Trending Topics:

There is no such thing as ‘Progressive Except Palestine’

on 38 Comments

Progressive Except Palestine–PEP. A term many of us know and have used to describe someone who has a commitment to progressive causes—civil rights, human rights, movements for justice–except when it comes to Palestine and Israel. It typically refers to Jews (though one definitely doesn’t have to be Jewish) whose support for Israel and/or Zionism doesn’t seem consistent with the rest of their politics. Calling someone PEP is also intended to highlight the extent to which pro-Israel propaganda is deeply ingrained within Jewish communities and US society.  I understand the term and I also appreciate where it comes from.

(Image: Katie Miranda)

(Image: Katie Miranda)

But I have problems with it for the following reasons:

I believe one can’t be progressive except Palestine. That is, if you don’t support Palestine, you are not progressive.  Being Progressive except Palestine not only means supporting Israeli brutality—it really does mean that—but it also means supporting US imperialism. If you support Israel, then you also support US financial and military support for Israel. It goes together. That is anything but progressive.

In addition, to say Progressive except Palestine makes it seem as if crimes against Palestine and Palestinians are an aside, not central to what makes someone a progressive, ethical person—as if you can say you adhere to principles of justice except for this “one small” thing.  Let’s consider it for a moment. Would we say Progressive except Supports Apartheid? Progressive except Supports Massacres? Progressive except Supports Bombing Civilians and Demolishing Homes and Hospitals? Progressive except Steals People’s Land? Progressive except for Arresting and Jailing People Indiscriminately? Progressive except for Expelling the Indigenous Community from their Homes and Land? Progressive except for Support for Ethnic Cleansing?

I also honestly think that if we scratched a little deeper, those we call PEP are probably not so progressive on some other things either. If they make an exception for Israel, where else do their principles take them? How does their own sense of what are their “rights” and what they are entitled to–vs what are the rights of others—shape and inform their views? For example, how many “progressives” will do whatever they can to get their (“gifted”) kids into schools that are exclusionary and that privilege families who are white and upper income? That is, they are “progressive” except when it comes to Public Education and where they will send their child to school—even if that means stepping on the rights of someone else’s child.

That will only change if we prioritize a genuine commitment to what is just—without the “except”–at the outset.  And I think it means being clear that being progressive doesn’t mean “except Palestine.”

About Donna Nevel

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is co-director of PARCEO, a participatory research center. She is a long-time organizer for justice in Palestine/Israel; against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism; and for a just public education system. She is a founding member of Jews Say No!, Facing the Nakba Project, and Jews Against anti-Muslim Racism (JAAMR).

Other posts by .

Posted In:

38 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 10, 2017, 11:35 am

    Thanks, Donna, very clear. Makes me wonder, for example, about people who yammer about the holocaust but are not willing to demand action against greenhouse-gas-emissions on a war-footing (“Oh, anthropogenic climate change is not a threat to Jews alone, but only to everybody equally, so not my THANG”).

  2. eljay
    January 10, 2017, 11:42 am

    … I believe one can’t be progressive except Palestine. That is, if you don’t support Palestine, you are not progressive. …

    1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters
    2. making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.

    It may be hypocritical to be “progressive except Palestine” (PEP), but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to be PEP.

    • Mooser
      January 10, 2017, 12:25 pm

      At one time, the US actually had a “Progressive Party”, which ran candidates.

    • echinococcus
      January 10, 2017, 2:38 pm

      Eljay, if one uses definitions made up by reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries, of course the result will be meaningless mush.

      As Nevel so aptly observed, PEP necessarily means full-fledged support to US Imperialism. Nuff said.

      • eljay
        January 10, 2017, 3:15 pm

        || echinococcus: … PEP necessarily means full-fledged support to US Imperialism. Nuff said. ||

        No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Nuff said.

      • echinococcus
        January 10, 2017, 4:07 pm

        Oh sure, you can control and censor the thinking and categories of other people who wouldn’t dream to follow you.

      • RoHa
        January 10, 2017, 6:51 pm

        Don’t you two start again.

      • Sibiriak
        January 10, 2017, 10:12 pm

        eljay: No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Nuff said.


