PEPs: Progressives Except Palestine

I was once protesting among thousands of Sydneysiders, from all backgrounds, in support of refugees.

When a progressive Zionist youth group showed up waving Hebrew signs a group of activists became enraged. “They’re making fun of us!” one of the activists shouted.
“Chase them out!” another answered.
I did my best to calm them down. “Many young Zionists are a certain type – PEPs: ‘Progressives Except Palestine.’ Young Aussie Zionists are mostly like others our age. I have no doubt these guys support refugees coming here.”
“Do they support Palestinian refugees?” One of them jeered.
“They support refugees here,” I repeated. “That’s what matters. This rally is in Australia not Israel, and they are helping us here and now.”
“You’re either for refugees everywhere,” an activist barked back, “or, like the far-right, you are only for refugees when it suits. When shit hits the fan, Zionists never support Palestinian refugees and work with the far-right whenever it suits!”

The others murmured and nodded. It’s a good point. The current Israeli government is the furthest right and most militant in history, but PEPs still defend its endless wars, and support keeping Palestinian refugees out.

It is no surprise that Bibi Netanyahu failed to condemn the Nazi protestors at Charlottesville, and that he is comfortable with Donald Trump’s criticisms of violence on ‘both sides.’ This is, no doubt, a carefully chosen silence. And although PEPs loudly oppose Trump, they keep their silence on Bibi’s silence.

It is impossible to know what Bibi Netanyahu really believes about the Nazis at Charlottesville. Although we do know that Yair Netanyahu –Bibi’s son whom he has groomed for power – wrote that the anti-racist protestors are more worthy of condemnation than the Nazis because (1) the anti-racist protesters “hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much” as Nazis. (2) However, unlike Nazis, these anti-racist groups are “getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”

When Israeli leaders label every critic an ‘antisemite’, they also publicly cuddle up to Nazi sympathizers, and PEPs continue to keep their criticisms of the Israeli government to themselves. The PEPs do not want to add fuel to the Palestinian movement, which they feel is already granted unfair airtime because of rampant antisemitism.

Many Jews don’t feel like the progressives on their side, and if they are Zionists – like most Jews are – they’re right: it isn’t. Israel is an apartheid state, so the progressives argue, and so Zionists are never welcome among them.

To PEPs this is outrageous; they see Israel as a beacon of progressive values and support it exactly because of that. Progressive activists who are serious about their beliefs must have an open discussion of Israel with PEPs.

If an activist cannot discuss their ideas with those closest to them, how could they ever talk to the Average Joe on the street? Isn’t activism precisely about reaching everyone, and about rushing to contest in the battle of ideas?

Unfortunately news of Israeli apartheid is kept inside progressive circles. It doesn’t reach PEPs because they are instead pushed out to where they are out of place; in conservative groups with conservative ideology and conservative takes on Israeli news.

And so PEPs are unknowing of the apartheid, they are kept within the grasp of Israeli propaganda, and so they double-down on their Zionism. Therefore their sin is ignorance, not racism, and we are all ignorant about many things. The difference is that racism is intolerable but ignorance is forgivable. And when this ignorance is so easily erased through the discussions that progressives have denied them, progressives share a responsibility.
These discussions are not easy. “I cannot be friends with someone who supports the Zionist entity,” Mahmoud, a Lebanese friend of mine, says. “They support the 2006 war that killed my cousin.”

I get that it’s tough for him. I get shit-scared for my Israel family whenever the country readies for war. I often wonder how it must be for innocent Gazan families when Israeli fighter jets fly overhead. If I was that worried I probably wouldn’t want to talk to a Zionist either.

But I cannot respect or sympathize with those who perform the most shallow of value signaling, those who write statuses for the war zone of the Facebook news feed: “If you support XYZ, please delete me from your friends list.”

Here in Australia, a hard chat must be our first political resort, exclusion comes later, and civil resistance last. We are privileged that the Indian and Pacific oceans separate us from all war zones. Rather than import the Middle-Eastern conflict, and rather than chasing PEPs out of our protests, we should exercise this privilege and keep the peace our country has: this is the most effective way to influence others.

Our options are not as exhausted as Palestinian’s. Australians who race toward extreme measures will achieve nothing. There is no need to quickly trade hard chats for easy echo chambers.

Yaakov Aharon, August 31

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