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West writes: "Why is it so difficult, if not impossible, to have a candid debate about the grim Israeli-Palestinian catastrophe that prevails in our midst?"

Cornel West. (photo: Vice News)
Cornel West. (photo: Vice News)

Why Did CNN Fire a Pro-Palestinian Commentator?

By Cornel West, Guardian UK

06 December 18

No one gets closer to peace by silencing voices critical of a lethal status quo. We need a candid debate about the grim catastrophe unfolding in Israel

hy is it so difficult, if not impossible, to have a candid debate about the grim Israeli-Palestinian catastrophe that prevails in our midst? What stands in the way of our capacity to grasp the undeniable need for justice for Palestinians and the understandable fear of annihilation of the Jews in Israel? Is the only option a desperate Palestinian counter-violent struggle against the structural and military violence of the occupying Israeli state?

The recent firing of Marc Lamont Hill by CNN for calling for a free Palestine once again opens up this Pandora’s box – with little, if any, hope left for a non-violent solution. Many supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, such as Hill and myself, see this strategy as a last-ditch effort to avoid more bloodshed. This is especially important in the US context, as $3.1bn dollars of military aid currently goes to Israel to support such an unjust and inhumane occupation.

Yet we must persevere and persist in our quest for free Palestinians and secure Jews in Israel. We must put the rich humanity of Palestinians and Jews in Israel center stage by highlighting their equal calls for respect, fairness and accountability. First and foremost, this equality means a wholesale stoppage of the silencing of honest and compassionate voices critical of the lethal status quo.

Hill’s courageous UN speech in honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was a gallant attempt to highlight the horrendous suffering of and callous indifference to the Palestinian people. Building on the heroic Palestinian tradition of critique and resistance – best manifest in the words and life of Edward Said in the US context – Hill unsettled the toxic status quo and received its knee-jerk response: he was cast as an antisemite and promptly silenced from mainstream media. And for Black critics of Israel, such attacks are especially dangerous given the intimate and fraught history of Black-Jewish relations in the US and the tremendous status that Black freedom fighters have around the world.

The climate of opinion is shifting against the impunity of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Needless to say, there will be some reckoning. Lies and crimes do not triumph forever. The crucial challenge is how this reckoning will – and must – minimize violence and xenophobic sentiments (be they anti-Jewish or anti-Palestinian).

Hill – like Said – favors a secular, democratic state that respects Jewish and Palestinian citizens equally. I also find this option morally desirable. But is it feasible for two peoples who have such enmity toward one another? Furthermore, the unique history of Jews in the world – from slavery in Egypt, ghettos in medieval times, expulsions, pogroms, and the Holocaust in the 20th century – warrants suspicion of any state shot through with harsh enmity. Security for Jews is a non-negotiable reality in our Jew-hating world – past, present and future. Yet there can be no Jewish security in an Israeli state that occupies and dominates Palestinians.

The most controversial moment of Hill’s bold address was his call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea”. For most Zionists and many others these last words were cast as anti-Jewish, signifying the destruction of the Israeli state or even the genocide of the Jews. These gross misunderstandings and misconstruals play upon the deep fears and memories of vicious attacks and ugly assaults on Jewish people. These fears and memories are part of the core of what it means to be Jewish, and must be respected.

Yet they must never be used as an excuse to ignore Palestinian suffering or as a rationale for occupying Palestinian lands and people. This is precisely what happened. Hill’s words – though used by the PLO and Hamas – were not intended to be either antisemitic or a call for genocide. On a personal note, after knowing and working closely with him for over 20 years, I am certain that these words were neither a dog whistle nor an explicit call for genocide. Hill, like myself, is profoundly disturbed by the escalating deplorable anti-Jewish words and actions around the world. This must be vigorously opposed – be it in Pittsburgh, Paris, or the West Bank – but it must not render invisible the misery of Palestinians under the rule of the Jewish state.

The great paradox is that one of the great gifts of the Jewish people to the world – the precious gift of a prophetic tradition from Moses and Amos to Esther and, in recent times, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – puts justice for all at the center of any vision of the world. Such justice requires respect, fairness, and accountability of the people, for the people, and by the people. When this priceless tradition is crushed by the greed of predatory capitalism, the hatred that accompanies tribal nationalisms, and the cowardly avarice of the US Empire, we get the prevailing Israeli-Palestinian catastrophe. This massive disregard of innocent life, be it thousands of Palestinians or hundreds of Jews, is a sign of moral decadence. And this status quo – this house of cards – cannot stand.

The Israeli state will, like so many others, either continue along the path of authoritarianism and xenophobia or it will embrace the dismantling of occupation, give full citizenship to Palestinians in Israel, and provide land justice in some form. Unlike Hill, I do not foresee a singular, secular and democratic state for both peoples – though, like him, I think it would be best if possible. But I do see a chance of free and secure Palestinians and free and secure Israeli Jews with real self-respect and self-determination guided by not only fears and painful memories but also hopes and inspiring visions of justice for all in a Palestinian state and Israeli state with genuine sovereignty in both. Neither Hill nor I have the answer to this catastrophe but no one gets closer to a peaceful solution by demonizing persons and silencing voices critical of a lethal status quo.

