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Progressive except for Palestine, PEP (or PeP), is a familiar appellation.  Palestine solidarity activists have been using it for a long time to describe the kind of leftist who professes support for racial and economic justice without extending that concern to Palestinians.  In other words, the appellation describes standard-issue liberals in the metropole.

In recent months a cognate has emerged:  feminist except for Palestine.  This species, often indistinguishable from the PEP, locates in settler colonization a space for women’s liberation.  In some cases, FEPs affirm Zionist civility by highlighting male barbarity among Israel’s enemies.  They have a cozy relationship with US intervention in backward regions of the globe and imagine that gender equality can be realized through Zionism.  Lately, they’ve been trying to rid the Women’s March of radical affectations.

Other variations of the pro-Israel leftist exist, but PEPs and FEPs are the most common.  I’m less interested in their political characteristics—again, they simply do what US liberals have always done—than in how anti-Zionists choose to name them.  I’m not sure it’s wise to concede that people who invoke racial and sexual justice in order to affirm Zionism are fundamentally decent.

Before we look at these naming conventions, let’s dispose of a few pretenses:  any belief that equality and Zionism can coexist is laughable.  Nobody understands the silliness of “egalitarian” settlers better than Israel’s most fanatical supporters.  The godfather of Likud, Vladimir Jabotinsky, mocked the notion that an ethnocratic state can facilitate Enlightenment values.  His crankier heir, Meir Kahane, declared that “a Western democracy and Zionism are not compatible.  You can’t have both.

Because it is embedded in global capitalism, Israel, the political manifestation of Zionism, will always work against liberation.  Attaching a progressive agenda to the well-being of nation-states is a gift to the ruling class.

As for appending “except for Palestine” to a positive identity (progressive, feminist, and so forth), we ought to consider what happens to Palestine in these formulations.  It unwittingly becomes background context to liberal self-absorption.

I argue in Uncivil Rites that PEP is too generous a descriptor for those who support Israel, but my appeal to change the phrase to something like RBI—regressive because of Israel—never caught on.  I understand that persuading people to alter ingrained terminology is a difficult (and often foolish) task and that meaning changes according to speaker and audience, but I’m not ready to abandon the effort.  Those who dispose of Palestine shouldn’t be allowed to claim a solid politics.

Why replace “progressive” with “regressive”?  Humans, after all, have a right to describe their own identities.  If somebody chooses to support Israel, a settler colony that steals land, destroys crops, bulldozes homes, imprisons children, and murders civilians, then regressiveness is a vital feature of that person’s outlook.  Self-description doesn’t supersede material loyalty.

Furthermore, accepting a Zionist’s self-description as progressive or feminist (or socialist or anti-racist or whatever) renders Palestine subservient to arbitrary branding choices.  Exposing hypocrisy is satisfying, but less so if it elides the import of Palestinian liberation.  It’s better to scrutinize Israel as a source of moral privation rather than situating Palestine as a void that signifies an incomprehensible lapse of morality.

Or, put more simply, a progressive or feminist (or socialist or anti-racist or whatever) with shit politics on Palestine isn’t somebody with an inconsistency; it’s somebody with shit politics in general.  Supporting Israel isn’t a respite from otherwise admirable ethics; it portends ethical flaws across a range of issues.

Palestine is a great irritant to liberal activists, pundits, and politicians.  It either illuminates their duplicity or upsets their ruling class sponsors.  In turn, those with inherently regressive politics approach the nation with a combination of avoidance, dishonesty, gutlessness, and dissimulation.  Let Palestine fill such invertebrates with dread.  In fact, facilitate that process.  These people already extol our colonizer.  Why allow them to also reduce our homeland to a state of exception?

This article was first published on on February 20, 2019.

Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita's most recent book is Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.

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33 Responses

  1. just on February 24, 2019, 3:18 pm

    Absolutely and searingly spot- on! This rings so true that my heart started to pound as I read it through~ twice. RBI, RBI, RBI ~ sing it loud and often because it applies to so very many~~~ too many. Your entire article is brilliant, Steven. That last paragraph is phenomenal. I still feel sorry for all the students that have lost so much in not having you as a professor. I am grateful that you continue to educate though! Again today, I am the lucky recipient of your vast intellect, experience, and insight. Thank you.

