Mira Sucharov
Haaretz (Opinion)
August 24, 2011 - 12:00am

One of the first times I taught my Israeli-Palestinian relations course, a puzzled student approached me at the end of the first class. “I always thought Zionist was a derogatory word,” he whispered.

I smiled sympathetically and explained that Zionism simply means the desire for Jews to have a state of their own, as a response to centuries of exile and anti-Semitism persecution. It was a word we’d be using frequently, I added.

On that day I had to stifle a giggle, but lately it’s become clear to me that while the student may have been unschooled in Middle East history, I was the one blind (perhaps willfully so) to changing perceptions of the day. And that shift is happening more swiftly and angrily than ever.

Since that class of mine, Tony Judt wrote his infamous essay in The New York Review of Books calling Israel, in its guise as a Jewish state, an “anachronism,” and calling for a bi-national state.

The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement -- which Gal Beckerman in a recent Forward piece, and Lisa Taraki and Mark LeVine in a recent Al Jazeera essay -- reveal is not at all about achieving a two-state solution -- proceeds apace.

And Twitter is aflutter with ugly anti-Semitic references to Zionists and Israelis. Soon after the tent protests began, a hashtag appeared calling the protests “revolution of the sons of dogs.” I called them out on my twitter feed, and was immediately flooded with a small but far-flung flurry of pathetic justifications.

A Google search for my name now reveals a website that tracks “Zionist” professors. “Zionist Canadian Jewish political scientist who lives in Ottawa,” my profile reads. Run by the University College Cork Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the website states that its aim is “to provide as much information as possible on the background of the people whose opinions are in the database, so that readers can make up their own minds on the credibility that they wish to attach to these opinions” (emphasis mine).

But today I declare to the Twitterati and the literati - and everyone else - that everyone should be a Zionist. But that’s not all. Everyone should also be a Palestinian nationalist.

While obviously the establishment of the State of Israel went hand in hand with the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, as a scholar and as a global citizen, I try to understand Zionism as being fundamentally about the desire of one particular people (the Jewish nation -- am ha’yehudi) to determine its own fate, taking its place in the family of nation-states.

And while I happen to be Jewish, and accordingly have been raised with a deep emotional connection to Israel, I both intellectually and empathically understand the fundamental desire of the Palestinian people to rule themselves.

So while the Palestinian Solidarity profiling website (with its McCarthyist undertones -- what else do academics possess but the currency of intellectual “credibility?”) irks me for what it says, it also irks me for what it leaves out.

Yes, I support the right of Jews to a sovereign country, but so too do I support the right of Palestinians to live their lives in their own state, unencumbered by Israeli occupation. If I supported neither national aim, I would be jettisoning empathy for ideological side-taking.

For this reason I have much sympathy for the internal Israeli opposition to the dangerous “boycott law”, and feel great frustration over Israel’s continued West Bank settlement project and the 44-year old occupation. That is (one form of) Zionism. But it is also a direct thwarting of the natural outcome of Palestinian nationalism.

At the same time, I oppose the BDS campaign. With its demand that all Palestinian refugees return to Israel, it is (one form of) Palestinian nationalism. But, in a mirror-image of settlement expansion, it directly stands in the way of Jewish sovereignty.

The only remotely tenable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- a solution that honors the respective collective needs of each side -- is the two-state solution. Neither BDS nor settlement expansion suggest this outcome.

Sadly, with the escalating violence in the south, Israelis and Palestinians are becoming even more distrustful of one another’s intentions. Israelis worry about being obliterated by rockets from Gaza, just as Palestinians worry about being shredded by IDF airstrikes.

Maybe the disturbingly damaged relationship between these two neighboring peoples can be repaired if everyone puts aside their view of absolute justice for one side and instead thinks about how to create an admittedly imperfect justice for all. Palestinian refugees may have to be content with being resettled in a nascent Palestinian state. And Israelis may have to be content with scaling back the dream of Greater Israel and of also better honoring its Arab Israeli minority as first-class citizens.

Maybe what is becoming a painful mutual stalemate could be softened if everyone -- Israelis, Palestinians, and their respective supporters -- were to declare: “I am a Zionist. And I am a Palestinian nationalist.” From there, standing shoulder to shoulder, we might better see how both people’s needs can be met in this tiny sliver of land.


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