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+17 # elizabethblock 2018-12-06 10:18
I'm an anti-Zionist Jew, and I've been asked whether I want to see Israel destroyed. No, I say, I just want to see regime change.
+19 # elizabethblock 2018-12-06 10:23
And why is this printed in a UK publication, not a US one?
(Silly question.)
+42 # tedrey 2018-12-06 11:52
This statement of Cornel West (I haven't yet read Marc Lamont Hill's) is as incisive, humane, and unbiased as any on the ongoing tragedy of which I am aware. I hope it is published widely, and that those of all opinions allow it to reach their eyes, their minds, and their hearts.
-20 # chrisconno 2018-12-06 12:58
Thank you Mr West, I have never understood our blind devotion to the violent Israel. Why do we send them so much money just to visit such terror on the people's whose land is occupied. They both deserve a place to call their own, but not at such an unequal price. After all the Palestinians did commit the Holocaust.
0 # Porfiry 2018-12-06 15:42
Palestinians did it????? I thought it was Nazi Germany. The anger of the Palestinians at being pushed out of their country and the paranoia of the Isrealies earned by the Holocaust and the angry rockets coming over from Gaza creates an intractable problem. Id IU remember correctly, when more understanding folk were leading Israel's government more of those rockets came over. Again, understandably. I really don't know the answer. Changing Isral's
+8 # Farafalla 2018-12-06 19:18
"After all the Palestinians did commit the Holocaust." I think you meant "did not"
+3 # Porfiry 2018-12-06 15:44
To finish what I was saying: Changing Israel's government does not seem to change the situation. I don't know the answer.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-07 20:19
Porf -- interesting point or question. I do think there is an answer. You can't change Israel's regime. Regime change has failed everywhere. But there are international laws that all nations must abide. UN Resolution 202 sets the boundaries between Israel and Palestine. These are by law two separate nations. Israel is occupying Palestine by an act of war. The occupation is illegal. Israel can be made to respect international law.

137 out of 193 nations of the world have recognized Palestine as a state with sovereignty just like all others. The US should immediately recognize Palestine as a state and demand that Israel withdraw its forces and settlements from Palestine. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel.

Just follow the law and do not support Israel when it breaks the law. Israel as a state is secure. No one is talking about taking away Israeli statehood. Israel just has to respect the equal rights of its neighbor states.

Israel can have whatever kind of government it wants. It can call itself whatever it whats -- The Jewish State of Israel. Or call itself fried chicken. No one cares. Israel must simply abide by international law. Military occupation of another sovereign state is illegal. The people of an occupied state have the legal right to resist and throw-off their occupiers. A non-violent solution would be best of all, as West writes.
+11 # janie1893 2018-12-06 16:49
The basis for this ugliness is the unfounded myths upon which the 3 major religions are founded.We need to seriously take a second look at these myths in the light of our current knowledge of the universe and of human behaviour. I do not mean to question anyone's faith, but I do question humanity's common sense.
+10 # HenryS1 2018-12-06 17:01
My strongest agreement with this article is the frustration that the issues at the center of this seem impossible to discuss rationally.

So much suffering, so much hate, so much violence.

And then the manipulation of the truth to perpetuate the worst of it.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts even more. It is horrible that a Jewish state has come to emulate the worst of the Nazis and the Holocaust.
0 # tedrey 2018-12-07 22:52
Not the worst. At least not yet. Israel could still save its soul.
-1 # Salburger 2018-12-08 08:56
Excuse me, but the worst of the Nazis and the Holocaust? It is no defense of Israel's policies of late to point out that this is total hyperbole, there are no death camps in Israel or the occupied territories and the Palestinian population has increased rapidly under Israeli rule. If you want your criticisms to be taken seriously stick to the facts.
+13 # Texas Aggie 2018-12-06 20:40
It is becoming more and more clear that being Jewish and being Israeli are not the same thing at all. We have to stop trying to equate the two and realize that just as people who support Tony Perkins and his organization are not Christian, so people who support the Likud are not Jewish in any real sense.

The great Talmudic scholars never envisioned anything like what constitutes Israel today. They had a totally different vision of how Jews should act and how they should get along within their own community and with the rest of mankind.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-07 08:12
I thought the statement by Marc Lamont Hill was very good and courageous. He's always been a commentator brought in by the US media to present an alternative viewpoint. I think he was often a guest on the Bill O'Reilly show and he countered O'Reilly.

West is correct. The tide of public opinion is turning against Israel's very undemocratic and illegal practices. Many people now openly call Israel an "apartheid" state. It is rather a small minority in the US government, media, and universities who still bow to the demands of the Zionists for absolute fidelity to a racist and white supremacist state.

I applaud Marc Lamont Hill. It is really nice to see someone in big media like CNN tell the truth for once.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-12-07 08:47
Check this out --

Senators Working to Slip Israel Anti-Boycott Law Through in Lame Duck

By Ryan Grim, Alex Emmons

December 06, 2018 "Information Clearing House" -

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin is making a behind-the-scen es push to slip an anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during the lame-duck session, according to four sources familiar with the negotiations.

Also see this article on Zionist groups now working to get Marc Lamont Hill fired from Temple University. They are following the usual tactic -- using Temple's Trustees to pressure its president to fire Hill. It is really bad when Trustees get involved in faculty speech issues.

Exposing the Israel Lobby Groups Behind the “Political Lynching” of Marc Lamont Hill

The controversy that has resulted from Marc Lamont Hill’s speech is just the latest iteration of a larger effort to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights in the United States, at a time when the Trump administration is set to reveal its Israel-centric “peace plan” that is set to be a disaster for Palestinians.

By Whitney Webb

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