        Not nuff for the logically-challenged moral purist who believes: “if you don’t agree with me 100%, you are against me 100%.”

      • eljay
        January 11, 2017, 7:17 am

        || RoHa: Don’t you two start again. ||

        Aye-aye, Cap’n RoHa, sir! :-P

      • echinococcus
        January 11, 2017, 1:26 pm


        Logic commands to first check the definitions you are using.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 10, 2017, 4:26 pm

      but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to be PEP.

      i don’t think so. because one can’t honestly claim to be advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform while supporting apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

      nor can one claim they are against the death penalty if they have a caveat as it pertains to people they do not like or when the crime of murder includes rape or killing children or whatever. if the definition you’re using (1,2) are contradicted under certain circumstances, they do not apply to you.

      you’d have to change the definition of progressive first, then you could claim it applied to you. suppose one could claim palestinians (by definition) were not people and therefore are not deserving of human rights. then one could still claim they were pro human rights while thinking palestinians don’t deserve them.

      • eljay
        January 10, 2017, 6:10 pm

        || Annie Robbins: … one can’t honestly claim to be advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform while supporting apartheid and ethnic cleansing. … ||

        If one is “progressive except [exclusion]”, sure one can.

        || … suppose one could claim palestinians (by definition) were not people and therefore are not deserving of human rights. then one could still claim they were pro human rights while thinking palestinians don’t deserve them. ||

        Yes, one could claim to be “pro-human rights except (for) Palestinians” (PHREP), but the hypocrisy of such a position would be similar to the hypocrisy of PEP.

    • Vikram
      January 11, 2017, 1:12 pm

      I guess in your world Hillary Clinton would be “progressive”.

      • eljay
        January 11, 2017, 2:37 pm

        || Vikram: I guess in your world Hillary Clinton would be “progressive”. ||

        Not sure if this is directed at me, but I would say that Hillary is progressive except [exception(s)].

        If a White person hates Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, Indians, Arabs and Jews but likes Asians, I would say that he’s racist except [exception(s)]. I guess in your world he would not be racist.

  3. amigo
    January 10, 2017, 12:19 pm

    One is either progressive or not. .There is no such condition as “Half Pregnant.”

    • Mooser
      January 10, 2017, 1:02 pm

      “One is either progressive or not.”

      Okay then, give me a simple definition of “progressive” in politics, and I’ll know where I stand.

      • amigo
        January 10, 2017, 2:03 pm

        “Okay then, give me a simple definition of “progressive” in politics, and I’ll know where I stand. -“Mooser

        If you are running for political office I suggest you leave simple definitions at home .

      • Mooser
        January 10, 2017, 3:55 pm

        “If you are running for political office I suggest you leave simple definitions at home .”

        I’m not a fan of the term “progressive” as a political descriptor in the US. But a lot of people seem to like it a lot.

    • Sibiriak
      January 10, 2017, 9:38 pm

      One is either progressive or not.

      90% movement toward a goal is still progressive. But there is no 90% pregnant.

      Progress is not an absolute; pregnancy is.

      • Vikram
        January 11, 2017, 1:16 pm

        Ah but who defines what is “progress”? We can see the results of so-called “progess” in the rampant environmental degradation in today’s world.

      • Mooser
        January 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

        “Progress is not an absolute; pregnancy is.”

        Yeah, “Sib” like the KY Senate Prez sez: ‘To Conceive Or Not’ Is A Woman’s Only Choice.”

  4. MHughes976
    January 10, 2017, 1:12 pm

    Not possible to be very pregnant or a little pregnant but possible to be fluent or halting in a second language or to have a slight or a raging fever. I don’t think of progressives and reactionaries as completely agreed among themselves and I don’t think that we should refuse to make common cause with those who do not agree with us totally, if that is being suggested. That said, I do think that the most obvious and normal moral principles are being violated by Zionism, cruelly and on a daily basis, and it is astonishing that people who seem to have a normal morality, even without being particularly progressive, look so readily the other way.

  5. John O
    January 10, 2017, 1:27 pm

    Thank you, Donna. The only Facebook friend I have “unfriended” is a classic PEP. A former work colleague, as progressive as anyone I know, she regularly posted Islamophobic stuff. Some was from right-wing, neo-Nazi sources such as Britain First; some was Israeli government propaganda. I told her on several occasions that what she was posting was racist and from sources that I was shocked she gave any credence to. She ignored my warning.

