak on Palestine just as he did speak in 1967 on Vietnam. From personal experience that it was far easier for me, a white Jew, to speak and act against the Vietnam War (although there were taunts—‘America, love her or leave her’) than it is to depict
the apartheid policies and practices of Israel. Instead of being blacklisted in the Vietnam context, even in the earlier phases when it was widely supported, I was widely invited to provide a dissident voice.
What happens when a critic of Israel raises his voice, no matter who he or she is, or the accuracy of what is disclosed, the backlash takes the form of smears rather than arguments. Both Jimmy Carter and Richard Goldstone, two totally different, yet moderate political personalities, found out. There is no reason to think that Martin Luther King would not experience a defamatory tsunami should he be with us, and dare raise his voice.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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