PHILADELPHIA — While Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kristin Gillibrand and Julián Castro drew the national attention at the 14th annual progressive gathering Netroots Nation, held here last weekend, it was a panel discussion called “Racial Justice Has No Borders: Embedding Palestinian Rights in the 2020 Agenda” that raised eyebrows.
Among the controversial remarks was Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill’s assertion that Zionism is “a white supremacist, ethno-nationalist project.”
Netroots Nation, a project of DailyKos that’s supported by a raft of left-liberal organizations and the Democratic National Committee, attracts thousands of organizers, consultants and politicians each year.
This year’s iteration, held at the Philadelphia Convention Center from July 11-14, featured more than 70 panels on a variety of topics, including the one where Hill made his comments.
It was during the Q&A after the panel that Hill — who was the subject of international controversy last fall after he used the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which resulted in his firing from CNN — made his assertion. Asked how young journalists can tell the stories of Palestinians while working for mainstream news organizations, Hill said: “They’re like, ‘I want to work for Fox, or I want to work for ABC or NBC or whoever. I want to tell these stories,’” he said. “You have to make choices about where you want to work. And if you work for a Zionist organization, you’re going to get Zionist content. And no matter how vigorous you are in the newsroom, there are going to be two, three, four, 17, or maybe one powerful person — not going to suggest a conspiracy — all news outlets have a point of a view. And if your point of view competes with the point of view of the institution, you’re going to have challenges.”
Writing about this moment for Jewish Insider, Senior Political Reporter Ben Jacobs suggested that Hill was implying that major media outlets were “Zionist organizations” that produced “Zionist content.”
Hill disputed that characterization in a tweet, writing, “This is not what I said, nor what I believe. The idea of ‘Jewish controlled media’ is an anti-Semitic narrative that I wholly and unequivocally reject. My instinct is to ignore this, but I care too much about the subject to do so.”
Later in the Q&A, when the panel was asked to clarify the equation of Zionism with white supremacy, Noura Erakat, a legal scholar and human rights lawyer, said that in choosing Zionism as a colonial project, rather than one of self-determination — Herzl did this “without shame,” she said — Jews made themselves white. Zionism was a bid to become like the Europeans, she said, and over the course of Israel’s history, certain choices in foreign policy further solidified that bid.
“The choice that Zionism culminates in, in my opinion,” she said, “was a choice for Jews to become white.” She pledged to continue to fight anti-Semitism without “hanging it on Zionism as a linchpin to that liberation.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to Hill’s remarks in a statement to Jewish Insider. “Zionism is nothing like white supremacy,” Greenblatt said. “Anyone who offensively claims Zionism is a white supremacist project is ignorant of the tremendous diversity of modern Israel and seeks to negate the millennia-old connection of Jews to the Land of Israel.”
Jesse Bernstein is a writer for the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of Washington Jewish Week.