It’s not that we’re against democracy, goes the Israeli line on Egypt, it’s that
we’re afraid of the Islamists and radical Arab nationalists taking
over. We’re afraid to lose the peace. We’re right on Egypt’s border – the
front line. We love democracy, we want democracy for everyone, certainly for our
Arab neighbors, and we hate dictatorship, of course – we’re just very worried
about our security, and we have a right to be.
That’s Israel’s message to
the world these days, and half of it is true – we do have legitimate worries for
our security with what‘s going on in Egypt. The part that isn’t true is that
Israel stands for democracy and against dictatorship in the world. Within the
Green Line, yes, but anywhere beyond – not only in the Middle East, but
throughout black Africa, Asia and Latin America – democracy has been absolutely
irrelevant for Israeli foreign policy since the 1970s, and so has dictatorship.
Throughout the Third World, for 40 years, the only question our political and
military leadership – together with our private arms dealers and “security
advisers” – have asked is this: In terms of political and economic profit,
what’s in it for us? The proof of this is that Israel has had “special
relationships” with dictators much, much more infamous than Hosni Mubarak, in
countries far from the Middle East, which knew nothing of Islamic
What’s more, we’ve taken sides against popular revolts
that could hardly have cared less about the Israeli-Arab conflict, and that were
thoroughly democratic. We armed and trained troops that protected
Philippine dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos against the original “people
power” movement – the one led by Corazon Aquino, widow of one of Marcos’s
victims, that brought democracy to the country in 1986.
The most recent –
and glaring – example of Israel’s indifference to democracy abroad, its complete
readiness to forge the closest political, military and economic relations with
tyrants, was in apartheid South Africa. When the whole world, even the US,
turned against the white regime, Israel hung on. Over two decades, we sold
billions of dollars in military goods and services to apartheid South Africa –
even after we supposedly went along with the international sanctions campaign
for fear of losing American foreign aid, wrote Foreign Affairs senior editor
Sasha Polakow- Suransky, author of last year’s The Unspoken Alliance – Israel’s
Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
Besides Marcos, besides
the apartheid rulers, Israel carried on close, lucrative
political/military/economic relationships with out-and-out monsters such as
Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Haiti’s Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, Uganda’s Idi
Amin (briefly, before he threw us over for Muammar Gaddafi), Chile’s Augusto
Pinochet, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza and a host of other dirty warriors and
death squad leaders.
In many if not most cases, we weren’t just one on a
long list of countries grabbing the spoils of war and repression. Instead, we
typically played Robin to America’s Batman in the fight against communism – and
if the rebels weren’t communists, if they were socialists or liberals or
peasants or just the run of poor people fed up with tyranny and poverty, we and
our American patrons called them communists (just like we’re tarring the
Egyptian masses now as radicals and jihadists.) And when, in the late 1970s,
Jimmy Carter began cutting off American military aid to tyrants (including the
shah of Iran, another Israeli favorite), and in the 1980s, when Congress
continued imposing these sanctions against Ronald Reagan’s will, Israel was
there to step into the breach.
“The Israelis do not let this human
rights thing stand in the way of business," a prominent right-wing Guatemalan
politician said in a recent interview. "You pay, they deliver. No questions
asked, unlike the gringos,” wrote University of Haifa Prof. Benjamin Beit-
Hallahmi, quoting from Reuters in his 1987 book, The Israeli Connection – Who
Israel Arms and Why.
There are times when Israel will support the forces
of democracy against dictators – such as the Iranian reformers against Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad and the mullahs and, previously, the Iraqi Kurds against Saddam
Hussein, the 1989 uprising against Soviet communism and, in the 1960s, the
Southern Sudanese rebels against Sudan. There are probably other cases I don’t
know of. But in the ones I do, the dictators being challenged had something in
common: They were all enemies of Israel. We have no problem supporting dictators
or opposing democrats, all that matters (except for the money, especially for
our private mercenaries) is that you be our enemy’s enemy. If you are, whoever
you are, we will be your friend. This has been the guiding principle of
Israeli policy in the Third World since the 1970s, and it is our guiding
principle today in Egypt. Democracy is for speeches.
