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Except for Palestine: An indictment of American progressives' silent complicity with Israeli occupation Open in fullscreen

Nahrain Al-Mousawi

Except for Palestine: An indictment of American progressives' silent complicity with Israeli occupation

Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick's Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics

Date of publication: 11 February, 2021

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Book Club: Except for Palestine unpacks the exceptional nature of policies toward Palestine in the US.
As celebrations abound following Trump's exit from the White House, followed by expectations of a return to normalcy in the US, many are also cautious in their hopes.

Many progressives are indeed celebrating, but some assert Trump's policies are distinctive only because they are brash and threatening, rather than a disruption of long-standing American policy.

In fact, many assert that they are a continuation, albeit a gross and dangerous one, of standard American policy, like immigration.

For example, it was the Obama administration, rather than the Trump administration, which oversaw the highest number of deportations (more than four million) in American history.

In essence, many claim that solutions to political problems in the US do not begin and end with Trump's administration, and perhaps some progressives must come to terms with their contradictions when it comes to American policy, domestic and foreign.

But nowhere do progressive contradictions emerge more prominently than in US policy addressing Palestine, assert Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick in Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics.

The title is partly based on a label applied to the majority of progressives in the US: Progressive Except for Palestine (PEP). And, indeed, the book is aimed at an American progressive readership – for which Palestine is exceptional because it invites only apathy and silence rather than protest, for the most part.

The book is aimed at an American progressive readership – for which Palestine is exceptional because it invites only apathy and silence rather than protest

Except for Palestine deftly asserts that although Trump's policy regarding Israel was distinctive, it wasn't really a break from longstanding American policy – rather it was an extension of it, albeit a brash and more dangerous one.

"For self-identified progressives, it is tempting to frame President Trump as a deviation from the political status quo. With regard to the Middle East, such a framing allows us to remain unaccountable for decades of giving left-wing support for, or at best tepid opposition to policies that have undermined the possibility of freedom, dignity, safety, and self-determination for the Palestinian people. By painting Trump as an exceptional figure, political solutions are understood to begin and end with his administration, rather than as a commitment to resolving some of our most entrenched and dangerous progressive contradictions. To truly produce change in the region, progressives must absolutely challenge Donald Trump. But we must also acknowledge that Trump is a mere dangerous extension, not the source of deeply rooted and thoroughly bipartisan policies that have harmed the Palestinian people and positioned Palestine as an exception to which core liberal American values are applied."

In fact, Except for Palestine does not simply point to the political contradictions, or in-fighting, among progressives in regards to Palestine, but rather earnestly puts the responsibility of the political crisis – one which the entire book argues the US is "deeply complicit" in creating – squarely on the heads of progressives, from whom it demands substantive action.

"But it is not the reactionary pro-Israel religious zealots in the Jewish and Christian communities, the conservative Islamophobic ideologues, or aging Cold War warriors and War on Terror crusaders who make the Israel-Palestine crisis unique" the book suggests.

Except for Palestine does not simply point to the political contradictions, or in-fighting, among progressives in regards to Palestine, but rather earnestly puts the responsibility of the political crisis

"After all, these groups are acting according to their views and beliefs. Instead, it is the self-titled progressives who contradict their beliefs by justifying or ignoring behavior from Israel that they oppose or at least treat gravely when it is at the hands of other state actors."

Read more from TNA's Book Club: The best books by
Arab authors in 2020

The book then provides clear actions to take to close the discrepancy between American democratic values and American complicity in creating a place that dismisses them every day. These include putting pressure on Israel to stop settlement expansion, to allow Gaza to redevelop its economy, to allow freedom of movement and growth in the West Bank.

"We can make it clear that our democratic values demand that we support Palestinians having the same right to national existence as Israelis do, and the same right to live in peace and security … In short, we can act on our principles, which maintain that oppressive conditions diminish life for all but the very few who profit for them."

Except for Palestine relies on the political to unpack the exceptional nature of policies toward Palestine in the US, a daunting task that it carries through clearly and powerfully.

But the privileging of state-level politics can also eclipse the ways politics is practiced in other spheres that overlap very distinctly with the state, like educational institutions, media, and cultural practices: addressing the exceptionalization of Palestine through academic institutional censorship or auto-censorship would have been helpful in clarifying how and why US progressive politics have been "limited", as in the case of academics, like Steven Salaita and Marc Lamont Hill himself, who have lost positions, posts, and livelihoods for addressing Palestine.

Beyond the vast research undertaken to argue America's role in the Israel-Palestine crisis and the role progressives play in it, the most vital part of the book is the earnestness and optimism with which the authors argue that progress to close the gap between American progressive values of justice and their absence in American policy in Palestine is possible.

Certainly, the authors point to various US polls that reveal a rising interest in curbing Israeli violations to argue that progress is already under way.

But, the most prominent aspect of the vehicle of their research is that it rejects the scepticism and scorn that many pundits and peace-industry "experts" have acquired in discussing Palestine – instead, the authors deliver their research with sincere, sober, and serious conviction.

Nahrain Al-Mousawi is a writer currently based in Morocco.

Follow her on Twitter: @NahrainAM

The New Arab Book Club: Click on our Special Contents tab to read more book reviews and interviews with authors:


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