At his talk on Sunday, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill was engaging and polite. He made a point not to antagonize any of the students in the room. He listened to questions genuinely and openly, and his Q&A session was about as productive as any Q&A session can be. For that, I applaud him. However, it disturbed me that various parts of Dr. Hill’s talk were either unclear or entirely false.
Dr. Hill discussed what he perceived as the shared struggle between the black community and Palestinians. He explained that these groups could unite in the fight against oppressive state government policies. At one point, he criticized “PEBPs,” people who are “progressive on everything but Palestine.” His general thesis seemed to be: If you call yourself progressive, and if you consider yourself someone who values freedom, justice and equality, you should be pro-Palestine.
What does it mean to be “pro-Palestine?” If pro-Palestine means believing that Palestinians have a right to freedom and self-determination, I am pro-Palestine. That’s why I support a two-state solution and condemn any action which obstructs the possibility of such a solution. If pro-Palestine means condemning any Israeli policies that are unfair or discriminatory to create a better Israel, I am pro-Palestine. Dr. Hill discussed the “admissions committees” that some Israeli towns employ, which he believes exist to bar Arab citizens from living in certain towns. If Dr. Hill’s analysis is correct—I have not studied this issue in particular—then I would join him in condemning these committees and advocating for reform.
The problem is that there are some policies which are fundamental and necessary to Israel’s existence as a sovereign Jewish state. For example, the separation barrier along much of the West Bank was the only effective way to end the suicide bombings of the second intifada and allow Israelis to live in peace.
If being “pro-Palestine” means advocating for this wall to be dismantled immediately, then I cannot call myself pro-Palestine. If being “pro-Palestine” requires that I support the “right of return” — which would grant Israeli citizenship to millions of people of Palestinian heritage and thus undermine Jewish self-determination — I can not call myself pro-Palestine. The right of return is something that must be negotiated. One cannot demand Israel to unilaterally enact a policy that would render Jews a minority in the only Jewish state.
Lastly, if being “pro-Palestine” means chanting in support of an intifada or excusing the murder of civilians as legitimate resistance (as other schools’ Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have done), then I cannot call myself pro-Palestine.
Dr. Hill was careful to state that he would never want Jews removed from Israel. But, by neglecting to define what it means to be pro-Palestine, he validated those who believe that Palestinians cannot be free so long as the state of Israel exists. By not specifying his call to action, Dr. Hill left room for those who believe that Israel must be dismantled.
Even though Marc Lamont Hill granted a real legitimacy to the state of Israel, he repeated traditional anti-Zionist talking points, including one which was factually false. When discussing the Balfour declaration, perhaps the most important historical document in this entire conversation, Dr. Hill made the following claim: the British promised a Jewish homeland to the leaders of the Zionist movement, not a state. In reality, the language used in the Balfour declaration was “national home,” clearly indicating the intention of establishing a “nation,” or state.
Marc Lamont Hill’s intelligence and empathy make him a significant voice on this very important issue. However, he needs to sharpen his call to action, separate himself from anti-Israel extremists and consider the implications of the “solutions” he seems to endorse.