At an event at the UN last week dedicated to lamenting the creation of a Jewish state, the Temple University professor and regular CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill gave a speech condemning Israel. He concluded by declaring, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” Those familiar with this popular slogan know it to be a call for Israel’s violent destruction. Hill—who has since lost his job at CNN and issued a public apology—insisted that his words were innocuous: what could possible be objectionable about advocating liberty for the people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea? Quite a lot, replies David Schraub:
All [the slogan’s defenders] want, in Hill’s articulation, is a secular . . . state—not a “Jewish” state or a “Palestinian” state, but a state for all its citizens where all those permanently residing between the river and the sea enjoy the same rights. Just as America didn’t stop being America when it passed the Fourteenth Amendment or the Civil Rights Act, neither would Israel cease to be Israel if it changed its laws to provide for that vision of secular liberal equality. It would simply be an Israel with better laws and institutions than Israel has now. . . .
One interesting feature of this rejoinder, however, is that it suggests that the slogan . . . could just as easily run “from the river to the sea, Israel will be free.” Indeed, on a purely semantic level, that would seem to be the more accurate expression. The state that currently exists, and where the objectionable unfreeness currently obtains, is Israel. . . .
Nonetheless, I suspect that most of those who chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” would reject the substitution. This suggests that there is a replacement going on: Israel-with-better-laws is not viewed as the same thing as a free Palestine. . . . The [tell] is that the slogan does not refer to freeing Palestinians. It speaks of freeing Palestine—a territory, not a people. . . . When we speak of freeing a territory, we usually are speaking of a land that is under foreign dominion. . . . And this also explains why a slogan saying “Israel will be free” rings so odd: free from whom? . . .
If the entire presence of Israel anywhere from the river to the sea is an alien imposition on Palestine, then the net result is that Jews are deemed foreigners everywhere from the river to the sea. [In other words], the goal isn’t the creation of a Palestinian state but the elimination of a Jewish homeland.