Anti-Zionism of fools: What Egypt and the Guardian can learn from Israeli democracy

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Israeli woman votes in 2013 election

An Egyptian opposition activist named Himda Hamdi was interviewed on Israeli TV last night and, buoyed by the fall of Mohammed Morsi, told citizens of the Jewish state that if her country could overturn the Muslim Brotherhood led regime then surely Israelis can do the same and remove Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the site of this young, progressive Arab woman speaking Hebrew was in many ways exhilarating, she perhaps needed reminding that Israeli voters peacefully decided the fate of their government in free and fair elections earlier in the year.

When the nineteenth Israeli Knesset was sworn in March, it represented merely the latest chapter in a 65 year history of non-violent democratic political transitions in the Jewish state.

Though Israelis of course disagree on any number of domestic and foreign policy issues, extremes within the country remain at the margins, and the centre continues to hold.  And, whilst there are factions lobbying for evolutionary change in social policy, and with regard to negotiations with the Palestinians, the country’s economy is exceptionally strong, their democracy remains robust and there is no serious political faction agitating for revolutionary change.

As the dramatic developments unfolding in Egypt now demonstrate, democracy isn’t one single event but rather a persuasion – a political habit of mind nurtured by the behavior of a nation’s citizenry, its cultural, media and religious gatekeepers and political class. It generally can not be imposed by a foreign power, nor brought to life by a (temporary) strongman. Political parties with no ideological propensity towards progressive, representative forms of government can not be trusted to govern in a manner which shows fealty towards such democratic norms as the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of laws which fiercely protect the rights of women, minorities and political opponents.

As the brief reign of the reactionary movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood shows us, political Islam – as with the Pan-Arabism and statist dictatorships which preceded its rise within the region – is fundamentally at odds with truly liberal political aspirations within the Arab world.

Interestingly, the Guardian earlier today published an editorial not only criticizing the military coup by praising the Muslim Brotherhood as, yes, defenders of constitutional democracy, demonstrating again – as with their defense of Hamas’ ‘democratic’ legitimacy – the institution’s inability to recognize the difference between democrats (those who seek genuine representative democracy) and demopaths (those who seek democratic legitimacy in order to destroy liberal society). As one Arab pundit recently observed about Morsi’s ‘reforms’ which had the effect of merely solidifying Brotherhood control of the country and codifying illiberal Islamist doctrine: “Morsi proved that political Islam seeks to use democracy only to seize power only to bury the democratic dream later.”

Additionally, if the strength of a democracy can in part be measured by how well the nation treats the proverbial ‘other’, Morsi’s government – which nurtured a society in which the beleaguered Christians and Bahais (and even Shiites) faced increasing discrimination and violence – failed miserably.  Further, while it may be a bit cliché to note that the health of a society can be gauged by how well they treat their Jewish minority, the following passage, from an essay written by a Muslim named Ahmed Hashemi, commenting on the increased antisemitism in Egypt (a nation with a Jewish population of, at most, 40) after the revolution, rings true.

…if we are going to establish a healthy, tolerant society that respects differences, and pursues a pluralistic democracy, we have to accept that Jews and the Jewish community have been part and parcel of our own communities. This affirmation of coexistence represents the essence of today’s civilization. An ‘Arab Spring’ without religious tolerance that rests on strong anti-Semitic attitudes cannot bring about genuine democracy and freedom. In a peaceful and democratic Middle East, everyone can prosper and flourish.

In reading the Guardian daily, it seems that the most pronounced effect stemming from their largely uncritical advocacy on behalf of Arabs (including Palestinian Arabs), and their hostility towards Zionism, relates not to its injurious influence on Israel, but the harm it inflicts upon their Arab protagonists by legitimizing their sense of victimhood and their immutable grievances against the Jews.

As the most successful democracy in the region, Hashemi added, “possessing a strong and diversified economy and a dynamic multiparty political system in a tyranny-affected region, Israel can be a role model.”

The Guardian’s ideologically inspired legitimization of the Arab world’s hostility towards Israel nurtures their continuing social pathos and sclerotic economies, and ensures that, regardless of whom takes power in Egypt, the shining example of diversity, tolerance sober, and liberal self-government to their north will never be leveraged to their advantage.

The anti-Zionism of fools makes it more probable that the ‘Arab Spring’ will continue to be merely a chimera.

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