Still Not a Zionist

Many have called Hussein Ibish a Zionist pejoratively, but to him, Zionism is something best left to those with Jewish identity. His support of a two-state solution does not, he writes, make him a Zionist.

Jack Juez / AFP / Getty Images

Since the emergence of the one-state movement, I’ve been routinely described by the pro-Palestinian far right and ultra-left as a “Zionist,” and even a “traitor” and “collaborator,” because I remain committed to ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Of course, most of these people were, in the past, themselves supporters of a two state solution, so by their logic they were also once “traitors” and “collaborators.”

Essentially, those Arabs who still support peace with Israel based on ending the occupation are being stigmatized for not changing our minds in the same way and at the same time as those who have abandoned all hope for, or any interest in, a two-state solution and have adopted, instead, a one-state agenda. There is more than a hint of a totalitarian mentality at work here, in which disagreement is a self-evident symptom of intentional wickedness.

The fact that support for a two state solution also represents, according to almost every existing poll, the Palestinian majority position, as well as that of the Palestine Liberation Organization (universally recognized as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”) doesn’t matter. In certain segments of pro-Palestinian discourse, any willingness to recognize the existence or legitimacy of Israel now immediately qualifies one simply as “a Zionist.”

Much of the pro-Israel right, of course, considers me an “anti-Semite,” and even a “jihadist,” to complete a perfect symmetry of ideological misrecognition.

To call me a “Zionist” because of commitment to peace is to strip language of all meaning. By this logic, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were “Maoists” because they made peace with Communist China. And any Israeli who is committed to Palestinian statehood alongside Israel is also, therefore, a “Palestinian nationalist.”

For some, the term “Zionist” is simply a useful pejorative to attack the reputation of Arabs who seek peace, or who deviate from the increasingly intolerant one-state dogma. I’ve been amazed at the number of one-state advocates who adamantly refuse to agree to disagree and I’ve lost a number of once very close personal friendships simply because I do not follow their new party line.

I don’t think Norman Finkelstein was exaggerating at all when he recently described this movement as “a cult” led by self-appointed “gurus.” Like all cults it recasts the world in simple binary terms: the good people who agree and the bad people who do not.

So, of course I’m not a “Zionist.” Whether or not to define oneself as a Zionist is really an issue for those who identify themselves as Jewish. However, as many Jews of varying backgrounds and perspectives have demonstrated, one can be staunchly pro-Israel, and in that sense “Zionist,” without supporting occupation, settlements or racism against Palestinians.

Zionism remains the dominant Jewish national narrative, and this narrative can and should be understood, by others, especially in the interests of peace. It is also necessary that Jewish Israelis and their allies understand the legitimacy of the Palestinian national narrative, even if they cannot embrace it.

All present-day national narratives and identities are ultimately based on fantasies about the past, present and future. From a historical, intellectual and philosophical perspective they are as firm and fixed as children’s sandcastles. But they serve the immediate needs, aspirations and yearnings of their constituencies and, as political realities, they must be respected, despite their well-concealed hollowness.

The real problems that must be dealt with are not the narratives informing Zionism or Palestinian nationalism, but rhetoric, policies and practices on all sides that are prolonging the conflict, especially Israel’s immoral, indefensible and unsustainable occupation. It is this occupation, more than anything else that sentences all of us to a grim and uncertain future if it is not resolved.

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The only practicable, viable means to end the conflict is through ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel, with both states serving the interests of all of their citizens equally. So, without any illusions about the difficulties for achieving this, especially in the near term, I strongly support peace between Israel and a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967. And that certainly doesn’t make me a “Zionist” in any meaningful way.

However hard it may now seem to achieve, ending the occupation by creating a Palestinian state still offers the only workable conflict-ending solution. Recognizing and supporting that is not Zionism, Palestinian nationalism, or American imperialism. It’s not even buying into the deep logic of nationalism as a political or philosophical category. It’s a simple recognition of unavoidable political reality. It should be embraced by anyone who cares more about peace, preserving human life, and building a better future than about ideologies, narratives and slogans.

The original title of this column was changed to better reflect the intent of the author.