On one hand, it’s an encouraging indicator of the power of the Palestinian rights campaign that Nakba Day is an increasingly prominent date in the global political calendar.
On the other, it is a measure of the appropriation of Palestinian suffering and dispossession by Western left-liberals that a self-proclaimed “radical” publisher such as Verso Books — which numbers Palestinian greats such as Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish amongst its authors — can publish a “Nakba Day reading list” which contains no Palestinian writers, and which consists largely of Israeli authors.
This is not to disrespect some of those Israeli writers: Eyal Weizman, Ilan Pappe and Shlomo Sand have all had important and courageous critiques to make of their country. It is also not claim that only Palestinians are entitled to have opinions about or to analyze a subject which is, of course, of international significance.
But on Nakba Day, the day when Palestinians commemorate the decades of crimes which have been committed against them, to silence Palestinian voices in this way is a disturbing reflection of the way in which the Western left appropriates the “other” for its own purposes.
The “Nakba Day reading list” in question was blogged by Verso’s Publicity & Marketing Manager, Jennifer Tighe, and publicized on Twitter. The shorter, press-friendly version of the list starts like this:
As the text shows, the authors highlighted in the publicity campaign are Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Norman Finkelstein and Shlomo Sand. The other writers on this version of the release, not shown in the screen grab, were Eyal Weizman, Audrea Lim and Josh Ruebner. The page ended with a link inviting readers to click through to “Verso’s Nakba Reading List in full.”
The link directed readers to a longer list. At the beginning of the working day, this featured the authors named above, and again highlighted mainly Israeli (and also male, academic) writers:
However, by late afternoon, Verso Books had come in for plenty of criticism on Twitter, with commentors - many apparently inspired by a tweet from Helena Cobban of Just World Books — calling Verso’s list “shameful” and “pathetic.” After some time, Verso Books also weighed in, admitting that “You’re right! That was stupid. We have updated the list.”
An updated version of the list had indeed appeared, featuring Palestinian writers from Verso’s catalogue, including Said, Darwish, and also Ghada Karmi and Naji al-Ali.
It was an improvement, and credit goes to Verso for admitting their mistake and going some way to rectifying it. But the main point is not this one list and its contents. It is what it represents.
To many Western leftists, what are Palestinians, and what is the Nakba? A marker of their own radicalism? A marketing opportunity — whether for booksellers or political parties? Or a genuine commitment to finding ways to be a responsible ally to a people oppressed and dispossessed by, or with the collusion of, our own regimes?