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February 7, 2011 5:14 pm

Israel’s Missed Opportunity to Support Arab Freedom

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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The Near East area as seen from space. Photo: NASA.

I believe to my core that Israel is making a huge mistake by not supporting the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people. All over the internet we’re reading of Israel’s apprehension at the fall of Mubarak. Yes, I know. The Egyptian dictator kept the peace for thirty years. But it was a mighty cold peace, and he had more to gain by keeping it than Israel.

But that’s all beside the point.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it ought to be the region’s champion of human rights. It’s also the homeland of a people who gave the world the earliest foundation of democracy with the Bible’s incomparable declaration that every human is created equally in the image of G-d. 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 a historic opportunity to publicly champion Arab freedom out of fear of radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood or a repeat of what happened in Gaza with Hamas’ election is deeply regrettable and counterproductive. The Arabs will hold Israel accountable for betraying its own message of democracy.

With its essential neutrality on the question of Arab freedom Israel now has the same problem as Barack Obama of not being on the side of human liberty. Obama earned international ridicule for sitting around as events overtook him, only offering his support for the Egyptian protesters once their ultimate triumph was a fate accopli thereby demonstrating that the leader of the free world is neither a leader nor a champion of the free.

But for Israel the stakes are much higher.

For five decades Israel has argued that the real problem in the Middle East is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 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 in the history of the world 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 themselves who make the decision to go to war and they therefore pressure their leaders to choose war only after every other option has been exhausted.

It’s easy to see the truth of this argument every day in the Middle East. Demagogues call for Arabs low on their food chain 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 eight-year Iran-Iraq was were sent by tyrants and fanatics on both sides, utterly unaccountable to the people they sent to die. The absence of democracy in the Arab world is the source of its major conflicts with thugs like Kaddafi, Assad, and the brutal House of Saud suppressing their people’s most basic rights and then using the Jews as scapegoats to explain their subjects’ miserable lives.

So why would Israel now retreat from this most basic truth?

Yes, I know. Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t. Democratic elections in Gaza brought Hamas terrorists to power. Even Hitler was ultimately 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 United States, and the Western powers should support what President Bush created in Iraq, namely, a constitutional democracy, one that enshrines protections of minorities and guarantees fundamental human rights. In the case of Egypt I even believe that the United States 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, for obvious reasons.

In the essential question of why the world is so hostile to Israel there are two camps. One says the world is hopelessly anti-Semitic. I do not subscribe to this camp. The other says that Israel has done a poor job of explaining itself, coming across as focused solely on its survival, whatever the suffering caused to the Palestinians. Because Jews died in the holocaust – so the thinking goes – Israel feels it can do anything to prevent a further holocaust, including inflict endless suffering on the Palestinians whom they displaced. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth. The Jews built Israel rather than colonized it. They gave equal rights to the Arab citizen population and more rights to the Palestinians in the West Bank than they enjoy in any Arab land.

But Israel’s image will not change until it lives up to its Biblical mandate of being a light unto the nations. It has to stand for something big. The world consistently supports the Dalai Lama’s struggle against the Chinese because they believe Tibet’s survival is fundamental to Western spirituality. Westerners look to Buddhism for guidance.

The same should be true of Israel and Judaism. Israel should promote what it truly is, a beacon to Arab nations of the possibility of freedom, human dignity, and religious pluralism in the Middle East. Yes, I believe Israel should preach these values. We should be speaking not only about an existential threat from Iran, but the threat to human dignity wherever there are honor killings, where women are subordinated to men, and where gays are killed in the streets.

And it should begin with Israel being the foremost champion of Arab liberty in the region.

The real story behind the Arab uprisings is Israel. Arabs who see Israelis living free lives with financial prosperity and religious autonomy just across the border from them are wondering why they don’t have the same. Had Israel not existed Arab dictators could pass the specious argument that freedom can’t exist in the volatile region and foreign policy experts would continue to offer the condescending argument that Arabs are too politically juvenile to be free.

