Israel, Zionism and the Media

Tag: democracy

Three Muslim Women

Well, two women and a girl, really.

I want you to watch these three videos.

The first two especially appear to run counter to our preconceptions, or prejudices, which tell us that all Egyptians hate Jews.

I have no idea what these young women think of Israel or even Jews but I really don’t care. One thing for sure, it will be based on human rights and justice and not on deep-seated irrational hatred.

The first one shows and Egyptian activist Ibhama Abi Saif giving an interview direct from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Israel’s Channel 10 front man Guy Zohar.

Now, in any country, an interview with someone in Tahrir Square reporting their views on the Muslim Brotherhood with a backdrop of the square heaving with protestors would be normal.

But here we see a really charming Egyptian women, clearly religious SPEAKING PERFECT HEBREW.

The context of such an event is the ongoing demonisation of Jews, Zionists and Israelis in Egypt, which is so antisemitic that I, for one, did not see any headroom for such an interview.

Ibhama Abi Saif is polite, eloquent, charming and friendly, non-antagonistic. What’s going on? I had to check my own prejudices with this one. I really love this young woman.

Why am I so enthused by this interview? It gives us all hope. it shows us what the Middle East could look like if you take away the hate. It shows us what normalisation might look like.

Ibhama ends her interview with a most Jewish phrase ‘b’ezrat Hashem’ – with G-d’s help, a direct equivalent of ‘Inshallah’ Wonderful, inspiring and moving even though it’s just an interview.

Here’s a transcript.

Channel 10’s Guy Zohar interviews Egyptian journalist and activist Ibhama Abi Saif.

Egyptian journalist and political activist who agreed to speak with us in Hebrew directly from Tahrir Square.
Guy: Shalom

Ibhama: Shalom Guy.

Guy: So what is going on behind you there?

Ibhama: As you can see, there are masses of people gathering against our regime in Egypt. They want to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi for us is not just a president. He is in the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Guy: But he was elected in democratic elections.

Ibhama: I agree with you that there was a vote and the ballot box had their say. But every president, everywhere in the world, derives his legitimacy from the people. If the nation takes that right away from him. He cannot remain in power. We don’t want him anywhere. The masses are out in the streets demanding to over throw him. As far as I’m concerned, and from what I understand This is the epitome of democracy in any country.

Guy: But aren’t you concerned the military will abolish the democracy?

Ibhama: I am not afraid, and no Egyptian is afraid of its military. Our military is one with the nation. As our motto states. This is what we expect from our military. To stand with the people, and this is what is happening.

Guy: And what about the Muslim Brotherhood’s response?

Ibhama: I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is that dense or stupid. They know the military will not remain silent, that it will act with an iron fist against anyone who thinks he can hurt the people. We are not Syria and we will never be Syria.

Guy: I must ask you, aren’t you worried about speaking Hebrew in the middle of Tahrir Square?

Ibhama: I am not afraid to speak Hebrew in any place in Egypt, where we have people who know Hebrew. They ask me if I’m Egyptian or not, and I tell them that I am Egyptian and this is the language I learned and that I am implementing. I am not afraid at all and it is actually normal here. We have many people who speak several languages, and it’s cool.

Guy: Very nice. Is there something important for you to tell us Israelis?

Ibhama: Yes, of course. I see what is going on in Israel. I call, not just on Israelis but every nation which is not receiving the treatment it deserves from its government or its president, not to remain silent. If Bibi and Lapid are not doing their job, get rid of them, replace them with someone who will do what you want. If they made promises and didn’t keep them. Don’t stay silent. We were also promised many things and they didn’t make good, so we are now removing them. I believe the people will decide what it really wants. Onwards!

Guy: Ibhama Abi Saif, thank you very much. I hope you will continue to update us.

Ibhama: With the help of God. You’re welcome. Bye.

The second video is a report by a young Egyptian woman, Dalia Ziada telling the AJC website viewers not to believe or take at face value what they see reported from Egypt.

She begins ‘Dear friends’.  In another video an ecstatic Dalia begins ‘Dear, dear, dear Agency friends’ soon after Mohamed Morsi is removed from power.

The report below  is about the ‘massacre’ of 50 Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian army. But all is not what it seems.

So, yet another charming young religious Egyptian woman, this time reporting (in perfect English) to a Jewish Human Rights organisation! Something she does regularly. She even met AJC folks at the AJC Global Forum! She reports frequently to the AJC from Cairo and she is in fear of her life for doing so. Incredible.  Maybe the real Arab Spring will be led by women such as this. Inshallah!

The third I’m sure you are aware of – Malala – the bravest girl on the planet.

