The most controversial moment of Hill’s bold address was his call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea”. For most Zionists and many others these last words were cast as anti-Jewish, signifying the destruction of the Israeli state or even the genocide of the Jews. These gross misunderstandings and misconstruals play upon the deep fears and memories of vicious attacks and ugly assaults on Jewish people. These fears and memories are part of the core of what it means to be Jewish, and must be respected.
Yet they must never be used as an excuse to ignore Palestinian suffering or as a rationale for occupying Palestinian lands and people. This is precisely what happened. Hill’s words – though used by the PLO and Hamas – were not intended to be either antisemitic or a call for genocide. On a personal note, after knowing and working closely with him for over 20 years, I am certain that these words were neither a dog whistle nor an explicit call for genocide. Hill, like myself, is profoundly disturbed by the escalating deplorable anti-Jewish words and actions around the world. This must be vigorously opposed – be it in Pittsburgh, Paris, or the West Bank – but it must not render invisible the misery of Palestinians under the rule of the Jewish state.