In mid-June, Israel's most trusted former collaborator, Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hamas co-founder Hassan Yousef, arrived at Ben-Gurion airport. Invited by Druze lawmaker Ayoob Kara (Likud ), Yousef, who now lives in the United States, has been speaking to various groups and committees.
He receives praise wherever he goes - thanked by Israel for preventing terror attacks during his decade of work as a double agent for the Shin Bet and lauded by Jews and Christians alike. Indeed, Yousef's resume seems almost too good to be true: an ex-Hamas member who hates "the God of the Quran" and adores Israel.
Although his love for Israel has grown since he moved to the United States in 2007, his ability to think critically about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has diminished. While writing "Son of Hamas," his 2010 memoir, Yousef was acutely sensitive to the needs of the Palestinian people. For example, in a 2008 interview with Haaretz, Yousef blamed the Palestinian leadership for being "deceitful." Yet he also depicted his Islamist father as a moderate pragmatist who was willing to talk to Israel.
In a 2010 interview with Israel TV Channel 2, Yousef said he opposed Israel's killing of children in Gaza, and the assassination of Palestinian political and military figures. Critically, he maintained that although he had collaborated with Israel, he was "not pro-Israeli."
In the same year, in an Arabic interview with Al-Hayat, Yousef claimed that the purpose of his book was to draw attention to the suffering of Palestinians and to generate support for their just cause. "I stand with the weak on all sides," he said. "In the West, they have no clue what Palestinian suffering is about, and the terrorist attacks give a wrong picture about the just Palestinian cause." He conscientiously and continuously drew attention to the suffering of Palestinians, both at the hands of Israelis and of Hamas and Fatah leaders.
Yet, over the last two years, Yousef's discourse has shifted. In a talk sponsored by Chabad in Montreal last year, he suggested that Palestinians would destroy their own future by establishing a state.
"There is no room for another state in that small country [of Israel]," he explained. "The Jewish nation has the historic right to that land [in] the West Bank." Similarly, he argued that the settlements were not settlements per se, but a "reality" that included "tens of thousands of people." His message was clear: Establishment of a Palestinian state would be a futile, counter-productive endeavor. "The Israeli historic right to this land," he insisted, "is obvious and clear to any person who can read."
Yousef's new approach to the Palestinian issue - namely, capitulation - marks a clear departure from his earlier stance. Furthermore, rather than defining the conflict as an Israeli-Palestinian struggle over land, he views the problem as rooted in a regional ideological war between democracy and totalitarianism. In this war, Israel's mission is to inaugurate an era of freedom in the Middle East. "I love Israel," proclaims Yousef, "because I love democracy."
Why does the specific historic and political context of the conflict no longer seem to matter for Yousef? Perhaps, as he claims, living in America has exposed him to the American Jewish community, which in turn has shaped his views. Yet during this same period, he also immersed himself in an evangelical environment. He joined the Barabbas Road Church, named America's "Church of the Week" by Pat Robertson's "700 Club," which is more "pro-Israel" than most American Jews.
Yousef's shift in politics appears to correspond with his most recent theological shift. About Christianity and Jesus, Yousef expresses much love and compassion. He praises Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," a movie criticized by Jewish and Catholic scholars for unambiguously blaming the Jews for Jesus's death. About Islam, Yousef uses fear-mongering and scare tactics ("The real nature of Islam is built on terrorism" ). He is currently involved in the production of a film about the life of Muhammad. About Judaism, he remains silent.
Although Yousef deserves recognition by Israel for his actions, we should resist the urge to fetishize ex-Muslims' "coming out" stories as accurate representations of Islam's tenets. Crucially, if Yousef has adopted a particular evangelical worldview, his staunch pro-Israel attitude should not be conflated with what is best for Israel from the Israeli perspective. The two are not equivalent.
Unless Israel intends to pursue a one-state solution, Yousef's rejection of Palestinian nationalism does not serve Israel's interests. Demanding that a people forfeit their identity and just demands for a state alongside Israel can only work against peace in the region.
Shayna Zamkanei is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Chicago and has worked for think tanks in North America and the Middle East.
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