Our guest for this Friday’s Zoom call will be Marc Lamont Hill, a Professor at Temple University, a correspondent for BET News, and author, with Mitchell Plitnick, of Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics. I wanted to talk to Marc because I’ve been struggling to figure out how to talk about Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, Dave Chappelle, and antisemitism. How does one discuss the power disparities that exist between Black Americans and white American Jews in Hollywood and elsewhere without fueling antisemitic tropes about Jewish conspiracies? And how can one fight bigotry against Jews without becoming complicit in bigotry against Palestinians when the organization that is so often called on to fight antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, calls Palestinians bigots merely for seeking equality. As a scholar of both Israel-Palestine and race in the United States, Marc is uniquely situated to discuss these issues. He’s also been unfairly accused of antisemitism himself merely for using the phrase “free Palestine from the river to the sea”—even though Marc has never remotely suggested that Israeli Jews don’t deserve freedom, equality, and safety themselves. I want to know what we can learn from his experience to help build a struggle against antisemitism that is, at the same time, a struggle for the freedom of all. As always, paid subscribers will get the Zoom link this Wednesday and the video next week.
Sources Cited in this Video
George Packer’s essay in The Atlantic, “A New Theory of American Power.”
Things to Read
Speaking of antisemitism, this is the guy who just dined with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Speaking of antisemitism, I wonder if American Jewish groups will affix the label to Yuval Noah Harari, perhaps Israel’s most famous global public intellectual, now that he’s basically admitted that Israel’s practicing apartheid.
Within twenty-four hours last week, a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian teenager were both tragically killed. Muhammad Shehada examined the Western media’s very different response to each teenager’s death.
In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer explains why ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel are nervous about the feminist uprising in Iran.
See you on Friday,
Hi. This Friday, we are going to be having our regular Friday conversation with Marc Lamont Hill. I’ve known Marc for a while and think he’s one of the most interesting and important voices about Israel-Palestine and about Black Americans. And I wanted to talk to him about the series of incidents of antisemitism that have emerged recently with Kanye West and Kylie Irving, and the controversy about Dave Chappelle, because I think it raises a set of longstanding questions about Black-Jewish relations that I think haven’t been discussed in as useful and thoughtful a way as possible, and that I think also need to be discussed in tandem with the idea of anti-Palestinian bigotry. Which is, as I’ve written and as Marc has talked about, is a kind of a bigotry that is so pervasive that I think is often invisible in American conversation. And I also want to talk to Marc because Marc was himself unfairly accused of antisemitism. And I want to talk to him about that experience and what he’s learned from it and what we can all learn from it.
Today, I wanted to talk for a minute about one particular line in an interesting new essay in The Atlantic by George Packer. The essay is called—and I’ll put a link in the in the email—is called “A New Theory of American Power.” Then the subtitle is “The US can and must use its power for good.” I don’t want to talk about the whole essay. I want to talk about one line in particular. George Packer, I should say, is someone whose writing I’ve admired and learned from for a long time, and I think he’s a very good journalist and an interesting analyst. And I actually think this essay, which suggests a kind of a shift that’s taking place largely as a result of the war on Ukraine, which is moving us a little bit away from the kind of post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment when there was a stronger sense that the United States was doing a lot of damage around the world. And I think that the war in Ukraine is kind of returning Washington, for better and also then for worse in some ways that worry me, I think to a moment which is a little bit more like the 1990s, and even like the post-9/11 moment, which is a kind of restored faith in the kind of virtue of America’s power around the world. But I don’t want to talk about the argument in total. I want to talk about one particular line, which I think is really interesting and revealing. And I say this again, this criticism, I say this as someone who generally admires George Packer’s work a lot. George Packer writes quote, “the American-led order lasted three-quarters of a century. And people struggling for democracy in other countries are less eager to see it end than the Quincy Institute is.” For those you who don’t know, the Quincy Institute is a new think tank, which is kind of organized around the principle of restraint, that America should be less involved, militarily at least, around the world.
