By Dan Fleshler | January 30, 2011
Events in Egypt have reinforced my sense of living in a different universe than the one inhabited by Israel’s most vicious critics (let’s call them IMVCs) in the blogosphere. Oh, we have a few things in common. Like them, I am inspired by the Egyptian crowds demanding the overthrow of a tyrant. Like them, I am appalled by the continuing Israeli occupation and settlement expansion and the sufferings of the Palestinian people. But they still appear to reside in a kind of alternate reality, harboring assumptions that do not apply to the universe I know. Here are two of those assumptions:
1-The Israel lobby in the U.S. is the only reason America has propped up Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and his corrupt regime for so long. This assumption derives from a longtime, reflexive habit of blaming JEWS for what it is wrong with the world.
Early on, when the Egyptian tumult was first getting televised and the U.S. was struggling to formulate a public stance, the increasingly influential Philip Weiss weighed in on MondoWeiss (and then Salon):
Barack Obama’s failure to honor the Egyptian protesters in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, and Joe Biden’s cold negativity toward them last night (they’re not up against a dictator, we can’t encourage them, this is not the awakening of eastern Europe) reveal the unwavering influence of the Israel lobby in our public life, and how conservative that influence is.
The administration’s statements reveal that it prefers stability in Egypt, no matter the cost to civil rights and human rights there, to freedom for Arab people. And why? Because Egyptian stability preserves the Israeli status quo, in which Israel gets to imprison West Bank protesters without a peep from the U.S. government and gets to destroy civilians in Gaza again without a peep from the alleged change-agent in the White House.
Weiss jumped the gun. The night after that post, Obama warned Mubarak to avoid violence and stop censoring digital media, sending at least some encouraging signals to the Egyptian protestors. Obama could have given them more, but if the Mubarak-loving Israel lobby were so powerful, surely he would have kept his mouth shut.
What is revealing here is Weiss’ eagerness to believe that Israel and its support base in the U.S. was the SOLE explanation for American policies, instead of a very important explanation. Apparently he could not imagine any other reason for U.S. support of Mubarak. There was no mention of the perceived need for stability in order to free up the Suez Canal, which is the conduit for billions of dollars worth of oil and American military vessels. There was nothing about the perceived American need to fight al-Qaeda and violent Islamic extremists (who would exist without Israel), and the plain fact that Mubarak’s regime helps in this regard. There was nothing about growing investments from America’s private sector in the region. The actual, complex calculus employed by American foreign policy decision makers is inconvenient to Weiss, as it is mitigating evidence against the inherent evil of Zionist influence.
Now, it is one thing to claim that the perceived benefits of supporting stability in Egypt –including the preservation of its cold peace with Israel– do not warrant the coddling of a brutal autocrat. Of course they don’t. The U.S. clearly should have pressed Mubarak much more forcefully on human rights and democratic freedoms.
But it is both simplistic and dangerous to assert that Israel and the Israel lobby are the only drivers of America’s Egyptian policy. Yet that is a common assertion by IMVCs. Check out this interview with Alison Weir (“If Americans Only Knew”). In the comment threads, the alleged power of the JEWS sometimes extends to controlling Egypt itself, as noted in this insight by someone named Art Allm:
Yes, it seems that Mubarak and his regime are controlled by the Israel Lobby. That is the reason why he is called a “democrat” (speak “good dictator”). The democratic movement in Egypt will be called “anti-democratic”, that is so predictable. Who controls the language, also controls the outcome of any discussion.
Mr, Allm, here’s a tip from the inner circle of the Elders of Zion: we also control the air traffic control system, and the weather, so you should never fly again.
2—There was and is something inherently wrong with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. I’ve been tangling with America’s conventional Israel lobby and the mainstream Jewish community for much of my adult life. But I share that community’s fond memories of extraordinary moments in 1978, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s limousine rumbled through the streets of Jerusalem, as Israeli throngs applauded and wept, grateful that an Arab leader was, for the first time, offering a hand of peace instead of inveterate hostility. As HDS Greenway recalls, “the joy in the streets of Cairo was no less when Israel’s Menachem Begin made his reciprocal visit to Egypt. Egyptian cab drivers refused to take fares from visiting Israelis, some of whom had not been there since the days of the British Palestine Mandate.”
It is manifestly true and tragic that Sadat’s deal(s) with Begin did nothing for the Palestinians. It was reprehensible that Israel did not take advantage of a historic opportunity to foster Palestinian self-determination and end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But none of that detracts from the fact that the Israeli-Egyptian peace has also saved untold numbers of lives on both sides of the border. In the IMVC universe, those lives do not seem to have any significance. Here, for example, is Alex Kane:
The Mubarak dictatorship is a core pillar of the U.S./Israeli order in the Middle East, an order that completely ignores the wishes and aspirations of people on the ground. The U.S. and Israel are scared of the new order that is to come.
As As’ad Abu Khalil notes at his blog, “the Israeli strategy in the Middle East has been firmly set on the continuity of the Sadat-Mubarak dictatorship.” Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 removed a military threat to Israel and secured millions of U.S. dollars and military support for the Egyptian dictatorship. The Mubarak regime got carte blanche for its repressive rule.
Everything Kane says is true, but, based on what he omits in this and other posts, he appears to believe that saving lives and stopping war is of little consequence. Yes, Israel made and then sustained a peace deal with a despotic government, because that was the government Israel had to deal with. It had no choice. Imagine what Kane and his ilk would have said about “Zionist hegemony” if Israel had encouraged the overthrow of Mubarak and called for free elections. One gets the impression that Kane and Weiss feel that, as long as Palestinians are suffering, there is something untoward about Israelis wanting to live without a major military power threatening them from the southwest. In the universe I live in, peace, even peace with dictators, is better than war.
Yes, the Israelis are, as Kane notes, “scared of the new order that is to come.” They are scared of what could happen if the sophisticated arms Egypt has been receiving from the U.S. all these years are in the hands of a regime that is overtly hostile to the Jewish state. The Israelis who are scared include post-Zionists, anti-Zionist supporters of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, and other activists against the occupation. They include many people who empathize with the Egyptian people’s struggle and strongly support democratic values and democratic reform. But they must deal with the universe as it is. There, a deeply flawed arrangement with Egypt has left the Palestinian people in the lurch. It has helped to prop up a dictatorship. But it has probably prevented a major military conflagration that would have slaughtered Arabs and Jews alike. That may be a devil’s bargain, but it is better than no bargain at all.
Update: For a perceptive piece on Israelis’ reaction, check out the latest from Noam Sheizaf. It is entitled “Israelis are not hostile to the Egyptian revolution, simply anxious.”