You can read her story with extracts of her speech at the UN General Assembly here.

And the full speech here on ‘Malala Day’.

See the some highlights below.

This is not the speech of a 16 year old girl. This is the speech of a great politician. This speech is close to the impact of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have A Dream’ speech (and she mentions him in her speech) in Washington 50 years ago, this is the speech of a future world leader. It is a most quotable speech and one that will live long in the memory. People will be watching the speech in a hundred years time.

This is a speech that can change the world – for the better. And it comes from a 16 year old Muslim girl from Pakistan.

Are these three videos the seed of something new, something exciting, something that can change our world and free us from mediaeval religious Fascism and moves toward toleration, acceptance and respect?

Maybe not in my lifetime, but I didn’t expect to see the end of the Soviet Union or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall either.

Empowering women, especially women in cultures that have always oppressed them or disrespected their rights, is what the rest of this century will be about.

Maybe it won’t be about a Jihad against the West but an uprising of strong, confident brave women who will change attitudes and lead us all to a brighter more hopeful future.

B’ezrat Hashem. Inshallah.

So the Egyptian uprising is good for Israel, is it?

In the wake of the Egyptian uprising, everyone was telling Israel not to fear Egyptian democracy.

Israel was particularly concerned that a new government would tear up its 30 year treaty with Egypt which brought peace to Israel’s southern border and also provided a natural gas pipeline to supply a substantial percentage of Israel’s energy needs.

This same pipeline provides gas to Jordan, and both Israel and Jordan had negotiated preferential rates well below global prices.

Soon after the uprising the pipeline was blown up and gas supplies to Israel and Jordan halted.

The optimists said that this was some sort of reaction to the Mubarak government or the work of ‘Islamists’ and the pipeline would be restored.

It hasn’t.

Delaying tactics and excuses have now given way to a blatant cutting off of supplies.

The Elder of Ziyon reports :

An Egyptian source is quoted as saying that the Egyptians cannot resume pumping gas to Jordan and not to Israel without causing an international incident. Therefore they are preferring not to pump gas to Jordan altogether – just to hurt Israel!

This is somewhat contradicted by another statement the Elder reports:

Yesterday, a Jordanian official said that Egypt would be raising its price of gas to Jordan to be more in line with the going rate.

But they can’t sell to Jordan and not to Israel without causing a major international incident. Yet, is it really true that anyone would care about such an incident?

Yes, the United States would care, and their support, both financial and political, to the new regime and its putative successors would be at risk.

So the Egyptians just delay.

The point is really this: it would be politically unacceptable for the new regime to sell gas to Israel, despite the agreement and the fact that Israel has a part share in the consortium doing the pumping.

The Egyptian people did not just get rid of Mubarak because he was a dictator, but because he had continued the Sadat peace agreement with Israel, albeit rather half-heartedly.

This was known as the Cold Peace.

Well it’s now well below zero, folks.

Egyptians overwhelmingly hate Israel. Those who fuelled the uprising hate Israel. Any rapprochement, any deal, is unpopular and would cause more trouble.

All those who told Israel it should not fear democracy in Egypt may have to eat their words.

There is no democracy in Egypt, at least not yet. And when they do finally vote, I doubt any party will stand on an Israel-hugging platform.

Any cancelling of the peace treaty and the placing of Egyptian troops in Sinai could be catastrophic for the region, and especially Israel.

This will be a play-off between the power and influence – and money – of the United States and the anti-Israel, and often antisemitic, rhetoric of Egyptian politics and public discourse.

Is it not sad to observe that Egypt’s best chance for a true democracy and prosperity would be full political, cultural technological and economic relations with Israel. That would build a better future for all Egyptians.

Let’s hope my analysis is very wrong. Time will tell.

I did take time to look at a survey here taken last month which appears to show that I am wrong.

In this survey, taken by phoning people at random in Cairo and Alexandria by the Pechter Group, 37% of respondents supported the peace treaty with Israel and 22% opposed. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas did not have a lot of support.

Another survey reorted in the Huffington Post revealed:

On Israel and Palestinians: 69% said that of all Obama policies they were most disappointed toward Israel and Palestine; 90% named Israel as one of two nations that are the greatest threat to them and Egyptians were split as to whether there would ever be lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians.

Perhaps more revealing was this:

On Iran: 86% say Iran has a right to pursue its nuclear program, 56% agree Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and 79% say it would be positive if Iran acquired nuclear arms.

The problem is, however, that unless a strong democracy can be created, extremists will find a way to attack the treaty with Israel. Clamping down on these elements could be seen as regressive and unpopular.

The support for Iran’s nuclear programme is worrying.

