The Progressive Except on Palestine phenomenon

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While living and working in Israel and Palestine, filmmaker Kate Johnston has discovered an unusual phenomenon — Israelis who identify one-way socioeconomically, while politically the other.

LAST YEAR, whilst undertaking a three-month research trip in Israel, I became aware of a not so uncommon phenomenon present in the Israeli political consciousness. I discovered that some Israelis identified socioeconomically one-way and politically the opposite.

I first encountered this type of political identification during an in-depth interview I conducted with a 35-year-old Israeli, David, from Ramat Gan. After relating his desire to see a socialist society constructed within Israel, David surprised me when he boldly declared that he, in fact, identified with the right.

Perplexed, I asked David how this seemingly contradictory combination was even possible.

In a matter-of-fact way, he said:

“We make a complete separation between the Jewish-Arab conflict and the social terms.

“You will only find this in Israel.”

I probed him further, in an attempt to locate the source of these conflicting ideas.

He explained:

“You need to first understand Zionist history.

David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first Prime Minister] said we cannot be a totally socialist country if we are looking out for Jewish interests. There is a conflict.

"So we have to first be Zionist, then Socialist.”

So it seems Zionism was the source of the conflict after all.

My initial confusion at what seemed to me like a kind of ‘political schizophrenia’ stemmed from my experience with progressive left movements in Australia and also within Israel itself.

In these movements, the struggle for justice in Palestine was practically synonymous with progressive-left ideology. Despite almost universal left-wing convention, the idea of being progressive or socialist in Israel didn’t always encompass the plight of the Palestinians.

I later encountered another way of looking at the same phenomenon from another perspective: Progressive Except on Palestine (PEP).

PEP is typically attributed to those who share broad leftist values – such as equality, justice and fairness across a host of common issues – yet, for one reason or another, these values are unable to find expression in terms of justice for the Palestinians.

The whole thing seemed irrational to me, no matter how I looked at it.

You see, I never really felt any connection amongst leftists, nor amongst those who identified with the right. I liked to believe that my views somehow transcended both.

The way I see it, any form of identification that falls below identifying with the whole – in this case both Palestinians and Israelis – is sure to end in violence.

One must affirm their allegiance to the whole of humanity and work backwards from there.

Sure, we could identify with values from either end of the political spectrum, but in the end they were just opposing models of perception. Ways of identifying that somehow kept us divided.

Surely there was something else that united us?

As Einstein once mused:

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”

Well here is my attempt to cut through the haze that often obscures this decades old conflict.

There is one piece of land with two peoples living upon it — Israelis and Palestinians.

There is no left. There is no right. There is no enemy. There are only people who wish nothing more than to live a decent life. Through occupation and education, the Israeli government has denied the Palestinians that right.

But the simple truth of the matter is that, as an indigenous people, with strong and evident ties to the land, Palestinians have every right to be there.

It’s time we all accept, acknowledge and start acting upon the Palestinians’ equal right to the land. This is their home too.

Until there is justice for the Palestinians, there will be no peace in the Middle East.

It’s time that we start accepting that justice is in everyone’s interest.

Kate Johnston is a Melbourne journalist currently shooting her first documentary feature film in Israel-Palestine. Her website is You can follow Kate on Twitter @discerningkate.

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