SINCE THE fall of
the Soviet Union, the map of the Third World has changed and it isn’t so easy
for Israel to choose sides. Argentina, Chile and other once-friendly military
dictatorships in Latin America have gone democratic. (If they’re now recognizing
Palestine one after another, maybe it’s partly because they remember Israel’s
role in their oppression.) As for Latin American drug lords, I don’t know if
Israeli mercenaries are still helping them out, but if they’re not, that would
mark a change.
Regarding Africa today, Open University
Prof. Benyamin Neuberger wrote in “Israel’s Relations with the Third
World (1948-2008),” an October 2009 research paper: “As it now stands, most of
the relations between Israel and Africa involve ‘practical’ concerns in the
field of private enterprise. Israel’s business people – many of them ex-army
officers interested in arms deals – are active in countries such as Kenya,
Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra
Makes sense. Israelis have become go-getter capitalists, they
like to travel, to take risks, and while communism is gone, war isn’t, and with
its hi-tech prowess, this country’s status among the major powers of the
international arms trade is only going up.
Some of you reading this, I’m
sure, find it to be a very bleak story. There is one ray of light, though, a
time of lost innocence – in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Israel was known in
black Africa not as a cynical gunrunner but as a model of a post-colonial,
egalitarian nation. We had military trainers there, too, but our best-known
people in Africa were kibbutz agronomists.
Beit-Hallahmi wrote that
nearly 15,000 Third World citizens, half of them black Africans, came here to
study at the Foreign Ministry’s International Institute for
Development. Wrote Neuberger: “The African nationalist elites of the
1950s and 1960s truly admired Israel... [They] firmly believed that the enemies
of the Jews were also the enemies of the blacks.”
Hurts, doesn’t it? This
solidarity began to fray in the mid-’60s from the effects of Nasserism and the
advent of the PLO, but the outgrowths of the Six Day War – the occupation and,
finally, the Yom Kippur War – are what killed it. Israel, for its part, eagerly
came under the generous patronage of the US; it found a perfect meeting of the
minds with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and we became America’s brash
little alter ego to the friendly fascists of the Third World.
We had the
military know-how, they had the money and we all had a joint enemy – the
have-nots, the weak, the masses and those who led them. Within the Green Line,
we remained a democracy, but now we were an American-aligned tyrant in the West
Bank and Gaza, so we became the natural allies of American- aligned tyrants
THIS IS by no means the whole story of why Israel is siding
with Hosni Mubarak today – again, we have legitimate security worries – but it
is a part of the story.
Could things have been different? If we’d walked
out of the West Bank and Gaza after the Six Day War, if we’d chosen not to
become a dictator over the Palestinians and not to throw in so enthusiastically
with dictators abroad, would we be watching the uprising in Egypt today through
less fearful eyes? I don’t know. For sure, we would not be having a beautiful
friendship with the Arabs; even without the occupation, there would still be
Palestinian refugees from 1948, still be Arab radicalism and Islamic
fundamentalism; Israel would still be among the haves and the Arabs among the
have-nots. The settlements can be blamed for a lot, but there are other problems
in the Middle East too.
Still, by becoming the Palestinians’ masters, we
had to deaden ourselves. We were doing to other people what we’d always hated
other people doing to us, so we had to look away. We made excuses – just like we
did in South Africa, Zaire, Chile, Argentina and so on. We looked out for number
one to the exclusion of everyone else in the world. We recited over and over the
first part of Hillel’s dictum, ”If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” and
completely erased the second part: “And if I am only for myself, what am I?” Who
are we? What do we stand for in the world? Since the day after the Six Day War,
the day we became tyrants, we stand for nothing but ourselves.
we have the right to our worries, while that’s part of the story of why the
incredibly brave people in Egypt inspire just about everyone in the world except
us, our deadened conscience is also part of the story – a bigger part than we
want to admit.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!