While most of the rest of the world, minus Glenn Beck, was celebrating the overthrow of one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships, over in Israel – which bills itself as the only real democracy in the region – they were sour-faced and ready to rumble. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told his cabinet to shut up about the Egyptian events, but they just couldn’t contain themselves as the specter of democracy in the Arab world moved closer to realization: We are watching these events, said Netanyahu, with “vigilance and worry.” The worry is rooted, he said, in the possibility that “in a situation of chaos, an organized Islamist body can seize control of a country. It happened in Iran. It happened in other instances.”
No sooner had these words escaped his mouth than Israel’s amen corner in this country and around the world echoed the “Egypt is Iran” meme until it had found its way into nearly every news report, and virtually every public statement by a major politician on the Egyptian events. No “analysis” of the situation was complete without a comparison to the Iranian revolution of 1979, a violent upsurge by Shi’ite radicals – in spite of the fact that this was a completely non-violent movement organized by urban students with a taste for tech-savvy tactics and secular views. To these people facts are merely burdensome details that can be safely ignored when constructing a narrative that fits their agenda – and their agenda, as always, is putting Israel first.
It’s interesting to note that Hosni Mubarak, holed up in his presidential palace at the height of the protests, put in a call not to the US State Department, or the White House, but to a member of the Israeli Knesset, one Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a former cabinet minister who dealt with the Egyptian tyrant during the negotiations that set up the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Ha’aretz reports:
“‘He had very tough things to say about the United States,’ said Ben-Eliezer … He gave me a lesson in democracy and said: ‘We see the democracy the United States spearheaded in Iran and with Hamas, in Gaza, and that’s the fate of the Middle East. They may be talking about democracy but they don’t know what they’re talking about and the result will be extremism and radical Islam.”
Mubarak also gave a very Netanyahu-like prediction about the probable outcome of the Egyptian upsurge:
“He contended the snowball (of civil unrest) won’t stop in Egypt and it wouldn’t skip any Arab country in the Middle East and in the Gulf. He said ‘I won’t be surprised if in the future you see more extremism and radical Islam and more disturbances – dramatic changes and upheavals. He repeated the sentence, ‘I have been serving my country, Egypt, for 61 years. Do they want me to run away? I won’t run away. Do they want to throw me out? I won’t leave. If need be, I will be killed here.’”
Poor mistreated misunderstood Mubarak – with only the Israelis’ shoulder to cry on! His anger at the Americans is perhaps matched, these days, by his anger at the Swiss – who appear to have frozen his Swiss bank accounts, reported to contain as much as $70 billion.
Israeli rancor toward the Americans was given voice by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who – speaking from Israeli soil – unleashed his invective at Washington for “abandoning” Mubarak. The Israelis, said the Huckster, are wondering aloud about the likelihood of the US coming to their aid in their hour of need given that they’ve thrown Mubarak overboard without so much as a by your leave. “We should at least acknowledge what a good ally he has been for all these years,” scolded the fundamentalist Christian former governor-cum-preacher:
“Even the left wing Israeli press has expressed profound disappointment when the US said nothing positive about Mubarak. What they were looking for was some acknowledgment that he has been an ally and a friend. It’s been good for Israel, and good for the US. If they’re that quick to bail on Mubarak, then would they do the same to us?”
Oblivious to the implications of a comparison between Mubarak’s regime and the Israelis, the Huckster prattles on, demanding that the US praise a bloody dictator whose torture chambers stain the conscience of the “free world.” Which raises an interesting point: why are the Israelis so frightened by the example of an Arab populace rising up and non-violently overthrowing a US-supported tyrant? Supposedly they fear the breaking of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and the dropping of the blockade of Gaza on the Egyptian side, but I, for one, don’t believe it for a minute. The Egyptian military is in firm control of this aspect of the situation – and, as dependent as Egypt’s generals are on the US for military aid to the tune of over $1 billion annually, one can hardly imagine the new Egypt embarking on a military campaign against the Jewish state. As for Gaza, the Israelis rejected a proposal by the Egyptian military to send more troops to the Sinai to control the border – so they can’t be too worried about that.
No, what they are really worried about is the prospect of the Palestinians, and their own downtrodden Arab population, taking up the non-violent insurrectionist tactics of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement and shaking the very foundations of the Israeli state. This would focus world attention on the horrific conditions in the occupied territories, and expose the true nature of the Israeli state as a repressive Sparta with its foot planted firmly on the necks of its Palestinian helots. As long as the Israelis have only the scary Hamas to contend with, they are safe: but as soon as a secular, youth-led non-violent intifada arises, the public relations consequences are going to be dire.
