Image: Capture from the documentary Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine.

As a Palestinian, much of what Martin Luther King wrote resonates with me, not least the following words:

Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

Israel’s application of apartheid principles in its culture, Jewish institutions and legal system is being exposed today. In order to conceal its apartheid nature and to sell what, in the media, has come to be described as Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”, Israel has always needed a massive PR operation.

Against enormous odds, given the true nature of the zionist enterprise in Palestine as described in this ESCWA document, Israel’s PR campaign, also known by the Hebrew word “hasbara”, succeeded brilliantly. In the process, it employed twists and turns that beggar belief, which nevertheless have been accepted as commonplace truths by the target audience of the campaign. The Western audience was/is receptive to two astonishing underpinning tenets of the hasbara campaign: One is that the Palestinian Arab, a terrorist by nature (vengeful, lusting after blood, yearning for martyrdom, etc.) possesses no human rights [see From True Lies to Adam Sandler movies, Americans are being taught to hate and distrust Palestinians.], and the other is that the Jew, wherever he or she might reside in the world, has rights to a piece of geography called Palestine for centuries by virtue of an ineluctable Jewishness and Jewish destiny. [See The Hasbara cover for Israel’s crimes.]

I mention the above in order to explain how an expression such as “Progressive Except for Palestine” (PEP) has come into being. It has to do with the success of Israel’s hasbara campaign, a success that has created cognitive dissonance in the minds of many, especially among American liberal and progressive Jews who, for various reasons, have bought into Israel’s hasbara and zionist philosophy, but who are also on the forefront of social justice issues.

Israel’s hasbara, its embrace by Western media, and especially its weaponization of anti-Semitism, managed to make otherwise reasonable people hold on to contradictory assumptions and to accept historical inaccuracies that determine the vocabulary of the conflict, implausible “narratives” and claims such as the following:

“claim that, if Palestinians had not left the areas that became Israel in 1948, they would now be living peaceably, some inside and some alongside a Jewish-majority state, and then also claim that, if they returned now, Israel would lose its Jewish majority and its essential identity as a Jewish state.*”

* Assuming, according to the scenario put forth by our Israeli-American friend, that Palestinians had accepted the UN-mandated establishment of a Jewish state in 1948, that no war had ensued, and that no Palestinians had left Palestine, Israel would today encompass only the 55 percent of Palestine allocated to it by the UN partition resolution, not the 78 percent it possessed after successfully prosecuting the 1948 war. It would have no sovereignty over Jerusalem, which was designated by the UN as a separate international entity not under the sovereignty of any nation. Its 5.4 million Jews (assuming the same magnitude of Jewish immigration and natural increase) would be sharing the state with approximately five million Palestinians (assuming the same nine-fold rate of growth among the 560,000 Palestinians who inhabited the area designated for the Jewish state as has occurred in the Palestinian population that actually remained in Israel in 1948). Needless to say, this small, severely overcrowded, binational state would not be the comfortable little Jewish democracy that our friend seems to have envisioned.

The PEP phenomenon we see today has its roots in the 1960s-70s, when a wedge was driven between Zionists on the left and Black Panthers support for the Palestinian people. This wedge is the same one in the news today as described by the “indivisibility of justice” paradigm for which Angela Davis is being punished [Watch Angela Davis Punished for Supporting Palestine?].

The Black Panthers is a group that fought for the civil rights of the oppressed black minority in the United States in the 1960s-70s. They used a different approach to the struggle than Martin Luther King, because their experience of racism was different from that of the mostly middle-class followers of King. They were isolated in black ghettos where they lived in poverty subjected to gratuitous police brutality and had little interaction with whites.

The following quotation from an article titled Black Panthers Charge ‘jewish-zionist-racist’ Left Responsible for Party’s Decline, published on May 4, 1970, gives a concise account of the zionist weaponization of anti-Semitism against the Black Panthers in order to take justice for Palestinians and solidarity with their struggle out of the equation of the Civil Rights Movement, thus making Jews on the left — “Progressive Except for Palestine” (PEP).

The Black Panthers have discarded their barely concealed anti-Semitism, insisting in the past they were not against Jews but only against Zionism, and have now declared that Jewishness, Zionism and racism are identical. Connie Matthews, international coordinator of the Black Panther Party, now blames dwindling support for the organization since it “took its stand on the (support of) the Palestinian people’s struggle” on the “fact” that the “white left in the U.S.A. is comprised of a large percentage of the Jewish population.” Miss Matthews observes that since the BPP’s stand the white left “started floundering and became undecided. This leaves us with no alternative than to believe that a large portion of these people are Zionists and are therefore racists.”

Today, forty-eight years after the above, the hasbara stranglehold I describe is finally loosening in America. We have, not only Angela Davis’s ringing words about the “indivisibility of justice” circulating all over social media, we have the words of a New York Times columnist, Michelle Alexander, yes, printed in the New York Times, saying the following:

Many of King’s strongest allies urged him to remain silent about the war or at least to soft-pedal any criticism. They knew that if he told the whole truth about the unjust and disastrous war he would be falsely labeled a Communist, suffer retaliation and severe backlash, alienate supporters and threaten the fragile progress of the civil rights movement … King rejected all the well-meaning advice and said, “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.”

… It was a lonely, moral stance. And it cost him. But it set an example of what is required of us if we are to honor our deepest values in times of crisis, even when silence would better serve our personal interests or the communities and causes we hold most dear. It’s what I think about when I go over the excuses and rationalizations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.

… Many civil rights activists and organizations have remained silent as well, not because they lack concern or sympathy for the Palestinian people, but because they fear loss of funding from foundations, and false charges of anti-Semitism. They worry, as I once did, that their important social justice work will be compromised or discredited by smear campaigns.

… I cannot say for certain that King would applaud Birmingham for its zealous defense of Angela Davis’s solidarity with Palestinian people. But I do. In this new year, I aim to speak with greater courage and conviction about injustices beyond our borders, particularly those that are funded by our government, and stand in solidarity with struggles for democracy and freedom. My conscience leaves me no other choice.

Perhaps in 2019, seventy plus years after our Nakba, we will finally witness the demise of PEP. We have a dream too.
The above was first published 20 Jan 2019 in Quora as an answer to the question: How did the expression “Progressive Except for Palestine” (PEP) originate and what does it mean?

Rima Najjar, an activist for justice and equality in Palestine




News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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Rima Najjar

Rima Najjar

Palestinian and righteously angry

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