  2. Donald on February 24, 2019, 3:57 pm

    Whatever one thinks about the term PEP, I’m not sure there are many people who fit the definition. Some, yes. AOC is one example. I think she just gives in on that issue.

    But most of the time people who have imperialist racist attitudes about Palestine also have these attitudes about other issues. Venezuela for instance. We can impose sanctions that wreak havoc on the Venezuelan economy and yet somehow, almost by magic, virtually all of our progressive Democrats join forces with Trump and Bolton and Elliot Abrams in placing all the blame on Maduro.

    • Sibiriak on February 26, 2019, 12:25 am

      Donald: …virtually all of our progressive Democrats join forces with Trump and Bolton and Elliot Abrams in placing all the blame on Maduro.

      PEE (progressive except Empire)– a far greater problem than PEP these days.

      • Keith on February 26, 2019, 11:14 am

        SIBIRIAK- “PEE (progressive except Empire)– a far greater problem than PEP these days.”

        I agree with the sentiment, however, the harsh reality is that nowadays (and perhaps always) “progressive” is little more than a deceptive label. A certain degree of honesty can be achieved by inserting “imperial” in front of the label. Hence, an imperial progressive, an imperial feminist, etc. There is nothing “progressive” about empire, militarism and neoliberalism, nor with supporting a system which reeks with systemic injustice and hypocrisy.

      • gamal on February 26, 2019, 11:51 am

        PEE or Fabian? does this sound familiar,

        “However, it was in 1900 that the Society finally published a tract drafted by George Bernard Shaw, Fabianism and the Empire, which became the most significant statement of the Society’s imperial policy. Shaw supported imperial expansion because, as he claimed, the world evolved toward big and powerful states. The Fabians criticised Liberals, but supported British imperial policy as a means of disseminating enlightened principles of governance throughout the world. The early Fabian socialists wanted to reform Britain’s imperial rule and turn the British Empire into what was later called by the Webbs the Socialist Commonwealth. They spoke in favour of ‘public-spirited’ or ‘social’ imperialism. Hubert Bland defended British imperial policy arguing that “England was the only country fit to pioneer the blessings of civilisation.” (Porter 109) Shaw presented the view that small nations, like the Boer Republic, were anachronistic in the new world of the twentieth century. (Semmel 61) Eventually, the Fabians accepted the opinion that Britain must defend and maintain her empire in the most efficient way.

        The British Empire, wisely governed, is invincible. The British Empire, handled as we handled Ireland and the American colonies, and as we may handle South Africa if we are not careful, will fall to pieces without the firing of a foreign shot. [Fabianism and Empire, 15]

        The early Fabians belied that the Empire could be efficiently managed by intelligent and wise experts, such as those who attended the Coefficients dining club meetings, organised by Beatrice Webb and her husband in 1902, to bring together the most influential decision- and opinion-makers Britain. The early Fabians thus dreamt of creating the socialist heaven under the British imperial flag. They were also concerned about the rearing of an ‘imperial race’ to help balance the threat imposed by emerging German imperialism”

      • Keith on February 26, 2019, 3:29 pm

        “A certain degree of honesty can be achieved by inserting “imperial” in front of the label.”

        Taking this a step further, it may be helpful to identify the capitalist nobility as the real rulers of society. Lord Adelson, Lord Gates, Lord Soros, etc. Great Lord Microsoft, Great Lord Amazon, Uber Lord Google, Uber Lord Goldman Sachs, etc. Those who have power because of their position as powerful corporate executives would be Positional Lords. Government the administrator of the political economy more-or-less in service to the capitalist nobility. A lot of confusion can be avoided by reminding ourselves where the real power lies, particularly with neofeudalism a stone’s throw away.

      • RoHa on February 26, 2019, 7:07 pm

        A Fabian-run socialist British Empire! What a wonderful idea it was.

        But the lure of show-business proved stronger.

      • Mooser on February 27, 2019, 12:17 pm

        “A Fabian-run socialist British Empire!”

