I'm a Zionist — and you should be, too. That's right: every one of you, whether you're a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, or Jew; whether or not you support or despise the actions and ideology behind Israel's governing Likud Party at home or in the occupied West Bank.
The reason is simple: Zionism was devised as an ideology in defense of the ingathering of the Jewish people to their historic homeland in the Middle East for the purpose of founding a national state. That goal was achieved 70 years ago.
Modern Israel exists. It is a nation — like the United States and France and Poland and Russia and Egypt and India and Vietnam and Indonesia and Nigeria and Mexico and Brazil and the nearly 200 other countries in the world. Israel does things that make lots of people angry (very much including me). We should absolutely debate the virtues and (enormous) vices of Israel's settlement policy, or the way it responds to acts of protest in Gaza, or anything else. Criticize and even denounce those policies and actions all you like.
But none of it has anything to do with Zionism, which at this late date has no meaning beyond an affirmation that Israel's bare existence is justified and legitimate — as justified and legitimate as the bare existence of Canada or Kenya. If there were an ideology behind the founding of these or any other nation on the planet, we should affirm those, too, as a given. Because to deny the justification and legitimacy of any nation's existence automatically and with good reason places it in a position of threat, confronting an existential challenge.
Nations do not wink out of existence. They do not pack and up dissolve themselves, dispersing their populations throughout the other nations of the world. Once a nation is founded — not just as an idea but as a concrete entity taking up physical space and defining and defending its borders — it becomes a community of people that acts out of self-interest and displays a will to self-preservation.
The only way for an actually existing nation to cease to exist is for it to be invaded, conquered, forced to surrender, annexed, or suffer some combination of these or other military actions against it. The only way for an actually existing nation to cease to exist, in other words, is for it to be defeated in war.
To reject Zionism is, in effect, to give a green light to such a war against Israel, by anyone at any time. It is to eliminate the need for a justification for war beyond the mere existence and presence of Israel on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A possible attacker — a freelance terrorist, an operative of an organized terror group, a nation, or an alliance of likeminded nations — need not construct a rationale beyond giving effect to the fact of Israel's illegitimacy: its founding was never justified in the first place, it shouldn't exist now, and any attack on it that might take place will reflect this absence of legitimacy.
Imagine any other nation in the world — large or small, well-armed or weak, young or old — facing a similar existential challenge, surrounded by countries and groups that deny it has any right to exist, to be there, making a claim on the territory it holds. Imagine if the Catalonia region of Spain didn't simply wish to secede from the country, which is destabilizing enough, but that it maintained that Spain itself has no legitimacy at all as an independent nation. Imagine if Catalonian children were raised to believe, not merely that Spain has done bad things and should do better, but that Spain should never have been brought into being in the first place, that its mere existence is an offense against the moral order of things and the will of God.
How could peace be possible where such ideas were treated as reasonable and acceptable? It would not be.
That's where we are — where, in fact, we've been for an awfully long time —with regard to Israel. This doesn't mean that the Palestinians don't have legitimate grievances against the Jewish state. It doesn't mean they or anyone else should overlook the injustices committed in the act of Israel's founding. It doesn't mean Israel's morally heinous and strategically asinine settlement policy deserves anything less than strong and stern rebuke from everyone with a conscience and the capacity to think clearly about the long-term good of the country.
On it goes — the list of criticisms to which any country that acted as Israel has would be subject. By all means, bring them on.
But none of it comes close to negating Israel's right to exist or invalidating its legitimacy as a nation — which is precisely what anti-Zionists are doing, whether or not they intend to.
A resolution of the most intractable conflict in the world won't be guaranteed by Israel's critics making their peace with Zionism. But what is certain is that as long as those critics fail to do so, reaching a resolution will be impossible.
Accepting the mere existence of one's neighbors might not be sufficient for achieving peace. But it is the absolutely necessary first step.