An Israeli should be careful in criticizing the United States.
One reason is pragmatic. The United States--like all the rulers of empires in the past--holds our fate in its hands. True, the United States does not aspire to rule in the fashion of Rome or latter day Britain, but the mixture of money and occasional military intervention minimizes the difference between aspirations to rule and aspirations to influence.
Another reason is intellectual honesty and fairness. It is wise to recognize America''s own hierarchy of interests. "Its the economy, stupid" (Bill Clinton) and "All politics are local" (Tip O"Neil) represent two important caveats vital to our understanding.
America''s distance from the Middle East has shrunk a great deal since the inspiration of the Marine hymn (From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli). However, it remains far away There can be no doubt that their local economy is far more important to Americans than a potential Iranian threat from somewhere over the horizon.
Occasionally the Iranian rulers curse America, but the focus of their enmity is Israel. Even American Jews weigh their own livelihood or their feelings about things American (environment, equality, health) higher than their feelings for Israel and its Jews. The vast majority of other Americans think of Israel positively, especially in the case of the Christian Right, but there are those who applaud the near majority (or clear majority) of convention delegates who booed the inclusion of the Jerusalem plank in the Democrats'' platform.
With all that being said, Americans like Israelis (I am both) are entitled, and even encouraged, to be critical.
What provokes this note is what may be the unleashing of Arab winter against the background of American naivete 18 months ago with what then was viewed as the onset of Arab spring and the coming of democracy.
The thread of intellectual and political innocence stretches from Barack Obama''s call for democracy in his Cairo speech of 2009, then applauding the fall of dictators and pushing old friend Hosni Mubarak under the bus, to Hillary Clinton''s expression of amazement this week in response to the murder of American diplomats in Benghazi, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?"
Hillary''s comment has gone viral on Israeli media, along with ridicule. One popular personality, a member of the community that has been in the Middle East since leaving Spain, speaking Ladino, Arabic, and Hebrew, asked "If she doesn''t understand that, what else doesn''t she understand?"
The "how could this happen" is that things have not changed. The culture of the Muslim Middle East, infused by religious dogma and incited by the dominant clerics and most of the rulers is suspicion quickly turned to anger and violence toward all who would challenge the faith. That a crude film created by a marginal fringe of Christian fanatics could produce this wave of violence testifies to the distance between what is comprehensible to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the reality from Morocco eastward.
The massive detours on Arab spring''s march to democracy suggest that strong leadership, or one or another kind of dictatorship, is essential for keeping Muslim rage bottled up.
The best commentary I have seen on this point comes from Professor Eyal Zisser.
"Close to two years after the onset of Arab Spring the Arab masses found themselves a new-old target for their anger and frustration, which did not disappear or even lessen with the fall of dictators, but appears to have grown and become more powerful."
(For a somewhat different version in English, click on this)
There are minority voices in Islam, and most Muslims may not share in the fanaticism. I can say with honesty that some of my best friends are Muslims, with whom I share political conversations and note our agreements and differences, without any sense of animosity. However, they do not balance the mobs who are attacking American installations while screaming their hatred of Americans, Israelis, and other infidels.
I have signed off on an excellent dissertation, written by a Palestinian about Israel and Arabs. I would welcome the day that he could invite me to lecture in his classes at Birzeit University. That will not happen anytime soon, if at all.
It is easy to understand Americans and Europeans who shy away from a criticism of Islam. The best reason is pragmatic. Why incite further animosity and violence when one''s own societies already have large Muslim minorities, more are coming every day, and important countries are dominated by Muslims?
It is also the case that the problem is not so much Islam as Muslims. The nuance is subtle, but important. The doctrines of Islam overlap those of Judaism and Christianity. Each has humane expressions along with those hateful of others. Yet the prevailing Islamic culture, inspired by most of the prominent clerics and shared by a great many Muslims is one that aspires to dominance in the region if not worldwide, and is violent toward those standing in the way.
The Obama-Clinton perspective appears to go beyond pragmatism to naivete bordering on ignorance. When Obama encouraged democracy in Cairo, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort, he made a small or large contribution to what became Arab spring.
Dreaming of democracy in Muslim countries may be admirable and understandable among Americans, but expecting it is dangerous. Now it is necessary to mourn and replace four diplomats, repair and reinforce several American embassies and consulates.
Some see indications of learning in the most recent Obama comment that Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, "is not an ally and not an enemy."
The Economist enters this fray with an item that remains optimistic about Arab spring, but also notes
"The slaying of Mr Stevens is hardly the only recent example of Arab dysfunction. Just to take the seven days prior to the killing: in Iraq scores of people were killed in bombings on one day and the vice-president was sentenced to death in absentia for alleged murder; in Yemen the defence minister survived an assassination attempt; in the Gaza Strip Israel killed six militants; in Tunisia extremist Salafists smashed up a bar that serves alcohol to the town where the Arab spring began; and most graphically of all, in Syria the death toll in the gruesome civil war continued to rise exponentially—to over 25,000."
After this paragraph, I can only wonder about the newspaper''s optimistic urging of America to keep up with its promotion of democracy. I also note that there is no mention of a role for its own government.
Still pending is that elephant about 1500 kilometers east of here. For Americans unfamiliar with distant geography, that''s less than a thousand miles, or something like Chicago to New York.
Tensions, sharp comments and unpleasant silence between Bibi and Barack suggest to some that the American might want to throw us under the bus. Israelis disagree among ourselves about the wisdom of Netanyahu''s politics. Some think he belongs under a bus. For a good commentary on Bibi and Barack, click here.
As I understand the media, the people I meet, my principal advisor, confidant and critic who some of you know as Varda, and my own wandering thoughts, we will not go quietly under any bus to please Americans who aspire to peace and quiet. We may even succeed in dragging Americans with us wherever we go.
I may be overloading the tolerance of friends, relatives, and others for these commentaries. View these as my therapy in the face of tension, as well as the best I can do to sort through what I hear and read. I write primarily for myself. Others are free to ignore, delete, or comment.