        An Exeter Hall-ery, Grosvenor Gallery kind of Empire!

      • RoHa on February 27, 2019, 8:45 pm

        Yes, an everyday sort of empire would be All Right.

  3. Boomer on February 24, 2019, 5:22 pm

    Well said. That’s the way it is, as Walter Cronkite used to say.

    Speaking of “except for Palestine,” here’s a good discussion of statelessness around the world, except for Palestine:

  4. DaBakr on February 24, 2019, 6:40 pm

    Says the now driver of a school bus. (An honourable job). Still, if somebody charged that 90% of palestinians had fucked up politics, morals, ethics, etc he might rightly call them bigoted assholes. I suppose his education prevents him from understanding that the same applies for jews (and millions of others) who don’t buy into that crap that the identity as jewish versus judaism is merely a ‘religious choice’ or that UN bullshit zionism = racism any more then Palestinians believe they aren’t a nationality and don’t exist. He belongs driving a bus and remains free to spout off whatever he wants about his personal view of zionism, democracy, indigenous legitimacy, etc. may be drive in safety and peace.

    • Misterioso on February 25, 2019, 9:39 am



      Americans are not going to surrender their constitution’s First Amendment for the sake of racist, fascistic “Israel.”

      PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity) # 941 February 22nd, 2019
      “US federal judge dismisses lawsuit against BDS supporters”

      “Pro-Israeli groups have suffered a major defeat in a US court after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the American Studies Association’s (ASA) resolution to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

      “The ruling is a significant victory for human rights campaigners and a blow to efforts by Israel lobby groups to use courts to harass, intimidate and silence supporters of Palestinian rights in US universities – a tactic known as lawfare. It’s also a major boost for Americans sacked from their jobs on the back of anti-BDS legislation, denounced by critics as unconstitutional.

      “Pro-Israeli group, the Louis D. Brandeis Centre, filed a lawsuit against ASA in April 2016 over its resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The lawsuit argued that in adopting the resolution, which was voted on by an overwhelming democratic majority, the ASA operated beyond its corporate charter and caused the plaintiffs to “suffer significant economic and reputational damage.”

      “In the court’s 20-page ruling, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that the pro-Israeli group had “danced around key issues” and was unable to show that they had suffered enough monetary damages to warrant a federal case.

      “Radhika Sainath, senior attorney with the civil rights group Palestine Legal, summed up the court’s judgement saying that ‘the court basically said, in no uncertain words, that the plaintiffs suing ASA lied when they claimed to have ‘suffered significant economic and reputational damage.’

      “One of the four co-defendants, Dr Stephen Salaita, an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights who was fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for tweets criticising Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, said after the verdict: ‘I’m thrilled that this baseless case has been dismissed. It served no purpose other than persecuting those who dare to criticise Israeli policy and seek to end the occupation through peaceful means.’

      “Another co-defended Wesleyan University Professor, Kehaulani Kauanui denounced the lawsuit as a politically motivated attempt to suppress free speech. ‘The Brandeis Centre did not hold back its clear intent to punish me for standing up in solidarity with Palestinians and to deter others. They don’t call it law-fare for nothing.’

      “The court’s decision comes in the context of a broader federal assault on BDS for Palestinian human rights. On Tuesday, the US Senate passed a measure that would criminalise politically motivated boycotts of Israel across the US.”

      Adapted from:
      Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)


      Also, this taste of reality for your edification:

      “Support for U.S.-Israel alliance is losing support among the young, Charles Schumer says”
      By Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald, Dec. 2/18

      “Enthusiasm for U.S. support for Israel is dying out among young Americans and the two countries must gin up a high-powered educational campaign to restore it, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer told a crowd of Israel supporters Sunday.

      “’We need a campaign aimed particularly at the young, using the media they care about and the language they use,’ Schumer said, to convince them that ‘Israel’s very existence is still precarious.’

      “Schumer, a New York Democrat, made his remarks during a joint appearance with U.S. House speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi at the annual national conference of the Israeli-American Council in Hollywood.

