A sudden reminder that values still matter

Events of the past weeks are stark reminder that US has utterly failed to inculcate its values in this region that needs them.

pro-mubarak protestors (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
pro-mubarak protestors
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Watching Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime begin to crumble, American leaders could not help but be struck by their unappealing options. They could do whatever possible to buttress Mubarak, who is at least marginally pro-Western and has maintained the cold peace that Anwar Sadat initiated with Israel, but that would also mean supporting a despot who has ruled with an iron fist for 30 years and for whom democracy is not at all a value.
Alternatively, they could throw their support behind the pro-democracy movement – in full realization, however, that whether secularists or the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately take charge, Egypt is likely to find itself in the grip of distinctly anti-Western sentiment, and the peace with Israel will be at great risk.
One simple truth is undeniable – none of the parties vying for control share America’s fundamental values. Liberal democracy, a free press, acceptance of minorities, better status for women, acceptance of gays and lesbians – whatever happens in Egypt, none of these are likely. The same is true in Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon. The events of the past few weeks are a stark reminder that for all its allegedly strategic alliances, America has utterly failed to inculcate its values in this region that desperately needs them.
IN THE World Economic Forum’s 2009 Global Gender Gap Index, out of 134 ranked countries, Yemen ranked at the absolute bottom in its treatment of women. Egypt ranked 126, and Jordan came in at 113. Women in these countries languish in conditions that are decades, if not centuries, behind the West, in no small measure due to regimes that the US has supported.
In the area of sexual preference, the situation is similarly bleak. Gay teenagers are executed in Iran, and gay men in Gaza face up to 10 years in prison. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco all ban homosexuality under secular law (with fines and prison terms). Saudi Arabia and Yemen execute homosexuals.
With Hizbullah now in control of Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood poised to take charge in Egypt and Hamas firmly entrenched in Gaza, one conclusion is painfully unavoidable – America’s strategic partnerships may have bought it a few decades of quiet, but have done nothing to advance the values and freedoms that make America great.
In radical contradistinction to conditions in the Muslim Middle East, Israel offers a profoundly different model. It is the only country in the region which has had a woman head of state, and that now has women as heads of the Supreme Court and of the opposition. In that same Global Gender Gap Index, Israel was ranked at 45, ahead of several members of the European Union.
Out, one of the widest circulated magazines serving the gay community in the US, named Tel Aviv the gay capital of the Middle East. Unlike the US, Israel has never had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in its military.
AS EGYPT began to unravel this week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to point out that Israel is an island of stability. But Netanyahu missed the point. The US and Europe ought to be firmly in Israel’s camp, not because it is stable, but because it shares the commitments to freedom, women’s rights, a free press and the open exchange of ideas that made America great.
This week’s events ought to be a stark reminder to Americans. Strategic alliances with countries that do not share the West’s values may make short-term sense, but in the end, they inevitably disappoint. Israel, increasingly and hypocritically marginalized by the West because of the intractable conflict with the Palestinians, is ironically the one country in this dark part of the world where America’s greatest values actually flourish.
How sad that this glaring reality is hardly ever mentioned when the enlightened West discusses Israel. If the Palestinians adopted America’s openness and genuinely accepted Israel’s right to exist in security, is there any doubt that peace would follow immediately?
It is not too late for America to stand for freedom. Recent events in Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan and Egypt (to say nothing of Turkey’s increasing embrace of the Islamist world) ought to lead Washington to change its tune. The US should unabashedly support those countries in which American values are cherished.
As long as the US fails to assert that freedom, tolerance and justice are the values to which it is most fundamentally committed, not only will other peoples not benefit from America’s greatness, but peace will also be forestalled.
Instead of pretending that settlements (however problematic) are the real impediment to peace and coddling the Palestinians when they have made no move toward the openness and freedom to which the West is committed, Washington ought to insist that its support of Palestinian statehood will be predicated on a commitment to regional diversity and the acceptance of a Jewish state, moves toward dramatically improved roles for women, a society that is brave enough to break from the Muslim world’s horrendous treatments of homosexuals, a state committed to a free press and the open exchange of ideas, and in general a leadership committed to fashioning its emerging society in the image of American – and Israeli – values.
Values matter. So does freedom. With its entire set of strategic alliances with the Arab world now in danger, America has the opportunity to reassert its abiding commitment to the values which have made it great and which the region, still mired in darkness, needs now more than ever.
The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His latest book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. He blogs at http://danielgordis.org.