It doesn’t exactly paint the pretty picture that the Western media is so keen to portray.

Arab democracy, Western hypocrisy

I’ve been thinking (dangerous), musing, reading and self-questioning. In other words, a normal day.

What is at the forefront of our minds and our TV screens at the moment is the unfolding drama of Egypt.

I have been struck, somewhat unexpectedly, by a sort of epiphany; a moment when I can see politicians and diplomacy for what they are.

I have been infuriated by the utter hypocrisy of Egypt’s western allies, the vaunted western democracies and the news media.

First Obama, who like his predecessors, has supported Mubarak and his awful regime. He believed that stability in the region required Egypt to work with the US, (who payed billions to maintain the regime and prop up its military) as a bulwark against Islamism. He believed that this long-held strategy would prevent a regional implosion and, ultimately preserve the peace between Israel and Egypt. Well, it worked, didn’t it? For more than 30 years.

Obama was not alone, of course; like everyone else he did not believe that democracy could be born from an Arab womb without a strong US midwife (Iraq, Afghanistan) and a sturdy pair of forceps.

Governments have to work with regimes they might not approve of, but the West has long supported or at least tolerated dictators only to turn against them at the slightest sniff of the outbreak of democracy, or more often when their own interests have changed.

This was not so much a sniff but a full-blown bout of influenza. Obama turned against Mubarak and declared he wanted to see a smooth transition of power according to the will of the Egyptian people; a will he had not believed existed and which now he applauded.

Where was his support and that of the western democracies for the will of the Egyptian people before? What did he or any other western democracy ever do to encourage democracy in countries suffering under dictators?  All the US ever did was invade and militarily intervene to impose their national will and their idea of democracy on Iraq, Afghanistan and before this Vietnam. One could also mention Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada.

OK. I don’t want to bash the US, but as the leaders of the free world their foreign policy was often guided by fear; it used to be Communism, now it’s Islamism. In this Internet era, maybe a tweet or a leak is as powerful as an ICBM or an armoured division.

Outside of the Monroe Doctrine area, Europe has always gone along with their ally. Perhaps only in Yugoslavia where the battle was about preventing genocide and stabilising Europe did the West get it right, despite many mistakes.

Perhaps events like those in Egypt show us that international politics is really about self-interest and is governed by a hefty dose of Realpolitk; if the dictator is on your side, prop him up, if he is against you, undermine, attack, invade. There is no true morality in international politics, only the pretence of it.

The problem with this approach is most apparent when your client, or unsavoury dictator friend, falls from grace, and  this is particularly embarrassing when your guy is replaced by a democracy; just the sort of government you should have been supporting all along.

Governments like the UK and the USA then have to come up with some platitudes and become imperiously statesmanlike and request, guide, coerce their former ally to fall on his sword so they can greet with fanfare the new government, the one they always really wanted, a government of the people, a true democracy which they now support and expect to continue with relations as normal.

So, when this new democracy comes into being it is not surprising that those governments who supported its predecessor are not exactly flavour of the month.

Well, we don’t have a democracy in Egypt yet, but if we do, then the US and its allies will have some explaining to do, which it has already decided to do by offering a few billion dollars in aid.

Am I being too cynical?

Such is political life. Hypocrisy is sort-of built-in.

And, of course, nowhere is Israel held up as the only democracy in the Middle East; in fact, today, I heard someone on a news programme looking forward to Egypt being the FIRST democracy in the region.

What region is that? North Africa?

Egypt and the Web 2.0 revolution

Who cannot be moved by the images coming out of Egypt and especially Tahrir Square in Cairo over the past 3 weeks.

Who can fail to be impressed by the dignity and self-control, the patriotism and the aspiration. after all, don’t we all want democracy everywhere?

What we have witnessed is a new type of revolution. The precursors of this revolution have been the Iranian protests about the allegedly rigged re-election of President Ahmadinejad, the popular protests in Tunisia which ousted the incumbent president and even the student protests in the UK over student fees.

Copycat uprisings have also sprung up in Jordan and Algeria with little impact so far.

Is this a new dawn of democracy for the Middle East?

As many commentators have observed, these popular uprisings and protests have been co-ordinated by young people using social media and mobile devices.

This is seismic because in the Brave New World of cyber- protest and revolt, political agitation and organising, it is the youth of the world (and the Arab world is a particularly young demographic) who are setting the pace, upsetting old norms and paradigms and leveraging their knowledge of social media and the World Wide Web to attempt to sweep away the former centres of power.

This new-found power is bad news for dictators and tyrants. Democracies can absorb it and even use it. Authoritarian societies which try to suppress the freedom of information and control the press are finding it increasingly difficult to outwit those members of their societies who find on the Internet an outlet for grievance and an access to the truth.

