The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left

Michael R. Fischbach

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The Arab-Israeli conflict constituted a serious problem for the American Left in the 1960s: pro-Palestinian activists hailed the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of a fundamental restructuring of the global imperialist order, while pro-Israeli leftists held a less revolutionary worldview that understood Israel as a paragon of democratic socialist virtue. This intra-left debate was in part doctrinal, in part generational. But further woven into this split were sometimes agonizing questions of identity. Jews were disproportionately well-represented in the Movement, and their personal and communal lives could deeply affect their stances vis-à-vis the Middle East.

The Movement and the Middle East offers the first assessment of the controversial and ultimately debilitating role of the Arab-Israeli conflict among left-wing activists during a turbulent period of American history. Michael R. Fischbach draws on a deep well of original sources―from personal interviews to declassified FBI and CIA documents―to present a story of the left-wing responses to the question of Palestine and Israel. He shows how, as the 1970s wore on, the cleavages emerging within the American Left widened, weakening the Movement and leaving a lasting impact that still affects progressive American politics today.


"Michael R. Fischbach boldly takes us into the vexed heart of debates on the American Left, exploding after the Six-Day War of 1967, over the Palestinian struggle against the state of Israel. Fischbach ably navigates the moral passion, ideological wrangling, and exquisite agony of the entire conflict. His bracing message is of the perils of intransigence and the enduring ability of the Israel-Palestine debate to further divide an already weakened American Left." ―Jeremy Varon, The New School, author of Bringing the War Home

"In an engaging narrative, Michael Fischbach makes a wonderful contribution to our understanding of the shifting positions, alliances, and tensions among American leftist groups on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the 1960s and 1970s. 
The Movement and the Middle East will have a great impact on contemporary activism, illuminating the growing support for Palestinian liberation over the decades." ―Pamela Pennock, University of Michigan–Dearborn

"Fischbach's timely and invaluable account...offers insight on the debates the Movement grappled with, and for anyone interested in U.S. Middle East policy, the history and politics of the American Left or the Arab-Israeli conflict, 
The Movement and the Middle East is a must-have for their library. Fischbach's wide-ranging analysis opens the door for other scholars to fill in the gaps of this incredibly fascinating story, which would be a welcome addition in the years to come." ―Sami Tayeb, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Michael Fischbach describes in impressively researched detail how virtually every political formation of the Left came to define itself in part by its position on Israel's siege and occupation of historic Palestine....His book is both a fine act of scholarship and a useful intervention in the battle for Palestinian freedom." ―Bill V. Mullen, 
Journal of Palestine Studies

"Fischbach's book...contributes to a better understanding of the complex nature of Israel's place in the American popular and political imagination. It is then a necessary text to include in any study of America's relationships with Israel and the Palestinians." ―Brent E. Sasley, 
The Middle East Journal

"While making a strong case for the claim that the Arab-Israeli conflict played an important role in the breakup of the American left, 
The Movement and the Middle East also does a good job of explaining how it led us to where we are today." ―Michael Teague, Al Jadid

"Professor Fischbach has done a service by gathering a wealth of information that future researchers of the American Left cannot ignore and that will enrich the analyses of works to come." ―Yehudah Mirsky, 
American Jewish History

The Movement and the Middle East]'s best quality is its narration of particular moments in radical America's encounter with the Arab-Israeli conflict." ―Matthew Shannon, Diplomatic History

Michael R. Fischbach is a Professor of History at Randolph-Macon College. He is the author of Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (Stanford, 2018), among other works.

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