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Mubarak and the alternate universe of Israel’s vicious critics

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.”

20 thoughts on “Mubarak and the alternate universe of Israel’s vicious critics

  1. I’ve stated on Mondoweiss that I felt that after the publication of the Palestine Papers, that Israel would be forced (internally, by allies’ and by adversaries) to actually resume the negotiations with the PA that seemed very close to critical realization in Olmert’s last days in office (major components if not everything).

    But, that that hope is now dashed, given the spirit of uprising that is occurring in Egypt, Lebanon (very differently), Jordan. (Tunisia and Yemen are not as consequential to Israeli relations.)

    There is uncertainty, and with a strong prospect of conflict.

    Further, that in war, it is the small parties and civilians that bear the brunt. In this case, Paletinians in Gaza in particular are immediately between Egypt and Israel. If Egypt turned adversarial, Gaza and Gazans would be caught in the middle.

    The prospect of peace is the answer. The prospect of overrunning Israel by pan-Arab unity is the way of suffering, not the way of progress.

    I fear that Phil is not attentive or diminishes the risk that the Egyptian and other popular movements will contain elements of hate and a desire to again surround Israel, in some expression of that hate.

    MANY current politicians in power will have egg on their faces. Netanyahu promises to have the honor of presiding over the devolution of relations with Turkey, with the PA, with Jordan, and Egypt.

    A grand success??

  2. Some Israelis support Mubarak.


    As for this–

    “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.”

    Aligning ourselves with a dictatorial regime that tortures people is certainly one way to fight violent Islamic extremists, if by fighting violent Islamic extremists you mean “providing yet more propaganda points they can use in their favor.” I suppose you’ve read the piece in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer about Egypt’s newly appointed VP and his role in helping us fight violent Islamic terrorists. If not, you should.

    You’re also painting with a very broad brush when you criticize people more critical of Israel than you. I have occasionally seen a few people in the comment section at Mondoweiss who seem to look favorably at the prospect of more war between Israel and the Arabs. Yes, they are insane. Such a war would be a total disaster. I think Phil understands that and I think most people at Mondoweiss understand that, but by all means lump everyone into the same category if it makes you feel better. What some of us non-bloodthirsty types are daydreaming about (including me) is a democratic Egypt, which would not cooperate with Israel in blockading Gaza or participate in any other way with US or Israeli attempts to foster civil war between Palestinian factions when the wrong side wins an election. It could happen–a democratic Egypt, I mean. Though I suspect any Egyptian democracy which was more critical (in a purely peaceful way) of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians would probably be demonized in the US and would come under tremendous pressure to continue to behave towards Gaza and Israel the way Mubarak has.

    What the sane people at Mondoweiss object to about the peace between Israel and Egypt is not the peace, but the way it has enabled Israel to behave brutally. I think the peace was an accomplishment myself, but it was, as you say, a devil’s bargain and it might have stopped some wars at the cost of allowing others. Would Israel have gone into Lebanon in 1982 without the security of knowing that there was no serious possibility of a wider war with the Arab world? I didn’t see anything in Kane’s piece that said he favored war between Egypt and Israel. I saw someone pointing out how Israel took advantage of the peace to continue to behave badly. (Your “other post” link for Kane didn’t work for me–it led me to a blank page.)

    On the Israel lobby, I think people at Mondoweiss overstate its power. But it was just a few years ago when anyone who talked about it in polite company was considered an anti-semite.
    As for Egypt and Obama, I think the Obama administration has changed its tune (after the initial period when Biden wouldn’t call Mubarak a dictator) because they’re not morons. They can get away with cynical treatment of the Palestinians, supporting the PA (which seems to like Mubarak) and their security forces, saying nothing about Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians, acting as Israel’s lawyer, but Egypt is a country of 80 million people in a revolt that can’t be hidden. A smart bully knows when to step back.

  3. Donald, thanks for the thoughtful comments (I’m serious, you are a smart fella). My main concern with Kane and Weiss and others on the Web is not that I believe they want war between Egypt and Israel. It’s the omission of any mention of the value of peace, or any stated understanding that Israel should be concerned about losing the peace, or any empathy for Israelis of all political stripes who are worried about losing it.

