On Tuesday, February 1, I watched Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a talk about the ongoing events in Egypt. In essence, he said that if the demonstrations against the 30-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak succeeded, the world would get an Iranian-style regime in Egypt and that would be the end of democracy. Netanyahu’s facial expression was consistently serious and grim. He appeared to be perfectly sincere. The prime minister’s visions of ayatollahs on the Nile was backed up by Israeli diplomats and journalists who, in a rather frantic way, explained that the US and Europe are acting stupidly in their response to the Egyptian crisis. According to the Israelis, Mubarak has to be unquestionably supported. Look what happened when you pulled back from the Shah in ’79. Do you want to make that mistake again? How naive, how weak, how suicidal. To finish all this off, Israeli spokespersons pointed out that events once more demonstrate that the Zionist state is the only stable government in the Middle East. It is the only real example of democracy in the region. Yet, as the Bard reminds us, “What’s in a name?” Not all democracies smell as sweet as a rose. Some can smell remarkably foul.
Yesterday, Wednesday, February 2, we saw what our great Egyptian ally was capable of. The Egyptian army had promised that they would not shoot at the protestors – but, alas, there was a loophole. They never said they would not facilitate the arrival of thousands of thugs who would, well, not exactly shoot the demonstrators. They would just club, stab and run them down on camels – innocent beasts who never asked for this sort of duty. These thousands were in fact police and government agents in civilian clothes, backed up by your ever-ready lumpen proletariat. In other words, what we saw in the streets of Cairo today was an Egyptian version of Mussolini-style fascists on the streets of Rome circa 1922, Nazi brown shirts on the streets of Berlin circa 1932 and, of course, Israeli settlers in the rural byways of the West Bank circa 2011.
But Israeli leaders, representatives of stability and democracy as they claim to be, don’t seem to notice the ugly historical similarities. They think the real villain of the piece is Barack Obama. The American president has “put a bullet in Mubarak’s back.” He has double-crossed a loyal ally and is now “demanding the head” of “an almost lone voice of sanity in the Middle East [except of course for the Israelis themselves].” Bottom line: “America has lost it.”
By tomorrow, if Mubarak emerges victorious from the fray, there should be joy in Jerusalem. For behind all the Israeli lament, there is an obvious disregard for things like real democracy, human rights, justice and freedom. You know, the pie-in-the-sky sort of human desires. All of which are not worth two shekels in Jerusalem compared to the fact that the tyrant just to the west has kept the “peace” for 30 years while Israel has proceeded to illegally dispossess the Palestinians. That is the bottom line. Mubarak goes and Israel loses a vital partner in crime. That would certainly be against its national interest.
Yesterday, I tried to watch Netanyahu, and read the Israeli papers, as a Jew. I figured that to do so was an act of solidarity with ex-patriot Egyptians watching Mubarak say he was duty-bound to hold office through his present “elected” term. For both progressive Jews and Egyptians, this had to be a very difficult exercise because there was no escaping the conclusion that the leaders of both countries are either outright liars or living in a fantasy. Either way, it is a real stretch to think of them as “lone voices of sanity.” I think a more accurate assessment would judge them to be of questionable sanity, and quite dangerous.
On the one hand, Netanyahu and Mubarak deserve each other. They are both perfectly willing to kill a lot of people to get what they want, and they throw temper tantrums when others suggest this is wrong. On the other hand, President Obama, at least to date, deserves credit for trying to do the right thing, the sane and peaceful thing, in Egypt. But he has misjudged his men, both in Cairo and Jerusalem. He is dealing with thugs in suits.
In the long run, what are the folks in Washington going to do? Are they going to follow through – simultaneously breaking new ground – and show the world that the US will not associate with Mussolini-style fascists, Nazi-style brown shirts and Israeli fanatics? A necessary start in that direction is pulling the plug on all military aid to Egypt. If Mubarak and his generals want to stay in power, let them pay their own way. No doubt the Saudis will be willing to help them out. As for the United States, we should start acting in a truly idealistic fashion. Most of the world will really love us for it. Egypt is a good place to start.