Now, I think what’s very striking about this line by George Packer is that anybody who thinks a lot about Palestinian rights would immediately find this statement very jarring, right. Whatever you think about the American-led order, in many, many ways for those Palestinians seeking democracy, freedom, basic human rights, it’s really been a disaster. It is America’s veto at the Security Council, America’s power and international institutions, America’s virtually unconditional military aid that, more than any other single force, gives Israel the impunity to deny Palestinian basic rights. It’s not China doing that. It’s not Russia doing that. I’m not saying that Palestinians yearn for a Chinese or let alone a Russian-led international order. But I think many Palestinians and their supporters would say that the power that is standing in the way in their situation—of an international order based on international law and human rights—is the United States in their case, much more than China or Russia. So, that while George Packer’s line may be true for Ukrainians, it may be true for people in Hong Kong, it may be true for people in in various countries around the world, it is certainly not true for Palestinians. It’s not true for other groups of people around the world as well, but I think Palestinians might be the most obvious and acute example of where it surely cannot be the case, right? Because again, the United States probably wills more diplomatic energy and gives more money on a sustained basis to Israel than to any other country. And that support, clearly in the case of the Palestinians, is a way in which America’s global power prevents them from enjoying basic rights.
And so, what interests me is how it is that someone as thoughtful as George Packer could essentially write this sentence as if the Palestinians don’t really exist, [as if] it’s not really a relevant case to consider in this larger question of American foreign policy. And I think this is a broader problem. I don’t want to just single out George Packer. But I think what you see often is that Israel-Palestine is put off in a corner. And many of the people who write about American foreign policy in general—including many of the most influential writers about American foreign policy—in general, don’t discuss the issue at all. And, on the one hand that’s reasonable. I mean, you can’t write about every subject, and there’s a virtue in kind of focusing on the subjects that you know about best. But given actually how important a role America plays in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—again Israel being the country that America year over year gives the most military aid to—there is something strange in talking about American foreign policy as if this case does not exist. And you see that what happens when you talk about American foreign policy, as if Palestinians don’t exist, is you end up with a much rosier story about America’s role in the world as defender of democracy and human rights than you would if you integrated in this story. I think, frankly, the reason that a lot of foreign policy writers ignore this subject is partly because they know that it’s so toxic, and that they’re likely to be attacked if they take views that are very critical of Israel. And they may also just feel intimidated that they need a certain kind of level of knowledge in order to engage with it.
But I think this is, I think, a big problem in American foreign policy conversation, in general. The fact that this conversation is not more integrated into US conversation, so that when people think about America’s global role in the world, they immediately think of Ukraine as an example. They think about America’s contest with China. They think about other places, but they don’t actually factor this in. It’s not only bad for Palestine human rights. I actually think it really warps the larger conversation about American foreign policy. Were Georgia Packer actually engaging with this question, was this a question that he wrote about and thought about, he would have to actually, I think, revise to some degree his entire argument about American foreign policy. Since how can you argue—it’s just such a huge asterisk to say: America is basically a force for good, democracy, and human rights in the world, except that in the case of the place in which we give the most military aid to, and exert the most diplomatic support for, in that case we’re entirely on the other side. This actually subverts the whole paradigm, and makes you think differently about the whole paradigm. Which is why it’s really not surprising that those foreign policy commentators who do integrate Palestine and Israel more into their global conception—I think about for instance Edward Said, for instance—they’re actually whole vision of America’s role in the world turns out to be very different.
And the last point I would make is that I think this is one of the things that separates American foreign policy commentary from foreign policy commentary in so much of the rest of the world, especially in the Global South, where people don’t factor this out in their conception of how they think about America’s role in the world. But I think it partly helps to explain the disconnect that we again and again see in which we’re surprised—American foreign policy commentators and practitioners are surprised and disappointed and angry—that people around the world, in the case of Russia and Ukraine, don’t see the United States as necessarily being on the side of the angels in the way that we see ourselves. And I think one of the reasons that they don’t, even though I think the United States is in the right on Ukraine, is that they see Ukraine as simply one in a number of different stories in terms of the way America influences human rights, and democracy, and international law around the world. And because they factor the Palestinian case in, they’re much more cynical about America’s larger motivations and larger behavior. And yet we don’t understand that because so many of our best foreign policy commentators, like George Packer, essentially ignore this particular case in their larger analysis.
I really hope this is something that changes in the years to come and that people—you realize they don’t need to be specialists on this issue. They just need to be willing to have the interest and openness to read and write about it enough so that it can inform their larger discussions, and I think perhaps make Americans more able to understand the way that we are perceived abroad. Again, next Friday, we’ll be talking to Marc Lamont Hill. I hope many of you will join us and I’ll see you then.