  6. AddictionMyth
    January 10, 2017, 3:40 pm

    I would argue they are not ‘Progressive Except Palestine’ but in fact ‘Progressive as a smokescreen for Apartheid’. I have found that many progressives are in fact deeply cynical and hypocritical and contemptuous of people in general. (Aren’t we all.)

  7. john douglas
    January 10, 2017, 4:59 pm

    I think from a pragmatic, rhetorical standpoint PEP is a useful term. It is an objectification of a kind of complacent inconsistency, “I love all poor undocumented people, and Palestinians have no right to be treated like human beings.” Secondly, I’ve never thought of PEP as referring to “Progressives who favor persecuting Palestinians.” (I would agree there can be no such animal.) I’ve thought of PEPs as “persons who have progressive views on how to treat Xs, Ys and all the world, but never when it comes to how to treat Palestinians.” PEP is a well deserved slur on such people that could make some reconsider. Some words can have the power to change people and PEP may be one of them.

    • Tuyzentfloot
      January 10, 2017, 5:38 pm

      Suppose the progressive view is that you recognize a situation of injustice and oppression and want to defend the victim.
      The problem with IP then is that progressives were declaring the wrong people as the victims to be fully progressive about.
      They were still being progressive though. So PEP may sound good, but I don’t like it too much .

    • Sibiriak
      January 10, 2017, 9:43 pm

      john douglas: I think from a pragmatic, rhetorical standpoint PEP is a useful term.

      I agree. It points to a segment of the progressive community that has taken an untenable contradictory stand on one issue.

      If PEP’s are not progressives, what are they? Conservatives? Racists? etc. If you use those labels, the ideological self-contradiction is no longer highlighted.

      • john douglas
        January 11, 2017, 12:11 am

        What are they? Conservative …”: Political labels applied to people attempt to accumulate positions on specific issues into one category, liberal, progressive, radical right, etc. It promotes laziness, if Mary is against legal abortion she’s a conservative and so must be for the death penalty and against regulations. This is easily manipulated, as when Reagan besmirched “liberal” so now we have a fresh new “progressive.” Nowadays the terms “nationalism” and “populist” are being associated with skinheads and other racists, thus favoring the free trade globalists who are too cosmo to give a shit about their own country. So I think political labels applied to people are to be avoided whenever possible.

      • Sibiriak
        January 11, 2017, 8:46 am

        john douglas: So I think political labels applied to people are to be avoided whenever possible.

        But it’s also true that people themselves adopt labels for their belief-clusters and self-identify as members of political tribes.

      • Sibiriak
        January 11, 2017, 8:58 am

        john douglas: Reagan besmirched “liberal” so now we have a fresh new “progressive.”
        That’s true for many liberals who have defensively and/or opportunistically adopted the “progressive” label. (HiLLary Clinton is a “progressive”!!)

        But the modern “progressive” label (putting aside 1890-1920’s “progressive” movements), also has deep roots in the Vietnam War era liberal-minded rejection of the Liberal Establishment and Liberal Cold Warrior anti-Communists ( Johnson, Humphrey et al.) which necessitated a distinguishing label.

        [“New Left” was also an important term for the era (not now), to distinguish the old stodgy communist/socialist left from the new social-democratic left. That “New Left” merged into the contemporary “progressive” current, maintaining it’s anti-mainstream-liberalism roots. ]

        And then there’s the more recent rise of both neoliberalism and the closely-related new identity politics, which makes the terms “progressive” and “liberal’ increasingly inadequate.

    • Sibiriak
      January 10, 2017, 10:03 pm

      I think it might be useful to recognize the difference between someone:

      1) Recognizing X as the apartheid/ethnic cleansing it is, and still supporting X.

      2) Not recognizing X as the apartheid/ethnic cleansing it is, and supporting X.

      In other words, there is a difference between 1)someone who supports Israel (or does not condemn it sufficiently) because they mistakenly believe that that support is consistent with progressive values and 2) someone who recognizes that Israeli actions are NOT consistent with progressive values, but nevertheless makes an exception and supports Israel anyway.

