Silence is golden

We should be saying as little as possible in this country about the events in the region.

We might be in the midst of a revolution in the Arab world. The status quo might be shifting. Heads might roll in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan and the West Bank. Maybe.
And that’s a big maybe. The uncertainty hasn’t stopped the flood of opinion pieces from pundits who are coming out with their politically- charged take on recent events. But if you’re looking for real analysis, readers should try to stick to the facts.
Some of the biggest headlines came out of Lebanon. Many saw the appointment of Najib Mikati as prime minister-designate as a huge blow. Hizbullah and its allies Syria and Iran have managed to take power by installing him. Of course we should be concerned, but it’s not as if his ousted predecessor, Saad Hariri, was a friend of Israel. He condemned us at every turn, allied himself with Hizbullah, and has given the group a free hand across the country. Hizbullah was most likely involved, along with the Syrians, in killing his father, the former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Saad is such an “important” leader to the West; he wants to bury the UN report about his father’s assassination. So in Lebanon, the more things change the more they stay the same – certainly as far as Israel is concerned.
People with some knowledge of history know the secret of Hizbullah’s success and how it got a good chunk of its power. By providing social services to many of the impoverished Shi’ite civilians, the group can then get their political support for its hateful anti- Israel/anti-West manifesto.
That lesson was lost on many of the Arab dictatorships, which continued to make it harder and harder for their citizens to make a living.
Let’s face it, when a person is making an average of $2 a day, like in Egypt, something’s got to give when the government raises the price of basic foodstuffs as much as 50 fold.
Hasn’t that been the pattern of revolutions throughout history? Common folk are abused under dictatorships until the situation reaches a boiling point, when people spill out onto the streets demanding the despots step down and reforms be enacted. Sometimes it works, but often the changes are cosmetic, or the demonstrators end up with an even worse situation.
So far, there have been no real repercussions in Yemen or Jordan. As for Egypt, the country seems to be collapsing into anarchy and Hosni Mubarak might be on his way out, but this is not the first time the country has seen these kinds of demonstrations. The infamous “bread riots” in 1977 saw more than 800 people killed, but the status quo remained.
What has actually happened in Tunisia? True, its former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is gone, but now the army is in control. The interim prime minister is trying to schedule elections, but what happens next is anyone’s guess.
YET THERE are many pundits who would tell you that this wave of revolt is really an extremist conspiracy led by Iran/al-Qaida/Muslim Brotherhood/Al Jazeera (fill in the blank) even though there has been no evidence to back such a claim. There’s no question Israel must be very concerned over what is happening in the Arab countries – but journalists and columnists alike are jumping the gun when it comes to implications.
Indeed, the X factor in these scenarios is Al Jazeera, which has become the most important media outlet in the Middle East, if not the world. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. It’s just the fact on the ground. The Palestine Papers story has been a real conundrum for Israeli “experts,” who just don’t know how to digest it.
Some folks on the Left like it because it shows that the Palestinian Authority can be a real partner for peace and is willing to help us against a common enemy like Hamas.
On the other hand some say it strengthens Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position because, at the moment of truth, PA President Mahmoud Abbas didn’t agree to the compromises.
On the Right, it’s the same story – some like the PaliLeaks because they make Tzipi Livni and Kadima look like they can’t get the job done, while others hate them because they show Israel in a bad light and weakens Netanyahu’s claim that he, with his bloated coalition, can achieve peace.
One prominent right-of-center columnist even made the argument that the whole story was false, and that Al Jazeera changed the leaked documents, is really an agent of the extremists and is trying to bring down the PA. I wonder if that same columnist was making the same claims when the station was widely covering last year’s riots in Iran? When the Israeli media report on corruption and incompetence in the PA, do they also want Hamas to come to power? It’s a moot point, now that former prime minister Ehud Olmert has made public his version of the negotiations with Abbas. It looks like there might be merit to the Palestinian Papers. The fact that Netanyahu was unwilling to pick up negotiations where Olmert left off is another story. Truth is, Al Jazeera reminds me a bit of “Voice of the Arabs” – the notorious Egyptian radio station which broadcast propaganda and cultural programs under Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The station was very popular, and became the main vehicle for the expression of Arab identity.
Unfortunately, Al Jazeera is almost as skewed against Israel.
So what’s really going to happen in the Arab world? I doubt there’s really anyone out there who’s willing to bet on any answer. One thing I will make an educated guess about is that nothing will change as far as these countries’ attitudes toward Israel are concerned. Their hate of us is too engrained by decades if brainwashing.
The best we can hope for is a cold peace.
What should we be saying? As little as possible.
This time, there’s nothing to gain by speaking out. The Arab world might be burning, and it’s our job is to keep as far away from the flames as possible. When events get so big and out of hand, no one knows what the future may bring. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya’s School of Communications and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.

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