      “Pelosi and Schumer were the highlight Sunday as the conference at the Diplomat Beach Resort, attended by more than 3,000 Israel supporters, wrapped up its four-day run. Vice President Mike Pence and Florida governor-elect Ron DeSantis addressed the conference on Friday

      “Both Pelosi and Schumer agreed these are worrisome times for the U.S.-Israeli alliance, threatened by what they described as a rise in anti-Semitism combining with a general lack of awareness of how the relationship between the two countries benefits America.

      “Schumer described Israel as ‘a mighty aircraft carrier’ in service of U.S. interests in the Middle East. ‘Israel does the job so American soldiers and sailors don’t have to be there,’ he said. ‘Israel does more to help against terrorism than any other place.’

      “Added Pelosi: ‘It is in our national security interest’ to support Israel. ‘It’s about security. It’s about values.’

      “Their unwaveringly pro-Israel message generally went over well with the crowd, though Pelosi momentarily hit the rocks when she spoke favorably of the so-called two-state solution — that is, the creation of a Palestinian nation alongside Israel — for the Middle East’s troubles.”

      • DaBakr on February 25, 2019, 10:46 am


        How about that. All fought legally in your courts . And yet, support for Israel is unwavering in general. The fight is about free speech. A healthy pursuit.

      • Misterioso on February 25, 2019, 11:31 am


        “And yet, support for Israel is unwavering in general.”

        It seems you are unable to grasp the significance of the fact (as noted by Schumer) that “support for Israel” is plummeting among American youth, including Jews, who represent and will determine the future. The writing is on the wall. The Zionist orgy is coming to an end.

        Get used to it!!

      • just on February 25, 2019, 12:10 pm

        Bravo, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras! Congratulations and thank you to everyone who fought for the Constitution and human decency!!!

        otoh~ I guess it’s fitting that Schumer and Pelosi showed up in Hollywood to spew their fiction.

        ““Schumer described Israel as ‘a mighty aircraft carrier’ in service of U.S. interests in the Middle East. ‘Israel does the job so American soldiers and sailors don’t have to be there,’ he said. ‘Israel does more to help against terrorism than any other place.’”

        wrong, wrong and wrong again. Who has been fighting Israel’s wars???

        ““Added Pelosi: ‘It is in our national security interest’ to support Israel. ‘It’s about security. It’s about values.’”

        Incredibly obtuse. What ‘values’ are you speaking of, Pelosi? You are brainwashed, but we are not.

      • lonely rico on February 25, 2019, 4:03 pm

        > Misterioso

        I always read with interest and appreciate your comments. Thanks.

        bad link –

        Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity) http://WWW.PAJUMONTREAL.OR


      • DaBakr on February 25, 2019, 4:25 pm


        support for Israel has not changed very much since 1967. There have been ups and downs, some more severe then others but there is nothing particularly drastic about this drop in so-called “youth”. I’m sure Schumer is primarily worried about New York democratic traditionally left wing Jewish youth anyway.

        While pro palestinian activism on some campuses may be strong and/ or rising there are many millions of US ‘youths’ both Jewish and mostly not jewish who do not want their precious college education (funded by loans or the folks) squandered on identity politics and radical left wing so-called progressive idealism unless, possibly, it’s about climate change and ecology which might transcend typical partisan politics among today’s youths. While Schumer is worrying in one corner the universities are worrying in another about funding.
        However, my advice as one much closer to death then to birth is: relax. It will most likely work out.

        Even if Meir Kahane (yes, I understand he was an extremist) spoke some of the same things you regular MW commenters do about how Israel can not remain strictly democratic and jewish with a fully enfranchised Arab population while maintaining Jewish sovereignty(admittedly, with different intent) there is absolutely no chance Israel would ever attempt to expel Arab populations (to anywhere other then Israel or possibly Gaza) either for money or for nationality or in exchange for more Jews. In some sense that misanthrope Seymour Hirsh and his Massada complex had it right. We are here until we are not. Quiet and peace met with quiet and peace. We know about injustice and don’t deny it exists. We have crazy right wingers and crazy deluded left wingers. But, while we may compromise on some territory we won’t compromise on sovereignty. We won’t be fooled by bds , one state, democracy, and other foolish games and at least we have respect for our enemies who’s goal it is to take away by political, demographic or other means. Nobody gives up sovereignty without a fight. I’ll cue in the cute jokey disdainful comment from mssr now:

      • oldgeezer on February 25, 2019, 7:05 pm

        “Quiet and peace met with quiet and peace.”