    I know it is often a tired exercise to blame people for what they don’t mention on blog posts, but in this case, I think the absence is conspicious. The Egypt-Israel relationship is treated as NOTHING more than an oppressive “order” that screws the Palestinians. I agree that it does that, especially given what is happening in Gaza now, but that does not mean it HAS to do that. Palestinians need to be liberated and the lives of Egyptians, Israelis and Palestinians need to be protected. I believe you and I share that goal.

    As for the power of the lobby, I concur that it ought to be discussed openly and that, on balance, it is a good thing that those who analyze it cogently and criticize it feel that they have more freedom these days. I wrote a whole book that was very honest about the lobby, which I hope you will read someday. My problem is not with people who say it is powerful; it is with people who grotesquely exaggerate its power. As I note in the book, it is not the 800-pound gorilla everyone says it is: it is more like a 400-pound gorilla.

  4. Thanks Dan. And I agree with the sentiments in your comment. I suppose it was the tone of your post that bugged me, as it is the tone of Phil and some others which bothers you. I’ve sometimes thought about what I would like to see different at Phil’s blog (not that it matters what I think–it’s his blog), but I’m too tired to type it out right now. I’m a fan, but anything can be improved.

    The 400 vs 800 lb gorilla analogy is a good one. I’m in the 400 lb camp. I used to think it was more of a large orangutan, but have moved up. But the majority of Mondoweissers think in terms of 800 lbs and a few might go higher.

  5. Things are at a standstill in Egypt now.

    The uprising had the attention of the world, but is getting boring, losing the world’s attention.

    I look at Mondoweiss as a gauge. There is much less to report on, much less to get excited about.

    Mubarrak is banking on it getting boring, to dissenters and the world (as it did in Iran).

    At some point soon there will be real elections, or Mubarak will die. Better that they have organized, legitimate elections.

  6. Phil Weiss is a scumbag who is only sorry that Hitler didn’t finish the job. The prospect of Egypt marching troops into the Sinai fills him with joy. And his readers are just sorry they missed the days of Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer

  7. Come on Witty, you know I’m right. Your buddy hates Israel and Judaism with what can only be described has a nazi like passion. And you know it.

  8. Big difference Rich. I wouldn’t take great joy in the destruction of Israel and a second holocaust. Your boy, would. And his lovely bride I’m sure.

  9. Who knows what you are talking about Pearlman.

    Is that the only thing that you think of when you consider how to treat your neighbor (you know real life)?

  10. Bill,
    What’s your source for this claim? I’ve looked at a couple of news stories and there is nothing about this in it.

  11. I am sure you have all seen pictures of Mubarak at the demonstrations with the Jewish star written on his face .

    I read an article recently that was written years ago about the Nasser’s rise to power. When he took over, he wanted to commit Egypt to a socialist economy and rapid national development. When he realized that “rapid” development wasn’t going to come due to ages-old Egyptian attitudes and governmental structure in addition to the stagnant socialism he was proposing, he realized that heating up the confrontation with Israel would be an easier way to mobilize public support.

    Everyone is now saying that Egypt, in addition to the other countries now under public pressure will be forced to increase subsidize prices for basic goods, raise salaries and roll-back various privitization schemes they have introduced in recent years. All of this will make their economic problems even worse. The question is whether the various parties competing will bring out the Zionist threat as did Nasser. I do recall that this happened in the Jordanian elections a few months ago (before the current wave of unrest) in which all the parties spent much of their time attacking the peace agreement with Israel.

  12. Oops-
    I meant to say that they will have to increase subisidies on food and basic goods which means lowering prices in the short run.

  13. One of the features of the Egyptian uprising was that it wasn’t characterized by attacks on Israel. That was one of its redeeming features to my mind, that it was oriented to domestic concerns, without distraction.

    There is a rabble that considers the presence of a dictator as only a result of foreign influence (Israel and the US), as if there were any peaceful democracies anywhere in the Arab world yet.

    Egypt could be a model for a future democracy, that makes peaceful transitions of government (with continuity of treaties for example) through the medium of peaceful election.

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