The Arab-Israeli Conflict: How the American Left Grabbed the Third Rail of American Politics
The Arab-Israeli conflict has long been a divisive issue in the left lane of American politics. Bitter disagreements came to the fore, especially during periods of armed conflict and subsequent occupation, such as the wars of 1967 and 1973, and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The author of a new book on this subject claims these divisions significantly weakened and perhaps even contributed to the demise of the American Left during the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The landscape now, however, is noticeably different. During the presidential campaign of 2016, Bernie Sanders violated a tradition long-observed by almost all serious democratic and republican primary contenders, when he snubbed the annual conference of American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Only a few years ago, Sanders' criticism of Israel was unthinkable.
In his most recent book, ‘The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left’ (Stanford University Press, 2019), Professor Michael R. Fischbach provides some clues for those who “cannot help but marvel at how criticism of the Israeli government has become so commonplace in recent years,” writes Michael Teague in his forthcoming review of the book. According to Fischbach, “Where progressive Americans stand on these issues today stems from events of the past,” namely, the past of the American left that he expertly reconstructs, and history that he contextualizes for the reader in this short but impactful work. The author also claims that the division caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict has weakened the “white left” and contributed to its eventual demise.
He identifies two main strands of the left. The first comprised the socialists and anti-imperialists who considered the PLO’s armed struggle against Israel as a part of this movement. The second represented those who believed Israel was a socialist state living in precarious conditions and thus deserving of exception from the “imperialist” epithet.
The debate between these two sides has been contentious, leading leftist supporters of Israel to diagnose any opposition or criticism as anti-Semitic.
Interestingly, some neo-conservative operatives, now known for their support of the Iraq war, originally defected from the left over Israel. Their departure, and the rancorous debates, as well as the vicious arguments between anti-imperialist and Israeli-exceptionalists in the wake of the Six-Day War, brought the subject of Palestinian dispossession to a much wider audience than ever before, concludes Teague.
Michael Teague’s review of “The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left,” appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No. 79, 2020.
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