      The first person holds strong to progressive values and can be persuaded to change their position on Israel/Palestine by arguing factually and demonstrating the contradiction with progressive values.

      The second person cannot be persuaded that way, since he/she already recognizes the contradiction but accepts it nevertheless.

  8. gamal
    January 10, 2017, 9:15 pm

    “Dear Self-Proclaimed “Progressives”: as Apologists for the Neocon-Neoliberal Empire, You Are as Evil as the Empire You’ve Enabled”

    Charles Hugh Smith

    “Sorry, pal, you’re evil. Self-righteous indignation counts for nothing in the strict accounting of real progressivism.”

    “Dear Self-Proclaimed “Progressive”: I love you, man, but it has become necessary to intervene in your self-destruction. Your ideological blinders and apologies for the Establishment’s Neocon-Neoliberal Empire are not just destroying your credibility, they’re destroying the nation and everywhere the Empire intervenes.

    While you squandered your political capital defending zero-cost causes like “safe spaces on college campuses,” the Empire was busy killing, maiming and making refugees of women and children in Syria. President Obama and his Neocon crew (former Secretary Hillary Clinton included) aren’t fools; they rely on drones and proxy armies to do their dirty work.

    Neoliberalism is the Establishment’s core ideology, and by supporting Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, you furthered, defended and rationalized the Empire’s neoliberal expansion and exploitation. Neoliberalism’s Big Lie is transforming everything into a market makes everyone richer.”

  9. Marnie
    January 11, 2017, 7:13 am

    Northrop and Walker Art Center Present
    Batsheva Dance Company
    2016//17 Northrop Season

    Tue, Jan 24, 7:30 pm


  10. Atlantaiconoclast
    January 11, 2017, 10:25 am

    These are often the people who wanted us to take out Assad, Gaddafi, and are easily duped into supporting interventions that always seem to be part of the neocon/Oded Yinon Likudnik game plan. Of course, many supporters of the Palestinian cause have supported these interventions as well, which is just mind blowing to me. Shouldn’t they know better?

  11. brent
    January 11, 2017, 2:26 pm

    As a progressive, as a supporter of justice for Palestine, as a friend of some Palestinians, my activism over the years hasn’t mitigated the brutality against them. Their pain and anger hasn’t been conducive to forms of resistance that could enable their cause to get traction among politicians in America’s system of competing interests. What does a friend do?

    I’d like to know the considerations of 2334 were taken seriously by both sides. I’d like to see leaders on both sides condemn violence on the basis of being counter-productive, self-defeating. With one side having effective influence of the public narrative, creative approaches have long been needed.

    Upgrading the campaign for equality by Arab Israelis or for independence or equality by those under occupation could change the entire equation and stimulate new thinking for everyone. Sure would be a lift for progressive activism.

    • amigo
      January 11, 2017, 3:38 pm

      Brent , Israel needs Palestinian resistance. It is the oxygen that keeps the Occupation ticking.If there is a lull in the so called violence then Israel sends in it,s goons at two or three in the morning and manufactures some “resistance”. You see, the Palestinians have tried non violent resistance but that just made them easier targets for the so called most moral army.Their land was still being stolen at a greater speed then ever before.

      Your post seems to suggest that this conflict is somehow between two even parties.Israel only condemns so called Palestinian violence and their violence is always forced on them as they are defending themselves. What,s fellow to do when he can no longer set up a state in his historic homeland without the locals getting their gander up.You have to hit back when your victim gets difficult.

  12. Scott
    January 13, 2017, 2:24 pm

    Not your subject, but I wonder how you conceptualize people (like Pat Buchanan, and me) who are generally conservative, even somewhat reactionary, but have long realized the injustice of the occupation, the importance of Palestinians self-determination (in a two state conception, for PJB and me, but other possibilities possible).

  13. Scott
    January 13, 2017, 2:26 pm

    I would add that I think there is a downside for the Justice for Palestine movement to be too thouroughly immersed in the Left, though I recognize the importance of having coalition allies, and am aware that all the action seems to be in the left wing of the Dem party, or further.

Leave a Reply