Netanyahu can give a speech tomorrow that says, “Israel is profoundly grateful to Hosni Mubarak for keeping the peace for three decades. We owe him much. But as a freedom-loving democracy Israel’s heart is with the people everywhere, especially the Middle East, who yearn for a free society

It’s time for Israel to go to stage two of its development. Stage one was a homeland for Jews. Stage two is a light unto the nations. A beacon of human liberty and freedom, a nation in which not only are there no honor killings of young women with boyfriends but where women can be Prime Ministers and Judges, a  nation where every person has no fear of persecution or intimidation. A nation governed by the rule of law. And a nation that supports the democratic aspirations of people everywhere.

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  • Levy

    This what happens when you have a rabbi who endorses michial Jackson so he can put it on his resume. Not always is the truth politically correct.

    As the comment above clearly explains, you are only deluding yourself if you think there is nothing wrong at the core of Islam.

    Sadly it will be the liberal Jews who will continue to support Islam’s takeover of European.

    So long as you dont address the fundamental problem knows as Islam, you are only digging your own grave.

  • FactsRule

    You’re disrespecting Muslims by not accepting that Muslims are ruled by Islam. Islam is the Koran & Sunna. Islam is far, far too powerful an influence to allow for a successful Democratically founded, constitutionally constructed nation. The abiding beliefs of Muslims are instructed by Jihad over the world. What you are advocating is extremely dangerous & foolish. After reviewing this poll of 1,000 Egyptians please take the time to study the vast amount of evidence & truth about Islam & Muslims since Islam’s inception. I will list relevant sites so you will understand this the correct, logical way that will promote in you a clear vision of how powerful & controlling is the worst evil on earth, Islam.
    Pew Survey:

    — Is it good that Islam plays a large role in politics? 95 percent said “yes” and 2 percent “bad.”

    — Is Islam’s influence in politics positive or negative? 85 percent said “positive,” 2 percent said “negative.”

    — How much of a role does Islam play in Egyptian politics now? 48 percent said “large” and 49 percent said “small.”

    — Is there a struggle between groups that want to modernize Egypt and Islamic fundamentalists? 31 percent said “yes.” Of them, 27 percent described themselves as modernizers and 59 percent called themselves fundamentalists.


    — Are suicide bombings justified? 46 percent said “never,” 34 percent “rarely,” 12 percent “sometimes” and 8 percent “often.” (NOTE: Support for suicide bombing has dropped since 2006, when 28 percent said they were justified sometimes or often.)

    — Are you concerned about Islamist extremism in the world? 70 percent said they were “very concerned” or “concerned.”

    — Are you concerned about Islamist extremism in Egypt? 61 percent said they were “very concerned” or “concerned.”


    — What do you think of Hamas? 49 percent were favorable.

    — What do you think of Hezbollah? 30 percent were favorable.

    – What do you think of al Qaeda? 20 percent were favorable.

    — Do you have confidence in Osama bin Laden? 19 percent said “some” or “a lot,” 73 percent said “not much” or “none.” (NOTE: Confidence in bin Laden has fallen from 27 percent in 2006).


    — Should men and women be segregated in the workplace? 54 percent said “yes” and 44 percent “no.”

    — Should adulterers be stoned? 82 percent said “yes.”

    — Should apostates from Islam face the death penalty? 84 percent said “yes.”

    — Should thieves be flogged or have their hands cut off? 77 percent said “yes.”


    — Is democracy preferable to any other kind of government? 59 percent said “yes.”

    — Can a non-democratic system be preferable in certain circumstances? 22 percent said “yes.”

    — Is it irrelevant to you what kind of government you have? 16 percent said “yes.”

    Web sites that completely contradict Rabbi Boteach on this issue & clarify all questions about Islam from Islam itself:

    Here are a few disturbing videos:

    Boston’s megamosque’s terrorist Imam (portending Ground Zero? youtube. com/watch?v=qUYIHRRaPmA&feature=player_embedded#!
    Orlando Terrorist Mosque
    Terrorist Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi whom Imam Rauf praises as of the greatest
    Why Islam is so successful html

    Public Middle School Taken to Terror Supporting Mosque

    “Those who are kind to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the kind. Civilization is the kind in the analogy. Islam is the cruel. That is the God’s honest truth, accept it or not. You decide by making an honest effort at reviewing some or all of the material on Islam I’ve presented.
    There are a handful of U.S. Muslims who’ve risen to tell world Islam that there has to be major fundamental changes in Islam for it to be acceptable to civilized humanity. Those are the only totally truthful Muslims, the only ones who any rational, compassionate person should support.