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Israel: Stuck in the collapsing certainties of tyranny and corruption?

April 2011, 5th
By Haim Bresheeth

An important plank of the Israeli anti-Arab propaganda was the pretence that Israel, despite insisting on calling itself a Jewish State, and speaking of ‘Jewish democracy’, was somehow also the only secular democracy in the Middle East, while all other regimes were either fundamentalist Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, or confessional states, such as Lebanon. The pronounced illiberal nature of some of the Arab regimes, and their attitudes towards other religions and cultures, especially in the case of the Wahabis, was a persuasive argument in supporting Israel’s westernised value-system. This was so despite the growing and swift Judaisation of the state, and its intensely unequal and racist policies towards the non-Jews under its control. It was a question of comparability – relative to the worst Arab states, Israel looked like an identifiable western democracy, especially to the uncritical eye of the western news media machine, with its orientalist, pro-Israeli bias.

It is of course too early to evaluate either the success, exact nature, or the longevity of the Arab Spring of 2011. The shockwaves of this political earthquake are still spreading as these lines are written, and will continue for some time, as the long-term patterns of change clarify and establish themselves. Some patterns are already evident, however, and could be discussed as surprisingly prevalent, and crucially important for any future developments.

The first is the fact that in all the protest movements in the Arab world, and also extending to Iran’s Green Revolution of 2009, the Islamic parties and sentiments were all but missing from the process, and played either no roll, or a small and insignificant one in the movement for change. This was not only in contrast to Israeli predictions, but also of those of the western intelligence community, strongly influenced by Israeli analysis and outlook. Their warnings of the Moslem Brotherhood being behind the Egyptian uprising were so clearly unsupported by events, that the Brotherhood’s leadership has come under pressure from its members to play a larger role in the developments…

A related misapprehension, also strongly supported by Israeli propaganda, was the claim that the protest was mainly fuelled by anti-Israeli (and according to some deluded commentators, even anti-Semitic) sentiments, and would by its nature bring about anti-Israeli governments into being, and revive the Arab-Israeli wars. While it is clear that the Egyptian revolt was also directed at Mubarak’s servile attitude towards Israel, and his role in enforcing the illegal Gaza blockade, acting as an agent of Israeli policy, the revolt was surely driven by the main complaints – the corrupt, undemocratic and oppressive nature of his regime, which was also what made his reactionary policies towards Palestine possible. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict as such did not play an important role in the Arab wave of protests. It is indeed probable that a democratically-elected Egyptian government is unlikely to continue the Mubarak policies towards Israel, but there was no sign of anti-Israel sentiment as the main driver of the protest. This was crucially an Egyptian protest, concentrating on Egyptian issues – freedom, justice, civil liberties, food and work, and an end to police brutality and the illegalities of the regime and the Mukhabarat.

The reaction of Israelis from across the political spectrum to the Arab Spring was strikingly unified and telling – not a single voice from the political arena welcomed the incredible wave of democratic energy and action across the Arab world, and the speakers and writers have all voiced deep consternation and concern about the loss of their favoured interlocutors – the various tyrants they have been dealing with, and especially that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

In a Guardian piece published at the height of the Libyan conflict, the Israeli editor-at-large of the liberal Haaretz daily, Aluf Benn, has clearly described the unified reaction:” Even in its third month, the Arab revolution fails to resonate positively in Israel. The Israeli news media devote a lot of space to dramatic events in the region, but our self-centered political discourse remains the same. It cannot see beyond the recent escalation across the Gaza border, or the approaching possibility of a Palestinian declaration of statehood in September. Israel’s leaders are missing the old order in the Arab world, sensing only trouble in the unfolding and perhaps inevitable change”1. As Israel has modeled itself as the servant of western interests in the region, it has set itself up as an opponent of the genuine interest of the Arab world and its citizens, by definition, and it finds it difficult if not impossible to shake this role off, to see the new region as an opportunity rather than a further threat. Benn points this out: No serious political figure in Israel has reached out to the revolutionaries, celebrating their achievement or suggesting we need to know them better since they might share values and ambitions with secular, liberal Israelis2. Democratic governments in the Arab world will, by definition, less reliable from the Israeli-Zionist point of view – they may, one hopes, be less corrupt and less pliable to pressure from Israel and its western allies, less willing to serve its interests, and less willing to subdue the Palestinians on Israel’s behalf, as was done so dependently by Mubarak for long decades.