The media has presented us with well-spoken, western-dressed, young, savvy Egyptians who give us hope that Egypt can find its way to true democracy and  provide inspiration for other oppressed people in the Middle East and beyond.

Yet, all this could still go wrong. The new military government has confirmed the existing treaty with Israel but has now suspended the Constitution. What will that mean?

If democracy is established, can it be sustained? Will Egypt become a second Iraq where its very freedom will, ironically, allow dark forces, those of fundamentalism, to infiltrate from home and abroad and pitch the country into turmoil? Will the spirit of settling old scores, now apparent, throw the country in an internecine struggle.

Can Egypt divest itself of the antisemitism that is so pervasive?

And finally, those sophisticated representatives of Egyptian society who spoke so well  in front of the world’s cameras are the educated minority of Egypt’s middle classes and ruling elite.

On the street there are millions of impoverished and disinherited Egyptians whose leanings and inclinations may be more in the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially if there aspirations and expectations are not met in good order.

Will Egyptian democracy be good for Israel? I would say ‘yes’ were it not for the clear underlying and sometimes overt demonstrations of anti-Israel sentiment and the known dislike of Israel and the Jews that is so endemic in Egyptian society.

If the miracle does happen, an Israel-Egypt alliance would be a powerful force for peace and democracy in the region.

Somehow, I feel it will be more complex and dangerous than the euphoric media now expect.

Israel Diary – Martin Gilbert and the warning from history

Well, I’ve been back for more than a week, but reading Martin Gilbert’s latest tour de force, ‘In Ishmael’s House’ (published by Yale) whilst I was in Israel and watching the outbreak of the Egyptian popular uprising, which also occurred whilst I was there, has given me much food for thought.

So I thought I’d take the liberty of extending my Israel diary from the comfort of my home in England.

Firstly, for anyone who is interested in the experiences of Jews in Muslim lands from the beginnings of Islam in the 7th century right up to the present day must read this seminal book.

I must admit that I was pretty much ignorant of the history of Jews in Muslim lands with only a vague notion that there were good times and there were bad times.

This book confirmed that was the case. But it also confirmed that whatever the circumstances, however benign the Muslim ruler or government was, troubled times were never far away. Indeed, there are many similarities with the Jewish experience in Christian lands.

I was amazed that even comparatively recently, and certainly within the last 100 years, Jews have led comfortable, successful and influential lives in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Morocco and even Libya.

Jews have had positions of power and have been patriotic citizens of many Arab states across the Middle East.

Despite these sometimes protracted periods of affluence where Jews achieved a level of social standing, integration and honour far in excess of that experienced by their co-religionists in Europe, there was always an undercurrent of uncertainty and even fear.

This fear came from the dark corners of Islam where Jews were always the target of politicians and demagogues wanting a scapegoat or a common enemy to unite the people.

This undercurrent of Jew-hatred is ever-present in Islamic states as it has been in Christian ones. For decades, even centuries, it is suppressed and even legislated against, but the day always comes when Jews were murdered, dispossessed, dhimmified, oppressed, subject to medieval forms of treatment and humiliation, taxed, ghettoised, their civil liberties denied.

Reading the book has many moments of wonderful co-operation, mutual respect, neighbourliness, fraternity, friendship and decency. Such were the circumstances in much of the Arab world before 1947 on the eve of the declaration of the State of Israel.

But as soon as Israel came into being it released a backlash against the Jewish citizens of Arab countries which is rarely documented in the West and has been all but airbrushed out of Middle East history. Jews were expelled and their property and possessions taken from them or they chose to leave because of intolerable danger and random or orchestrated attacks. And when they left, it was usually with nothing or they had to sell off for a pittance.

This narrative is almost wholly absent from any discussion on Middle East history. When Jewish Arabs, as they often considered themselves, and many still do, arrived in Israel, where hundreds of thousands settled, they were absorbed, they did not remain refugees and never had that status for very long. They have never been compensated for their losses. After all, the vast majority never chose to leave their comfortable lives in Cairo or Damascus, Fez or Tripoli, Baghdad or Kabul.

It was Arab nationalism and  Islamic self-assertion and atavistic hatreds and prejudices which drove out the Jews. The Arab world has been made judenrein to a far greater extent than even Europe was during the Nazi period without, thankfully, the genocide.

A sad and little-known or acknowledged aspect of the modern form of Arab Islamic Jew-hatred has direct connections and dubious inspiration from the Nazi Jew-hatred. The role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in raising a Muslim SS Division, persuading Hitler not to allow Jews to escape to Palestine and even a suggestion from Gilbert that it was Husseini who may have given the idea of the Final Solution to Hitler, are all explored in this book.