Israel is completely dependent on outside forces to ensure its continued survival: not just American aid and weaponry, but also a steady influx of Jews making aliya. If they lose the battle for world public opinion, that stream will turn into a trickle. And therein lies the deadly sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the Israeli colonists: the demographic time bomb which will soon have the Arabs a majority in the Jewish state.
It isn’t the nonexistent military threat from the new Egypt the Israelis are so worried about – it’s the political example of “people power” winning out against a repressive regime armed to the teeth. If they can do it in Egypt, why not in Palestine? This is what the Israelis dread – and with good reason.
Even before the Egyptian uprising, there were indications of a secular youth-led movement in Palestine – specifically Gaza – which declared they’ve had it with both the Israelis and Hamas. Tel Aviv had better hope the Islamists crack down on those kids, because they are potentially a much more formidable adversary than the thugs who have taken over the Gaza strip.
Change is coming to the Middle East, whether the Israelis – or their American patrons – like it or not. And these changes will necessitate a change in US foreign policy, which up until now has been cravenly Israeli-centric. The US military’s chief of staff, Admiral Mullen, is over in Israel right now, reassuring Netanyahu and his ultra-rightist government that we’ll continue to ensure their “security” – but the status quo is unsustainable. Egypt will no longer be used as a base for US military operations in the region, at least insofar as they involve making threats to Iran. As WikiLeaks revealed, Mubarak was one of the loudest advocates of a US (or Israeli) strike on Tehran: with the despot deposed, that kind of political support for military action will no longer be forthcoming. This is a major blow to the War Party in the United States, and this alone justifies opponents of US intervention cheering the Egyptian revolution no matter what kind of government comes to power.
Some conservative anti-interventionists warn against “cheerleading” a foreign revolution, mindful of the tricks history plays on us: there’s no telling but that a new tyranny might succeed the old. I don’t buy it: the Egyptian people, who have spent the last 60 or so years putting up with one tyrant after another, are not about to give up their dearly-bought liberty and install an “Islamic” version of the old order.
The Arab peoples are waking up, and there is no putting them back to sleep: it took a mere 18 days to bring down a tyrant supported by both Israel and the US, and that revolution is spreading even as I write: to Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, and beyond. Following the example of Kuwait, the Emir of Bahrain has just granted his subjects a hefty multi-thousand-dollar “gift,” hoping to bribe them into passivity – but the opposition is going ahead with protests.
In the run up to the Iraq war, when the neocons were making the case for the invasion, they told us we needed to drain the Arab “swamp” before we could eliminate the threat of Islamist extremism: we couldn’t just stand by and let radicalism germinate, we had to take action to root it out by eliminating the very social and political conditions under which Arab civilization had been stunted and pathologized. Now, however, history has taken an unforeseen turn: the Arabs are draining that swamp all by themselves, first off by taking out the biggest frog in that stagnant pond – Mubarak. Islamist extremism flourished in Egypt, in spite of the repressive apparatus of the Mubarak regime, precisely because of the regime itself, which allowed no outlet for the natural impulse of a people to rule themselves.
Bush’s “global democratic revolution” is indeed taking place, but without the US military which the former president and his neocon speechwriters imagined would be the instrument of change. The Glenn Becks and Mike Huckabees, who fulsomely supported the Iraq war, and who are now inveighing on Fox News against the coming of an “Islamic Caliphate,” are blind to what has actually happened on the ground in the Middle East. While the Bush Doctrine ushered in an Islamist state in Iraq, where the oh-so-dreaded Sharia law is being encoded and enforced with a vengeance, the populist-nationalist uprisings in Egypt and throughout the region show every sign of ushering in a real sea-change in Arab consciousness, in which democracy and secularism triumph.
The Israeli government, and its American lobby, would do well to pipe down about the alleged “dangers” posed by the Egyptians’ fight for freedom, lest they reveal more about themselves – and Israel – than they would care to admit. For Huckabee and his supporters, it’s always about Israel – even when it isn’t. If the Huckster is perfectly comfortable criticizing the conduct of the American government from foreign soil, then perhaps his supporters and well-wishers, who pride themselves on their “patriotism” and break into chants of “USA! USA!” at the drop of a hat, will start to wonder what country he’s running for office in.