Two Mideast Democracies, Side by Side

Egypt's Freedom Brings New Opportunities for Israel

Lining Up for Change: Egypt now has a democracy. That’s good for Israel, even if there are bumps in the road.
getty images
Lining Up for Change: Egypt now has a democracy. That’s good for Israel, even if there are bumps in the road.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 09, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“For over 30 years we have enjoyed peace on two fronts,” namely the borders with Egypt and Jordan, Netanyahu said. One front was a quasi-military dictatorship, the other an absolute monarchy, so it’s unclear how that proved his point, but he seemed pretty sure of himself. In any case, he went on to say that Israelis should approach the Egyptian revolution cautiously, since it could turn sour if Iran managed to control it.

He was sounding a good deal more upbeat in an online town hall in July. “If the Arab spring materializes into real democracy the problem of peace will be resolved,” he cheerily told a questioner.

That didn’t last. In late November, as it became clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was poised to win the upcoming elections, Netanyahu addressed the Knesset again and slammed “naïve” Western leaders, especially President Obama, who had pushed Mubarak to resign. They hadn’t listened, he said, when he warned that the Arab Spring would turn “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic.”

“I ask today,” he said, “who here didn’t understand reality? Who here didn’t understand history?”

History is a funny thing. It was Netanyahu more than anyone who put Arab democracy on the international agenda with his acclaimed 1993 book, “A Place Among the Nations.” Perhaps his most influential point was identifying “the main problem of achieving peace in the Middle East”: that “except for Israel, there are no democracies.” (Accent in the original.) The idea is drawn from Immanuel Kant, who wrote that democracies don’t make war against each other in 1795, just before France and England went to war.

Netanyahu has made the point repeatedly over the years, with varying results. His close ally Natan Sharansky elaborated on it in his 2004 “The Case for Democracy,” which George W. Bush called “a great book” and a personal inspiration.

It was Bush, of course, who decided to put the theory into action, first democratizing Iraq at gunpoint in 2003, then forcing Israel to permit elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. I’m betting Netanyahu advanced the theory as a debating point. He probably never expected that anyone would be crazy to try it. Maybe that’s what he meant about the West not learning from history.

Well, the Netanyahu-Sharansky-Bush democracy bug has spread. Now Israelis have a genuine, multi-party parliamentary democracy next door, and they’re terrified. Fortunately, the army is still in control, and it’s committed to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel despite the Islamist surge. All the leading candidates in next June’s presidential election have said the same. So has the second-largest party in parliament, the ultra-radical Salafi Islamist Al-Nour party.

The other day, though, a deputy leader of the largest party, the Muslim Brotherhood, said the treaty might be put to a referendum and that the Brotherhood would “never” recognize Israel. The consensus in Israel is that he is the true face of the new Egypt. It seems peace was secure while Egypt was a dictatorship, but democracy is fickle — just as Netanyahu warned (after he was done warning the opposite).

In any case, it’s enlightening after all the soothing words from other Egyptian leaders to hear what’s-his-name from the Brotherhood tell us the truth.

Again, compare this with Israeli democracy. In September 2010, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told the United Nations General Assembly there was no chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace in this generation. Netanyahu’s policy, of course, is that peace is possible if only the Palestinians will sit down and talk, but his aides dismissed Lieberman’s speech as “not coordinated” with the prime minister. Apparently he was addressing the U.N. in his personal capacity, not as an Israeli official. That’s the glory of Israeli democracy. Everyone can speak his mind.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.