So, one result of the Arab Spring, a seemingly unintended consequence of this complex process of socio-political change, is the fact that unless Israel changes its priorities and behaviour radically, it will find its current modus operandi impossible to continue with, even with the level of support it currently enjoys from the USA, EU, and western allies elsewhere. It is no longer a question of presentation – Israel would indeed be unable use the old slogan of the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, (which was a lie even in the past) but will also have to start behaving more democratically, or it will stand out from its neighbours in a most unwelcome manner. Its brutal and racist nature were indeed increasingly noted over the decades of the occupation post 1967, but were always ameliorated by the undemocratic nature of the region in which it was situated; this may no longer be a likely outcome – the comparison will be made with democratic states, rather than with tyrannies whose citizens are devoid of human and political rights. If Israel chooses, as seems most likely, to continue its illegal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, it is more likely to meet with international censure of its policies and actions, probably leading to a global campaign, resembling that of the Anti-Apartheid movement, with boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) being increasingly enacted against it, and forcing it to abandon those policies in the long run, under global pressure.

This putative result of the current conflagration is not only probable because of Israeli action or inaction, but will be mainly forced as a result of the likely changes in power balance over the next few decades. With the decline of western, American and European power and the rising of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia India and China, one is also likely to see a marked rise in the political fortunes of Middle Eastern countries, which under future democratic leadership will find their just place in the pecking order. Egypt under Mubarak was a pawn of the west; Egypt under a democratic government will climb up from its insignificance and servility, to mention just one example. Such likely changes will also bring about changes in the way western powers relate to the Arab world, and are also likely to bring about long-overdue changes to the UN and its Security Council, where the out-of-date, undemocratic veto of the old imperial powers still pertains. A world where the US cannot easily and automatically veto any resolution relating to Israel, will be a very different proposition, and hence Israel’s continued angst about the changes in the region and the world are to be understood in the context of the long-term trends, not just the short-term power changes in individual countries. In the long run, the Israeli mission of ridding Palestine of its indigenous population cannot prevail, when we take into account the direction of change.

Now, it would be interesting to examine the likelihood and potential for change in Israel, as the trends of global change must also be evident to Israeli politicians. Could Israel, voluntarily and willingly, offer a major change in its priorities, when faced with the new realities? This question was broached recently by Gideon Levy, writing on the day after Mubarak fell:” The news from Egypt is good news, not only for that country and the Arab world, but for the entire world, including Israel. Now is the time to be happy for the Egyptian people, to hope that this amazing revolution will not go wrong. Let us lay aside all our fears - of anarchy, of the Muslim Brotherhood or a military regime - and let this great gamble have its say. Let us not wallow in the dangers; now is the time to bask in the light that shines from the Nile, after 18 days of popular, democratic struggle.”3 One is left genuinely wondering if Levy has indeed believed in the possibility of such adulation as his own, being shared across society in Israel, or has written the piece ironically, knowing well the impossibility of such a change of heart. The almost palpable feeling of relief which was evident across the globe with Mubarak’s departure, was evident by its total absence in Israel – a sentiment that Israel must have shared only with the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Yemen… Indeed what was evident is the opposite – a feeling of despair for the deposed tyrant.

This striking difference between the sentiments in Israel and the rest of the world can only be explained by the many decades of instrumental colonialism, where colonial reality forms consciousness, and where being dictates thought. One is what one does, after all, and it is impossible to continue to uphold liberal and progressive values if one is daily involved with brutalities and injustice. Many Israeli intellectuals try to fool themselves (and the rest of us), cliaming that even after four and half decades of iniquitous occupation, they are still holding up human rights and liberal values. This is plainly untenable, and the total lack of fraternity towards the Tahrir Square victory over tyranny, is the clearest evidence of such emotional and intellectual salto mortale by Israeli ‘liberals’ being sheer nonsense. By its very nature, Israeli society has excepted itself from the great mass of humanity which has expressed its elation with the fall of a brutal regime in Egypt, achieved by unarmed massed with the slogan ‘Salmieh’ (‘peaceably’ or ‘peacefully’) being the most common one. It seems certain that, like the South African Apartheid state before it, Israel will only relent under the most intense political, financial and cultural pressure from the world community. That pressure is now developing swiftly, and is now more likely than ever to lead to the collapse of the apartheid state in the Middle East.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )