‘Israel is devouring itself from within” was the headline of an article by Saudi pundit and businessman Hussein Shobokshi in the influential Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Shobokshi argues that Israel has always boasted of being the only democracy in the region, describing itself as a liberal-capitalist secular state in which religion and state were separated. But now, he added, it was undergoing a slow collapse and rapid erosion on all these fronts. He presents Israel as the start-up nation on the verge of an economic abyss.
How, then, does the Middle East regard the constitutional revolution in Israel? Contrary to the great interest that Israel displayed at the time in the events of the Arab Spring, the Middle East media is not showing the same interest in the “Israeli Spring.”
In general, three approaches can be identified in the Middle East media with regard to the events in Israel.
Israel's enemies think Israel is withering and falling apart
The first, adopted mainly by Israel’s enemies, reinforces the age-old Arab conception according to which Israel would eventually wither and fall apart due to the religious and sectarian rifts dividing it. In the early days of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as Yehoshafat Harkabi wrote in his monumental study of Arab attitudes toward Israel, this theory was a leading school of thought among Muslim and Arab intellectuals.
The most prominent purveyor of this approach is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. As early as May 2000, following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Nasrallah declared in his victory speech that despite Israel’s great military power and nuclear capability, its divided society is reminiscent of weak cobwebs. Now he has referred to the mass protests as a civil war and forecasting that Israel, at 75, will not survive to mark its 80th birthday.
Hezbollah’s media channels have all been mobilized to portray the protests as reflecting the imminent end of the Zionist entity. Having been forced to swallow the bitter pill of the 2022 Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement that supposedly weakened its status in Lebanon, Hezbollah finds in the protests an opportunity to highlight Israel’s weakness and hence to emphasize its own strength.
In Iran, too, not surprisingly, the media hopes for division and rupture among the Zionists, analyzing the most likely scenarios for the destruction of Israel. However, the Iranian media has not been overly focused on the protests, perhaps due to fears of inspiring renewed hijab protests at home.
Some are wondering what benefit the Palestinians can derive
The second approach analyzes the protests mainly through the Palestinian lens, asking what benefit, if any, the Palestinian citizens of Israel or residents of the Palestinian Authority could derive from them. For example, an op-ed in a Qatari newspaper, headlined “There is no Israeli spring in sight,” stated that most of the Israeli demonstrators had not changed their racist attitude towards the Palestinians and therefore the protests do not augur any change for them.
The Arab-Palestinian public in Israel is not a homogenous bloc in terms of its attitude toward the protests. Most recognize the dangers of the regime coup and are concerned about its consequences for themselves but nevertheless, the majority avoids participating in the protests because it does not see them as a response to its own demands, which include, among other things, repealing the Nation-State Law.
FRUSTRATED BY the political impasse and the rise to power of an extreme right-wing government, some Palestinians see the protests as a way to weaken Israel. As exiled Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan commented, “I hope Netanyahu succeeds in his plan to destroy the Israeli judicial system. Anyway, it’s an internal Israeli issue, so I just hope it succeeds.”
Some Palestinians view the protests as an example to be emulated in criticism of the Palestinian leadership. “I feel sad when I compare the hundreds of thousands who participate in the popular protest movement in Israel... and the complete silence in the Palestinian arena,” wrote Ziad Abu Zayyad, former Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs and a veteran journalist.
“For over 15 years, we have lived without a parliament and without democracy, witnessing legislation carried out by unelected people, which is not subject to the principles and procedures established by law... (yet) we do not see any popular protest against the schism or demands to stop interference in the judicial system or to hold elections. We need to stop and ask ourselves what has brought us to this degree of indifference.”
Some Middle East media is ignoring the protests
The third approach adopted by Middle East media ignores the protests or reports on them laconically without resorting to assessments of their implications for the regime and Israeli society. This approach is typical of all countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel: Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan. Saudi Arabia and Oman can also be included in this group.
The deliberate silence in these countries appears to stem from three main reasons: First, given that the process taking place in Israel is ongoing, it is too early to judge its implications. Second, regardless of the outcome of the protests, the Israeli government headed by Netanyahu will not undermine relations with Muslim countries with which it has diplomatic relations and therefore the shared interests of both sides will not change.
Third, increased reporting on the protests in Israel is liable to awaken the Arab public from the slumber imposed by all the Arab rulers who suppressed the Arab Spring protests, whether through violence or monetary incentives. Therefore, reports of pro-democracy protests do not serve these authoritarian regimes.
In conclusion, the attitude in the Middle East media to the protests in Israel largely reflects the complexity of views regarding Israel’s place and status in the region: its enemies wish for its demise, while its friends or allies prefer to remain on the fence. Paradoxically, it is mainly the Palestinians who are likely to be affected by the protests because Israel and the international community continue to ignore their plight.
Israel’s weakness at this time, as reflected in some Middle Eastern media, may be construed as a possible opportunity to escalate the Palestinian struggle, particularly on the eve of Ramadan.
Prof. Elie Podeh is a board member of the Mitvim Institute and teaches at Hebrew University’s Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Mor Shapira is a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Arabic and a researcher at the MEMRI Institute.