        That has never been true. At the very least the political and journalistic parts of Israeli society love war and killing. I would hope the average Israeli doesn’t but have to wonder given the support they give to the criminals running the country

      • oldgeezer on February 25, 2019, 8:26 pm

        “Quiet and peace met with quiet and peace.”

        Also it’s a very disingenuous bar to be set. Israel is actively denying millions of people their basic human rights.

        If Israelis want peace and quiet then they should practice a bit of justice and equality.

        Frankly and objectively Israelis don’t deserve peace and quiet. They do all they can to ensure it never happens.

      • andrew r on February 25, 2019, 10:26 pm

        “Even if Meir Kahane (yes, I understand he was an extremist)”

        I suspect Kahane’s party was banned because he publicly advocated expelling Arab citizens of Israel. At the time Israel’s govt. still consisted of ’48 vets. They didn’t need some newcomer loudmouth risking an examination of what they did at the time. But no, advocating expulsions isn’t extremist in Zionism – it’s the norm.

      • DaBakr on February 26, 2019, 2:58 am


        You don’t have to “suspect “. He was universally disdained in the Knesset and eventually banned as racist under the basic Israel law. He did advocate for population transfer but he didn’t advocate for murder. And, as I said, he also did not believe Israel could survive as both a jewish sovereign state and a true democracy at the sane time as granting full rights to Arab citizens. This is completly in line with what many here on MW comment about although, as I said before, with different intent. I’m not sure why Abbas can call for a jew free Palestinian nation and not be lumped in the same boat as kahane but I won’t belabour the point
        * He never garnered enough votes to win a seat until he figured out his support lie amongst the Arab Jews of Israel who had more experience living under Muslim Arab sovereignty and then being kicked out with all possessions stolen or confiscated.

      • eljay on February 26, 2019, 8:30 am

        || @aak: … [Kahane] also did not believe Israel could survive as both a jewish sovereign state and a true democracy at the sane time as granting full rights to Arab citizens. … ||

        Of course: Every supremacist (Zionist, Islamist, White or other) knows that when a choice exists between…
        – justice, equality and respect for human rights; and
        – a preferred brand of supremacism,
        …a supremacist’s gotta choose the latter.

      • Talkback on February 26, 2019, 10:36 am

        DaBakr: “… there is absolutely no chance Israel would ever attempt to expel Arab populations (to anywhere other then Israel or possibly Gaza) either for money or for nationality or in exchange for more Jews.”

        Nah, there is no precendent in Israel’s history for hat, right?

      • oldgeezer on February 26, 2019, 11:58 am


        ” I’m not sure why Abbas can call for a jew free Palestinian nation and not be lumped in the same boat as kahane but I won’t belabour the point”

        Well a good part of the reason for that is that Abbas has never said that.

        He has said Israelis which is totally understandable considering 70 years of dispossession, theft, industrial murder of a civilian population, etc, I don’t agree with him. The Palestinians should insist on 67 lines and permit the Israelis illegally living in Palestine to remain and be subject to Palestinian laws.

        In any event you were dishonest in substituting Jews for Israelis. They aren’t the same set.

  5. andrew r on February 24, 2019, 11:09 pm

    There’s plenty of evidence that the Zionists would’ve created a hierarchical state under any circumstances – they even banned Middle Eastern Jews from the first kibbutzim. If anything, that defunct UN resolution was weak sauce for only calling out Israel’s alliance with South Africa.

    And we don’t need a special phrase to replace “PEP” because there’s already one word to describe such people: charlatans.

  6. eljay on February 25, 2019, 7:55 am

    unabashedly progressive
      unquestionably zionist

    The message of this “Zioness movement” seems to be: Women are just as good as men at being hateful and immoral supremacist hypocrites.

