Marc Lamont Hill is the Malcolm X of the millennials. Perhaps this is why Hill, a professor of media studies and “urban education” at Temple University in Philadelphia, is a celebrity who gets away with saying appalling things about Jews and Israel, while his English equivalent, David Miller of Bristol University, is a nonentity who, finally, is being denounced by his peers as an embarrassment to what remains of the dignity of higher education.
Lamont Hill is young, black and gifted with the ability to speak a mixed argot of self-improvement, socialism and sub-religious hot air. Apart from professing urban education, whatever that is, he’s an anchor on UpFront, the current affairs programme on Al Jazeera English, a station which is a lot more upfront about the alleged iniquity of Israel and the United States than it is about the sources of its funding in Qatar.
Unlike David Miller, whose pearls of wisdom have mostly been dispensed to his unfortunate students, Marc Lamont Hill enjoys a certain celebrity. In 2010, Ebony magazine named him as one of the top thirty leaders in African American society. Since then, he has combined teaching and activism with a television career that includes guest-hosting Basketball Wives.
Hill used to be on CNN, too, but then came his guest turn at the UN’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in November 2018. Hill called for “political action, grass-roots action, local action and international action” and concluded with the traditional peace-living call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea”.
Everyone knows that “from the river to the sea” means replacing the State of Israel with a single, Palestinian-controlled state. Everyone, it seems, apart from Hill. He insisted that it didn’t mean that, and added, bizarrely, that Hamas never used the phrase. The American Jewish organisations accused him of inciting terrorism — for what else can “local action” mean if it’s distinct from political action? — and CNN then dropped him.
We might ask why an “urban educator” with no knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic was speaking at the UN on behalf of the Palestinians. But no one likes to ask that question in American media or politics — just as no one asked in 2016 when Hill described himself as “blessed” to spend the day with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.
As the American right winks at its cranks and bigots because they are its base, so the American left indulges the antisemitism of black Americans, who are several times more likely to hold antisemitic opinions than other Americans are, and who vote Democratic even more reliably than Jews do. The further left the Democrats go — and their base has now gone far enough left to prefer Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden — the more indulgent the party becomes.
Hill complains that there’s a litmus test for the friends of Farrakhan. But he advocates for a litmus test on Jews if they want to be part of the “progressive” left. “We have this person we call the PEP: the person who’s Progressive Except for Palestine,” he said last week.
Hill’s litmus test places Jews who support Israel on the side of the enemies of the sacred buzzwords “anti-racism”, “social justice” and “racial justice”. In other words, it equates Jews with white supremacists as enemies of progress. This may seem illogical, but there’s a logic at work here.
The anti-Jewish animus of black nationalism goes back to the late Sixties, when Malcolm X replaced Martin Luther King as the leader of the civil rights struggle. Meanwhile, following the Six-Day War, the New Left turned against Israel. In a society divided by race and money, antisemitism offers one of the few chances for “solidarity” between rich and poor, black and white. It’s a sweet spot for political organisers, right as well as left.
Decades of indoctrination in churches, mosques and universities have established the fraudulent notion that American racism and Israel’s civil war with the Palestinians are somehow the same: “Ferguson is Palestine”, as the left now say. And what the left say after that is getting closer and closer to traditional libels about the perennial, malign Jewish power.
“One of the worst pieces of antisemitism,” Hill said last week, “is the belief that there’s some secret Jewish conspiracy, a power that can’t be defeated. No, we can organise politically and stand in solidarity with each other and defeat it.”
The Jews are Hill’s misfortune. Jewish “power” controls politics, and is blocking the march of justice. America’s progressives are progressing towards classical antisemitism.
There won’t be letters with hundreds of signatures from academics in Hill’s field, objecting to his bigotry as they’re now objecting to David Miller’s. And it’s not because American have more free speech. It’s because his academic peers agree with him.
Dominic Green is deputy editor of the Spectator’s US edition.