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DC protests mark the end of PEP era — progressive except Palestine

on 15 Comments

The maelstrom known as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blown through the nation’s capital, and dozens of activists are taking a breather after weeks of organizing that culminated in several actions and events. While the rallies and pickets were relatively small compared to efforts put forth in powerhouse cities like Chicago and New York, organizers say their reverberations are powerful. What happened in Washington DC this week has changed the course of activism here on the issue of Palestine.

A total of five actions played out from Friday, Nov. 6 through Tuesday. From pushing back against Netanyahu’s invitation to speak before the self-proclaimed “progressive” Center for American Progress, to picketing his meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and a large rally outside the National Building Museum, where the pro-Israel think tank American Enterprise Institute honored the Israeli prime minister, there was a level of cooperation and unity that superseded anything that’s occurred in the past, said Seth Morrison, a 17-year area resident and member of the DC Metro chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

“The fact that 38 organizations came together shows how our movement (in DC) is strengthening,” he said. “We’re going to talk about how we can do better… how to create an organizing mechanism.”

Morrison was referring to the model that evolved several years ago in Chicago, led by American Muslims for Palestine and the US Palestine Community Network, to create an infrastructure so groups could respond quickly when the need arose. The Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine is comprised of several organizations, activist groups and many Students for Justice in Palestine chapters. The coalition can organize a massive rally in days instead of weeks. Now, activists in Washington are considering creating something similar.

“We want to unify to make things easier,” Morrison said.

According to Josh Ruebner, policy director for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the actions directed at the Center for American Progress also had a major impact, even though Netanyahu still received a friendly and open platform to spew his propaganda.

The Arab American Institute and JVP initiated a letter signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals and at least five organizations submitted petitions that collectively garnered more than 26,300 signatures. Two pickets on Tuesday morning and afternoon outside CAP headquarters kept many employees at home.

“The picket was a success,” said Ruebner. “We made it quite clear that it is unacceptable to be ‘progressive except for Palestine’ [PEP] any longer. It is imperative that organizations continue to deny legitimacy to Israeli policies in progressive circles.”

Netanyahu is arguably the most far-right leaning prime minister in Israel’s history. He is also probably the most divisive. Yet his antics also serve to galvanize the activist community. Among the 300 people protesting Monday night across the street from the National Building Museum, where ball gown- and black-tie-clad guests waited in the rain for their chance to rub elbows with the man who unapologetically supports racist policies and apartheid, there was a general sense of victory. Sure, Netanyahu got his platform at CAP and soon the US and Israel will begin to discuss in earnest his request for $5 billion per year in military aid.

But what happened in DC these past few weeks is something that hasn’t happened before. There’s power in the recognition that Muslim, Jewish, Christian, student and social justice groups can come together in common cause for justice for Palestinians.

“The unity that began here is going to continue,” Morrison said. “We are different groups with different aims. … We can build on what we did this week. We can keep this issue in front of Washington.”

Kristin Szremski

Kristin Szremski is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years in newspapers. She currently is the director of media and communications for American Muslims for Palestine.

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15 Responses

  1. echinococcus on November 13, 2015, 1:52 am

    Maybe if we could start holding back on marking the end of an era every other day a realistic estimate may become possible…
    PEP is still the iron rule. In fact, it’s a double-PEP* organization that just shocked the world by organizing this vomitive triumph for the Yahoo.

    *”Progressive” Except Pentagon, “P”rogressive Except Palestine.

    • Stephen Shenfield on November 13, 2015, 9:33 am

      When an era ends can only be judged in retrospect. but there’s no need to deny that some progress has been made.

      The unity that protestors have achieved is made possible by the drift toward extremism in Israeli society and politics, which blurs the inner division between anti-Zionists and “moderate” critics of Israeli policy. That division will reassert itself if more respectable politicians return to power in Israel. I suppose though that that is unlikely to happen.

      • JWalters on November 13, 2015, 6:33 pm

        Israel began with deceit, illegality, immorality, and cruel barbarity. The current change is that it’s all becoming clearer to more people.

      • echinococcus on November 14, 2015, 1:19 pm


        I wouldn’t consider it “progress”. The liberal Zionists are just as genocidal and colonial as the Yahoos. In fact, they are way more dangerous as you observe yourself: they blur the line between Zionism and humanity.

    • Mary T on November 13, 2015, 10:56 am

      “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill

  2. Marnie on November 13, 2015, 2:23 am
  3. Avigail on November 13, 2015, 8:31 am

    I understand people’s need to feel optimistic in the face of what’s happening. But it’s too little, too late for American Jews. Netanyahu is winning and the Palestinians are in greater danger than ever. And when the movement ‘US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’, changes its name to ‘US Campaign to End Israeli Settler-Colonialism’, I might start to take them seriously.

    • Ellen on November 13, 2015, 11:17 am

      And when the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) changes it name to something like Voice for Justice in Palestine (VJP) it will be taken more seriously.

      • hophmi on November 13, 2015, 2:25 pm

        Look, Avigail, Western activists are having their day in the sun, and that’s all that really matters to them.

      • Citizen on November 13, 2015, 2:27 pm

        Are you sure? Not by the PTB. What US politician will spend political campaign on this specific issue if the organization does not have the word Jewish as part of its name? If it does not, there’s no protection at all again the immediate charge of anti-Semitism.

      • echinococcus on November 15, 2015, 9:49 am

        Being “taken seriously” by the Powers that be has as much chances as a snowball in Hell, or international law in the Zionist entity.
        Being taken seriously by the people is not achieved by fellating the donkey and agreeing to the fascistic ostracism of fighters by wannabe “pro-Palestinian” tribal Zionism sympathizers. People will only trust you for clear, pitiless exhibition of the raw facts and a spine.

  4. bintbiba on November 13, 2015, 11:09 am

    Thank you, Avigail, for your valuable timely input , as usual !

    • joemowrey on November 13, 2015, 3:18 pm

      Yes. Thank you, Avigail.

      And though one hates to have to agree with hophmi (ever!) his comment in response to Avigail is (unfortunately) also right on. These days in the U.S. the word “activist” is too often a synonym for narcissist. “Look at me. I’m willing to spend a whole afternoon pretending I make a difference.” Then its back to the sofa and the mall.

      I learned this the hard way as an organizer in the lead up to the war in Iraq. Millions were willing to show up at demonstrations, have some fun in the sun for a few hours. But very few were willing to do anything more than that. Which is why demonstrations have become useless wastes of time and resources.

      Like voting, these pointless endeavors serve only to allow people to pretend they are doing something.

  5. Citizen on November 13, 2015, 2:28 pm

    Why is it that when I check the box to receive email responses to my comment they don’t come anymore? Anyone else have this problem?

  6. JWalters on November 13, 2015, 6:28 pm

    This dramatic increase in organization seems to me a very important development. This is grass-roots growth. That means voters, and that enables campaigns for office based on this issue. I think we’re approaching a point where anti-Zionism will start becoming a campaign position. That will in turn bring more facts into the public awareness. Israel is based on lies and looniness that cannot withstand objective scrutiny.

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