Hill, M. L., & Plitnick, M. (2021). Except for Palestine: The limits of progressive politics. New York: The New Press.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a conflict that dates back to the dawn of time. And it is no lie that this conflict has caused polarization and controversy globally amongst politicians, scholars, business leaders, and activists. The complexity has provided these parties the platforms to choose to either voice or remain silent about their opinions on the historic conflict. As of recent. Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plintknick who are both scholars have been vocal about their views on what is going on between Israel and Palestine. In February of 2021, the pair of American scholars came together to write Except For Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics. Hill and Plitnick use Except For Palestine to carefully and brilliantly articulate their stance on the historically drawn-out conflict between Israel and Palestine. In doing so, the two demonstrate how American liberals and progressives employ silence as a form of foreign policy towards Israel thus making Palestine an exception to liberal and progressive politics. Therefore, through making Palestine an exception the left exhibits their hypocritical stances on civil rights, citizenship, human rights, equality, and justice.
Moreover, in order to take this stance Hill and Plitnick make use of Except For Palestine to argue “ that recent efforts to stigmatize, and potentially even illegalize the growing dissent over U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine reflects a growing authoritarianism in both Israel and the United States. By looking at multiple dimensions of the struggle over Israel and Palestine, we show why change in policy is urgently needed” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.12). By arguing this the pair find it important to “demonstrate that if liberal-minded Americans truly believe our foreign and domestic policies should reflect the values of freedom, justice, and equality, it is impossible to be satisfied with the current state of affairs. This dissatisfaction must prompt them to argue forcefully for change” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.12). In the subsequent chapters of Except For Palestine Hill and Plitknick attempt to make their argument by examining the historical context of the conflict and the policies that have and continue to influence and contribute to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Hill and Plitick begin to formulate their argument by drawing on the words of Israeli diplomat Abba Eban and pose the rhetorical question of does Israel has the right to exist as a state? With this rhetoric and questioning Hill and Plitnick see that the question is “ cynically used to justify the rejection of a Palestinian state. It is strategically used to distract from criticism about the deprivation of Palestinian rights. And it is disingenuously used to frame the case for Palestinian rights as the denial of Jewish self-determination or, even worse, as a call for anti-Semitic violence” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.16). Ultimately this question of existence for Israel serves as the “ ideological undergirding of the state: Zionism” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.17). By putting this question and rhetoric from Eban into relation with Zionism Israel was able to create a metaphorical Iron Wall which worked to exclude Palestinians from the West Bank. Through excluding Palestinians, Israel was able to gain the right to exist as a single state forcing Palestinians to demand recognition for their humanity.
After teasing out how Palestinians have been stripped of their humanity in favor of a single Israel state Hill and Plitnick begin to explain how Business, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) have been criminalized. Hill and Plitnick point to how the criminalization of BDS has worked to restrict Palestinians from receiving full humanity and citizenship. Palestinians have several issues with a single state that works to deny them access to the West Bank. Also, the single state allows Israel to occupy Palestine with the annexation of Jerusalem and Golan Heights. And ultimately with the single state, there is an increase in anti-Palestinian discrimination and a growing number of Palestinian refugees worldwide (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.54). Therefore, to challenge and find solutions to these issues BDS groups collaborated and created demands that met the scope of international law. These demands are as follows (1) [e]nding its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; (2) [r]ecognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) [r]especting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.82). These demands were to be used as a way to non-violently call for change to Israeli’s treatment of Palestinians. However, despite the non-violent nature of these demands they were still met with great pushback globally. Particularly in the United States these demands received grave criticism and to support these demands an individual is subjected to be criminalized.
Through showing how BDS were criminalized Plintnick and Hill explain how criminalizing BDS was in a way for the United States to say they support a single Israel state. Hill and Plitnick make it apparent that the United States’ support for Israel was not just coming from Republicans or Democrats, but rather it was bipartisan. This bipartisanship took the form of silence with politicians dodging questions about Israel and Palestine. However, whenever politicians did speak about the conflict the majority of them were in favor of a single state. The bipartisanship of American politicians made the American stance on the conflict relativity stable. However, that stability became rocky in 2016 when Donald J. Trump was elected the President of the United States. The election of Trump solidified America’s support of a single state. During his presidency, Trump made two critical decisions that revealed America’s support. First, he recognized Golan Heights as a part of the state of Israel. And, two, he moved the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump made these decisions with little resistance and gained bipartisanship in other decisions surrounding the conflict. The bipartisanship of America surrounding the conflict reveals that Trump and the right are not deviations from the United States’ stance on the conflict, but in fact, they are a continuation of the stance that supports a single Israel state. This is to say “ Trump was merely a 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 not applied” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.110). This continuation of bipartisanship and the hypocrisy of liberal politics results in the sustainment of Palestinians suffering.
In recognizing, this continuation of bipartisanship that favors a single Israel state, Hill and Plitnick call liberals and progressives “ To move beyond the current limits and progressives must embrace a more principled politics, one that begins by recognizing the fundamental humanity of Palestinians” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.155). For Hill and Plitnick, liberals and progressives must recognize the humanity of Palestinians because they believe that “ Only from this place can equal human, civil, individual, and national rights for both Israelis and Palestinians be achieved. This approach is not only morally and ethically sound; it is the only one that can win” (Hill &Plintnick, 2021, p.156). By taking this approach towards the situation Hill and Plitnick contend that it is not only liberating for Palestine but also it is a way that Americans can understand injustices so that they can will the power to create real change.
Furthermore, in Except For Palestine Hill and Plitnick gracefully lay out their argument to show the limits and hypocrisy of progressive politics. In doing so, the two demonstrate how the left uses silence as a way to practice bipartisanship. Through bipartisanship, the left and right stand together in support of a single Israel state. Using this demonstration Hill and Plitnick critically shed a light on the complicity of the left in the harm that it causes towards Palestinians. While making this critique the pair draw attention to that the left to show that it is not alone in its efforts but uses this moment to articulate the importance of progressive and liberal politics. It is in this moment that Hill and Plitnick call for progressives and liberals to see the humanity of Palestinians. Using this vision of humanity American progressives can take action towards a solidarity that recognizes Palestinians as humans who are to be granted equality, justice, citizenship, and full rights.
Moreover, as this book relates to the broader discussion of immigration and citizenship in the United States it is imperative that we look to conversations like Except For Palestine. We must look at these sorts of conversations to see how the United States’ handling of the situation between Palestine and Israel affects and implicates our understanding of citizenship and humanity. This is to say through the conversation and argument Hill and Plitnick make it is evident to see that the United States has taken a mostly neutral stance towards the situation as a way to protect its image and dollars. Through this neutral stance, the United States has been actively and complicity working to deny Palestinians citizenship and humanity. This hypocritical and neutral stance is the same stance that American politicians will take towards the conflict that is happening at the southern border of the United States or the handling of Haitian immigrantion. The neutral stance that these politicians take is grounded in hypocrisy. Meaning, politicians will say things like “we need tighter borders” while simultaneously saying “we need to unite these families seeking refuging”. These hypocrisies send mixed messages, which ultimately results in the United States not taking real action to solve the issue. Rather these mixed messages affirm the United States’ passive approach to the handling of the situation which only furthers the denial of humanity and citizenship. Therefore, this book becomes crucial in helping us to understand that we can no longer be passive, silent, or neutral because as long as we continue to do this we continue to deny life.