How often do we hear that Palestinian dispossession as a result of a European problem with the Jews was an unjust solution to that problem, but we never hear how Islamic support of the Nazis in North Africa and Mesopotamia as well as Palestine was part of that Solution and actually assisted in driving Jews to the very land from which their Muslim opponents wanted them to leave.

Nevertheless, the Jewish civilisation and culture with all its glories and millennia-old history was swept away and all but obliterated within a few decades because the Jews dared to assert their independence and carve out a few thousand square kilometres in their ancient homeland.

The lesson from history is this: unless the Muslim states can, once and for all, disengage their religious narrative from hating or despising and certainly mistrusting Jews qua Jews, then peace and co-operation will never be possible.

It is this echo of the Nazi past that finds its modern extreme form in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizbullah as well as Al Qaeda and Iranian anti-Zionism. In its less overt forms it can be found on the Arab street and literature and the all too frequent presence of translations of Mein Kampf and the fraudulent and defamatory Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

There is an important linkage to all of this with regard to the current popular uprising in Egypt. Commentators are keen to point out the lack of anti-Western and anti-Israeli sloganising and banners in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. They do not show, however, an underlying anti-Zionist narrative that can spill over to bigotry and worse.

Many pro-Zionist websites are keen to find images of anti-Zionism and antisemitism from this uprising to support their fears of an Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood takeover. They tell us about interviews with elements in the crowd who tell us Mubarak was little more than a Zionist stooge, that it was the Jews who, in pr0pping up the dictator, were responsible for the Egyptians repression. These same websites tell us of those who want to attack Israel and destroy it, who want to ‘restore’ Palestine to the Palestinians, who still harbour a grudge because the Israelis/Jews defeated them in every war the Egyptians waged against them, occupied their country and humiliated their army.

It is hardly surprising that such views are held by so many in Egypt when, despite the ‘cold peace’ with Egypt for more than 30 years, despite co-operation in suppressing fundamentalists, border security, intelligence sharing, the Egyptian clergy, press and media have continued to pour out antisemitic vitriol poisoning the minds of the people whose Islamic culture has always allowed a space for Jew-hatred and suspicion. How often did we hear UK reporters say that all foreign press were suspected of being ‘Zionist’ agents.

Today came the welcome and stabilising news that the Egyptian army would respect existing treaties including the one with Israel.

History tells us we need more from this revolution. We must see a modern secular state that rejects Islamist narratives. We must see a proudly Muslim people with one of the greatest histories and cultures in the world realise that the democracy they crave already exists, however imperfectly, in Israel and that if they want true peace and prosperity they must continue to work with and improve relations with Israel, drop the antisemitic narrative and play an important role in spreading democracy to the entire region.

This will  have a far greater impact on peace and the prospects for Palestinians than cleaving to Islamist, undemocratic paradigms. The danger is not just the Muslim Brotherhood but a democratic state that, nevertheless, still hates Jews and Zionists and is prepared to do something about it.

We can only wait and hope.

Chavez confused on democracy

Two old friends met up in Caracas this week: Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela and President Assad of Syria.

The two of them enjoyed some light-hearted chummy banter as Chavez described the United States and Israel as enemies of his country

“the Yankee empire, the genocidal state of Israel”

reports the Belfast Telegraph.

“Someday the genocidal state of Israel will be put in its place, in the proper place and hopefully a real democratic state will be born,”

Does he mean a democratic state from ‘the river to the sea’ replacing Israel and consisting of a Hamas/Palestinian Authority Islamist government where Jews and women cannot vote and gays will be hanged?

Is it that kind of democracy he is speaking about?

Or is it the democracy in a state like Assad’s Syria where Assad is President for life and no opposition is allowed?

Neither a Palestinian state replacing Israel or Syria would even approach Venezuela’s democracy. Unless Chavez has plans to become a South American Mugabe and roll back democracy.

Assad even ‘jokingly’ suggested that Syria and Venezuela could form an ‘axis of evil’.

Ho, ho, my sides are splitting. At least Assad displays a little more self-knowledge than Chavez.

But this is so typical of the Far Left shmoozing the authoritarian/Islamist Right, as long as it’s an anti-Israel, anti-USA authoritarian Right.

Chavez believes that Syria and the Palestinians could create a state that is more democratic than Israel. Delusion, thy name is (Far left) Socialism.

Chavez calls Israel genocidal whilst proposing its destruction. Remember Chavez’s other chum, Ahmadinejad?

Let’s all blow a very long vuvuzela at Venezuela!