    That’s a pretty dismal message to broadcast.

    I wonder how these Zionesses would feel about a placard that proudly proclaimed:
       unabashedly progressive
    unquestionably misogynistic

  7. CigarGod on February 25, 2019, 10:15 am

    “Zioness” is quite the catchy and attractive self-description.
    It will attract members because of the name alone.

  8. Jejasalo on February 25, 2019, 10:49 am

    It strikes me as reductive to write off all progressives as hypocrites because of their stance on Palestine. A majority of the American electorate, including the Jewish-American electorate, is so ignorant of the history or politics of this issue it could make you want to renounce society and live like a hermit in the desert.

    Try teaching a class full of eager undergraduates something about Israel and you’ll often find Jewish students so misinformed they make the know-next-to-nothing students look open-minded. The truth is that both groups are ignorant of the history and unaware of the political expediency of Israel in contemporary American life.

    Shall I write off my activist acquaintances – on the environment, on racial justice, on economic exploitation, on democratic socialism, for their ignorant and illogical views on Israel?

    The point is not to apologize for them but to take it upon ourselves to educate them. There are a million creative and realistic possibilities for how to change the way people think.

    Those who just don’t know, and those who are woefully indoctrinated are both approachable (though the latter is much more difficult).

    Key is not to come across as self-righteous and sanctimonious when confronting their views. I firmly believe that most Americans—and most people— would be horrified by Israel if they knew what it is doing. (One must acknowledge the same fact regarding – in too many ways -the United States).

    Teaching people the truth is in some cases relatively simple; in others it means fighting off decades of indoctrination. This sometimes feels like an insurmountable task, but is all the more reason to continue (and in some cases begin) to attack these issues in a sustained and urgent manner.

    • DaBakr on February 26, 2019, 3:03 am

      People aren’t as horrified by Israel as you might assume, especially once they come here to see what’s what.

      • amigo on February 26, 2019, 9:33 am

        “People aren’t as horrified by Israel as you might assume, especially once they come here to see what’s what.” duh baker

        Should read !!

        ” People are horrified by Israel , especially once they come here and see what,s what.” The healed duh baker.

      • bcg on February 26, 2019, 10:21 am

        @DeBakr: “People aren’t as horrified by Israel as you might assume, especially once they come here to see what’s what.”

        Actually, I’ve met a number of people who have been to Israel – particularly Hebron and the West Bank – and the only honest way to describe them is horrified. I’ve talked to Israelis like Jeff Halper who live in Israel and see what’s going on, and I can assure you they are horrified. But if you’re sipping coffee in Tel Aviv I’m sure things look rosy.

      • DaBakr on February 26, 2019, 12:58 pm


        I assumed you have your group of sympathizers as well as read about these folks that get a lot of publicity from the ‘zionist controlled press’

        Unfortunate that so much left to be horrified with. In the US, not so much?

        And that trump…. Negotiating with that murderous punk that inherited his nation and millions of its people, horrifying

  9. just on February 28, 2019, 7:14 am

    The ‘Zionesses’ have nothing, zero, zilch in comparison with this very real humanitarian and valiant Palestinian woman, mother, and wife:

    “Israel Releases Palestinian Lawmaker Held for Nearly Two Years Without Charges

    Khalida Jarrar was held her activity with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and jailed without charges or trial

    Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar was released Thursday after being held by Israel for 20 months in administrative detention. Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was arrested for her activity in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and jailed without charges.

    Jarrar is a well-known figure on the Palestinian political scene and was active for many years as an advocate on behalf of prisoners’ rights and with human rights organizations. Israel has barred her from leaving the West Bank since 1998.

    Mahmoud Hassan, Jarrar’s lawyer said that he and Jarrar’s family had been told in advanced that the administrative detention, issued by the OC Central Command, will not be renewed unless significant new information is received. However, she was released hours earlier than expected. Her family believes this was an attempt to prevent a festive reception.

    After her release, Jarrar said she is leaving detention with mixed feelings since she has to leave behind her many friends who are still locked up. She added that she would continue to act for the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. …”

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