Amid the ongoing debate about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's repeated references to historic anti-Semitic imagery about Jews and power, money and loyalty, a key ally's fundraising dinner stumbled into an inconvenient truth.
"Speaking truth to power" was the theme Sunday for the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) Chicago chapter's fundraising dinner. At least five AMP officials and speakers were part of a defunct network created by the Muslim Brotherhood in America called the "Palestine Committee." It was tasked with helping Hamas politically and financially, court records show. An investigation by the Investigative Project on Terrorism also found that the AMP carries out tasks similar to the old Palestine Committee, including fundraising, propaganda and lobbying.
So it was little surprise that the AMP dinner honored Marc Lamont Hill with its "Al Quds [Jerusalem] Award." Hill warned Palestinian supporters last October against adhering to "a civil rights tradition which romanticizes nonviolence." He also falsely accuses Israel of poisoning Palestinian water.
CNN fired him as a pundit last November after he ended a United Nations speech calling for "a free Palestine, from the river to the sea." A Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea would eliminate Israel.
Before receiving the award, AMP showed clips from Russia Today and Al Jazeera news stories about Hill's firing.
The stories cast Hill as the victim of a "mob firing" that was a "seemingly coordinated attack by pro-Israel groups that have come to have a large say over what constitutes acceptable discourse on Palestine in the U.S. by willfully conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and then convincing news outlets to do the same."
But then the Al Jazeera reporter made a key admission. Hill spent more than 20 minutes bashing alleged Israeli human rights abuses. But that's not what generated controversy: "Had the speech been six words shorter, Marc Lamont Hill would still be employed by CNN."
That's correct. And it demolishes a key talking point about Ilhan Omar.
You CAN question and express "legitimate criticism of Israel" without losing your job as a cable news pundit or sparking a national political controversy. What you can't do is invoke anti-Semitic metaphors or wish for an existing nation to disappear. That's probably true for any existing nation, but the theory hasn't been tested since Israel is the only country in the world in which such calls are defended as legitimate criticism.
The message didn't sink in with AMP. Just 48 hours after its dinner, AMP was urging supporters to lobby against a House resolution that does not name Omar, but condemns anti-Semitism like she has expressed.
"Tell Speaker Pelosi that criticism of Israeli policies and the pro-Israel Lobby is NOT anti-Semitism and to stop conflating the two!" AMP wrote on its Facebook page.
Omar has not criticized Israeli policies. She has accused it of "hypnotizing the world," claimed that Jewish money drives U.S. policy toward Israel and insinuated Israel supporters "push for allegiance to a foreign country."
Hill, meanwhile, ended his AMP speech by repeating the phrase that started the controversy, saying "we will resist until there is a free Palestine. And we may not see it, our children will see it, our children's children will see it, we will be connected around the world, and once and for all we will have a free Palestine ... [switching to Arabic] from the river to the sea."
It was a defiant act, especially since Hill took to the Philadelphia Inquirer after CNN fired him to apologize, saying he took "seriously the voices of so many Jewish brothers and sisters, who have interpreted my remarks as a call to or endorsement of violence. Rather than hearing a political solution, many heard a dog-whistle that conjured a long and deep history of violence against Jewish people. Although this was the furthest thing from my intent, those particular words clearly caused confusion, anger, fear, and other forms of harm. For that, I am deeply sorry."
The blowback to Hill's UN speech was a sign "from the river to the sea" is an achievable goal, Sheikh Jamal Said of Chicago's Mosque Foundation told the AMP audience. He spoke in Arabic and the Investigative Project on Terrorism translated his remarks.
"This state that is frightened by a man for talking for 10 minutes to the UN – it was frightened, shaken – and kicked him out of his job," Said said, blaming Israel for CNN's personnel decision. "This is not a state that will last. It's a state that will vanish, Allah willing! It will not last."
Other AMP speakers echoed Hill and defended Ilhan Omar. The Omar controversy, said AMP Chicago chair Nida Sahouri, shows that Israel and its supporters "are trembling from our progress. They are facing the challenge by trying to silence any voice that is supporting Palestine. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is being smeared as an anti-Semite by people in her own party for stating the undeniable truth about AIPAC. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, our keynote speaker for tonight, was fired from CNN because he called for freedom for all Palestinians, from the river to the sea."
Omar is undergoing "a ruthless onslaught" due to her "warranted criticism of the Israeli lobby, said AMP Chicago media coordinator Deanna Othman. "And of course our guest of honor, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, who has been a consistent, he has been a consistent, principled and courageous advocate for the Palestinian cause and has bravely suffered the consequences of his activism. We thank him for that."
The AMP dinner made several things clear. Criticizing Israeli policies is not what got Marc Lamont Hill or Ilhan Omar into the headlines no matter how many times that argument is made. And AMP is not interested in a peaceful outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It wants "from the river to the sea," which, as Said made clear, is an Israeli state "that will vanish, Allah willing."