An Open Letter to the “Arab Street”

This was written by Benjamin Kerstein and was published at Jewish Ideas Daily.

First and foremost, congratulations. Even from our vantage point on the other side of a seemingly unbridgeable divide between our peoples, the extraordinary nature of what you have accomplished in recent weeks is obvious. The eventual outcome of your revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere is clearly still in question, but there is no doubt that by your actions you have changed the Middle East, possibly forever.

From our point of view, two very ironic things have emerged from what you have done. The first is that, contrary to the widely held belief that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the main reason for the “anger” of the Arab street, and the great impediment to political reform in the region, Israel’s name has been all but absent from your demonstrations and protests. This, in and of itself, is a hopeful sign. The second is that Israel’s own reaction to these events, despite their great promise, has been an ambivalent one.

The reason for our generally cautious and skeptical approach to your revolution is simple: we do not know if it is real or not. At this point, it is quite possible that you do not know, either. But if it is indeed real, and if it is here to stay, safe from the forces of reaction religious or secular, then there is no doubt that you will soon face an extraordinary opportunity. Through your silence on the subject, you yourselves have signaled that Israel is not, after all, the major obstacle to progress in your region. But the war against Israel certainly has been. You now have a chance to rid yourselves of that obstacle once and for all.

These days, amid the endless discussions about how much or how little Israel will or should concede in order to achieve peace, it is easy to forget that the Arab-Israeli conflict was, in fact, an Arab creation—in particular, a creation of the leaders you are now in the process of shrugging off. None of the wars between us, let alone the hundred-year war waged by the Arab world against Zionism, had to happen. They were wars of choice. Had your predecessors acknowledged our rights from the beginning and found some way to accommodate Zionism geographically and politically, we might have avoided a century of conflict. The cost of not doing so has been extremely high for both of us.

On our side, we have had to contend with constant fear, constant readiness, and the inevitable casualties of war. But the effect on you has been even more deleterious. War and hatred, with Israel and Zionism as their perpetual justification, have entrenched autocracy and authoritarianism in your countries, undermined your civic culture with conspiracy theory and violence, and stunted political and economic progress. And all of it was and is unnecessary.

The new openness and liberalism that we all pray will result from your uprising will present a unique opportunity to change this state of affairs. What is required is only one radical and courageous act: call off the war against us. Unilaterally and unconditionally, make peace with the state of Israel.

Read the rest of the essay, here.

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