Egyptian protesters on burnt car 311.
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Israel is missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support Arab freedom.
While others cheer Hosni Mubarak’s fall, Israel grows apprehensive.
I know. The Egyptian dictator kept the peace for 30 years. But it was a mighty
But that’s all beside the point.
Israel is the only
democracy in the Middle East and it ought be the region’s foremost champion of
human rights. It’s also the homeland of a people who gave the world the earliest
foundation of democracy, namely the Bible’s declaration that every human is
equally created in the image of God. The Hebrew Bible also gave the world the
first story of a nation challenging an autocrat and being set free from bondage,
a story set in Egypt. To now see Israel squander an historic opportunity to
publicly champion Arab freedom out of fear for radicals like the Muslim
Brotherhood or a repeat of Hamas’s election in Gaza is deeply regrettable and
With its essential neutrality on the question of Arab
freedom, Israel risks the moral neutrality that has characterized the presidency
of Barack Obama, a man who is ostensibly the leader of the free world but
refuses to lead those who wish to be free. When the people of Iran rose against
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the people of Egypt rose against Mubarak, Obama offered
meaningless inanities until events overtook him and then he was suddenly a great
champion of freedom.
But for Israel the stakes are much
For five decades Israel has argued that the real problem in the
Middle East is not its conflict with the Palestinians, but the absence of
democracy in Arab lands. In 1992, I hosted Binyamin Netanyahu at the University
of Oxford where he gave a mesmerizing speech arguing that no two democracies had
ever gone to war against each other. The students attempted to refute him but
could not. He explained that in a tyranny a dictator sends other people’s sons
to die in his wars, but in a democracy it is the people who make the decision to
go to war and they therefore pressure their leaders to exhaust ever possibility
before resorting to armed conflict. Democracies prevent senseless
It’s easy to see the truth of this argument in today’s Middle
Islamist demagogues call for Arabs low on their food chain to blow
themselves up, while sparing their own children. There was no one named Bin
Laden on United Flight 93. The million people who died in the Iran-Iraq war of
1980-1988 were sent by tyrants and mullahs, while the upper crust watched safely
from the sidelines. The absence of democracy in the Arab world is the source of
its major conflicts with thugs like Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad and the brutal
House of Saud suppressing their people’s most basic rights and then using the
Jews as scapegoats for their subjects miserable lives.
So why would
Israel now retreat from this most basic truth by refusing to support the
legitimate rights of the Egyptian people to be free?
Yes, I know. Better the
enemy you know than the enemy you don’t.
DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS in Gaza
brought Hamas terrorists to power and even Hitler was elected by democratic
means. But the argument is illusory. Insisting on democracy doesn’t mean
sanctioning a mob to run a nation. Rather, Israel, the US and the Western powers
should support what president George W. Bush created in Iraq, a constitutional
democracy, one that enshrines protections of minorities and guarantees of
fundamental human rights into its basic charter of existence. In the case of
Egypt I even believe the US ought to insist that a constitutional clause
guaranteeing the peace treaty with Israel be inserted, not unlike how in Germany
today Holocaust denial is a crime.
But Israel championing Arab
aspirations to democracy, though a must in its own right, is vital to its image
and biblical mandate. Israel is not another country, but one built on the dream
of an ancient people being allowed to live freely in its land. It must therefore
speak out for those who yearn for the same.
The international community
supports the Dalai Lama’s struggle against the Chinese, even though they are the
world’s second largest economy, because they see Tibet’s survival as fundamental
to their own spiritual well-being. The Dalai Lama is revered in the West as a
great teacher who helps free Westerners from corrosive materialism.
similar act of world illumination should be central to the Jewish people and the
Jewish state. We should be the world’s foremost spokespeople for human dignity
in general, and Israel should champion Arab dignity in particular. Arabs deserve
the same standard of living as Israelis. They deserve to read the truth in a
newspaper. They deserve to choose their own leaders. Their daughters deserve to
live without being cut down in honor killings. An Arab gay man or woman deserves
to walk the streets safely without fear of brutal murder. And Christian Arabs
deserve to live safely in countries that guarantee religious
The real story behind the Arab uprisings is Israel. Arabs who
see Israelis living in freedom wonder why they don’t. They see Israelis becoming
doctors and Internet entrepreneurs and wonder why they can’t.
not existed, Arab dictators could simply say that an open society simply can’t
work in their neighborhood. And that’s the principal reason they hate
Israel. Because it takes away the facile excuses they continue to use to
brutally suppress any legitimate opposition.The writer is an
award-winning writer and broadcaster. His newest book is
Child Spirit. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.