Sunday, May 8, 2011

Israel Isn't The Center Of The Mideast, Or Of The World

The problem with Orientalist discourse of our commentators − which sees the world through the prism of the Israel Shin Bet Security Service − is that it helps to seal off the ghetto into which Israelis are gradually locking themselves, a ghetto within the Middle East and within world history.
By Yitzhak Laor 
This commentary was published in Haaretz on 08/05/2011 

Since the 18th century, revolution has shaped the world and its consciousness as a universal experience of popular sovereignty, from east to west, from north to south. But in the face of the Egyptian revolution, a kind of mean-spiritedness has been evident here in Israel − for example, in the television commentary. Commentators and moderators never stopped giving grades for behavior. A huge comet flashed past us, and Channel 2 commentator’s muttered, like the survivor of a traffic accident: Had they only suppressed the demonstrations at the start, everything would have been different.

Again and again, they searched for Islamic signs in the pictures of the masses, as though they were immigration officials checking for smallpox. Others were excited to discover signs that reminded them of “us”: Facebook, young people speaking English, and of course women in jeans. There’s nothing like a woman’s thighs as an index of progress.
But the person who deserves the prize for folly is Dr. Oded Eran, formerly our ambassador to Jordan. He suggested organizing elections in Egypt under European supervision, to ensure that monitors would turn a blind eye to fraud by the regime during the vote count.

For years, our Orientalists saw a danger in (secular) Arab nationalism. Both the right and the left examined Arab intellectuals with a fine-toothed comb in order to prove that they were “pan-Arabists.” What lay behind this, always, was a colonialist questioning of their right to self-determination on a par with our own standards.
But today, when people no longer demonstrate in Lebanon’s squares on behalf of Lebanese Arabism, and when nobody is singing paeans to the Arab nation in the streets of Cairo, our examiners are rewriting the questionnaire: Instead of “nationalists,” they are looking for “religious people.”

The problem with such discourse − which sees the world through the prism of the Shin Bet Security Service, with no inhibitions and no curiosity about what is unique to Egypt − is that it helps to seal off the ghetto into which we are gradually locking ourselves, a ghetto within the Middle East and within world history. We should recall Israel’s attitude to the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the “rotten business” we perpetrated in Egypt in the early 1950s, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the affinity between these events and our alliance with the shah of Iran and his murderous security services, and the affinity between all these and the coronation of Bachir Gemayel as Lebanon’s ruler on the broken blades of Israel Defense Forces bayonets.
Forget about the strategic dimension. The issue is that military interests have always trained intellectual integrity and analysis to provide them with justifications and the status of “the truth.” The adoption of the region’s oppressive elites was carried out with the help of Shimon Peres-style language laundering and constant conciliatory gestures toward the West: We’ll be a base for you in the heart of darkness − even now, when the West is turning its back on these politics. After all, that is the only historical significance these events have as far as we are concerned: The United States no longer needs this offer.

Our ideas about the Arab world are blind to the sufferings of the nations around us and their hatred of their rulers. The average annual income in Egypt is $6,200; Israelis’ average annual income is almost $30,000. Will stability in the relations between two such countries be guaranteed by a huge, brutal police force, of all things? That is the discussion that we haven’t yet had.
The Egyptian revolution is costing blood. A great deal of blood. No elite leaves of its own free will, even if its sponsors in Washington have decided to get rid of it. Spontaneous action is fated to decline, and in the absence of a revolutionary party, it is not at all clear what will happen. The Egyptian opposition has been repressed for years, and there, too, the left has drowned in European subsidies to dozens of different human rights NGOs, which are always interested in obedient monitoring rather than change.

Nobody knows where the revolution will end up: in an Iranian-style republic? In something along Turkish lines? Or perhaps something new, the likes of which we’ve never experienced? At the moment, there is no need to reply, but only to think and remember this: It doesn’t all revolve around us. And in the face of the Egyptian people’s heroism, we should bow our heads in humility.

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