Cornel West Discusses Palestinian Liberation and His Upcoming Presidential Campaign


Amy Jayasuriya ’26
Staff Writer

Over 200 students gathered in Garrison Theater to hear esteemed professor and activist Dr. Cornel West speak on March 19. Throughout his speech and conversation, West touched on his run for president in the upcoming 2024 presidential election, his history with political organizing, and the question of Palestinian liberation.

The event was organized by the Claremont Muslim Students Association as part of Palestine Liberation Week, an event series where various clubs and student organizations hosted talks and information sessions regarding Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Dr. West is an alumnus of both Harvard and Princeton University. West went on to become a professor at Harvard and has been a committed political activist, actively supporting the Black and Palestinian liberation movements since his time as an undergraduate student.

West noted that his history of activism goes back to his teenage years. “It was when I was 14-years-old, brother Martin Luther King Jr. was shot down like a dog in 1968, when I wanted to be a force for good, to make the world safe for him and his legacy,” he said.

West opened his speech by establishing the importance of dealing with uncomfortable truths, emphasizing that what unsettles people causes them to examine their own integrity when faced with the reality of those who are oppressed. “You can’t predicate your project on the efficacy of lies. Now you’re gonna come to terms with the truth,” he said.

He went on to contextualize this concept of the ‘truth’ regarding the Democratic party’s unwillingness to use the word “occupation” when discussing Israel and Palestine. Despite the party’s inability to address the genocide, however, West demonstrated how in Oct. 2023 the ‘veil’ Democrats were hiding behind had been ripped off. People are now bearing witness to the “raw power [and] outright criminality, immorality, illegality, and mendacity” of Israel’s occupation of Gaza, he said.

When questioned about his dedication to the liberation of the Palestinian people, West emphasized how his activism has always been grounded in a “faithfulness to a tradition of resilience and resistance that has always had to do with a quest for truth and beauty and goodness and God.”

He elaborated on how this quest for truth is essential to the liberation of any and all oppressed people, including the Palestinians. West went on to highlight how the truth surrounding the occupation of Palestine has been systematically silenced for decades. He spoke on how Western media has continuously perpetuated “the Zionist myth that there were no people in [Palestine],” while scholars have the pressure of losing tenure if the truth surrounding Palestine is discussed in universities.

He also emphasized how “the United States and its imperial policies have facilitated this and turned back and provided an ideological cover for losing sight of the suffering of Palestinians.” The US media, government, and educational system are trying to obscure the essential truth that “if 13,000 precious Jewish babies had been killed in four and a half months, the response of the White House or Congress and the European elite would be qualitatively different,” he said.

“A Palestinian baby has exactly the same value as an Israeli baby. [And] an Israeli baby has exactly the same value as a Palestinian baby,” West said. “And if we can’t be consistent in our responses, the forms of domination and oppression, then it is very clear that there’s also a racist element here in addition to an imperial one.”

The talk ended with a Q-and-A where students submitted various questions that were then posed to West. One student asked a question surrounding the legitimacy of academia and higher education spaces as ideal epicenters for radical political movements.

“They’ve gone corporate,” West responded. “You have more and more administrators opposed to faculty, got big contracts, got benefactors, and donors feel more and more they ought to be shaping what the curriculum is that is market driven like any other institution”.

West’s answer mirrors the ongoing battle 5C students have been fighting against Pomona’s administration to get them to divest from all weapons manufacturers and institutions that aid the ongoing occupation of Palestine. Pomona has continuously denied students’ escalating efforts for divestment, even concluding with the arrest of 20 5C students protesting inside Pomona administration building Alexander Hall.

However, West also acknowledges the importance of outside social movements to put pressure on universities. He also acknowledged his fight for divestment at his alma mater, Harvard, where he and other student activists took over the president’s office to protest their investment in South Africa apartheid in 1972.

The event was closed out with questions that addressed West’s presidential campaign for the upcoming 2024 election and running for president “rather than building blocks of power outside mainstream state institutions.” West simply responded by saying that we’ll never be able to vote our way into the kind of revolution that he is calling for. Instead, he emphasized that his purpose when running for President is to “head the empire in order to dismantle the empire.”

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Morgan PO’25

Don't Miss