Cover of The Optimist by Tamir Sorek
The Optimist
A Social Biography of Tawfiq Zayyad
Tamir Sorek

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July 2020
256 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804797474
Paper ISBN: 9781503612730

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Tawfiq Zayyad (1929-1994) was a renowned Palestinian poet and a committed communist activist. For four decades, he was a dominant figure in political life in Israel, as a local council member, mayor of Nazareth, and member of the Israeli parliament. Zayyad personified the collective struggle of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, challenging the military government following the creation of the state of Israel, leading the 1976 nationwide strike against land confiscation, and tirelessly protesting Israeli military occupation after 1967. With this book, Tamir Sorek offers the first biography of this charismatic figure.

Zayyad's life was one of balance and contradiction—between his revolutionary writings as Palestinian patriotic poet and his pragmatic political work in the Israeli public sphere. He was uncompromising in his protest of injustices against the Palestinian people, but always committed to a universalist vision of Arab-Jewish brotherhood. It was this combination of traits that made Zayyad an exceptional leader—and makes his biography larger than the man himself to offer a compelling story about Palestinians and the state of Israel.

About the author

Tamir Sorek is Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida. He is the author of Palestinian Commemoration in Israel: Calendar, Monuments, and Martyrs (Stanford, 2015) and Arab Soccer in a Jewish State: The Integrative Enclave (2007).

"With nuance, precision, and admiration, Tamir Sorek tells the story of Tawfiq Zayyad's complicated and heroic life, and with it, the story of an ongoing catastrophe and the Palestinian people's unceasing battle for survival and dignity. The Optimist pays homage to resistance, radical politics, and the struggle for social mobility, all of which typified Zayyad's long career. A bold and important achievement."

—Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago, author of Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel