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Adam Bronstone


by Adam Bronstone, Winnipegger living in Jacksonville, March 10, 2011

My mother, whom I love, has never been a terribly political person. I recall listening, watching and reading the news with my father, from the Free Press, CJOB and CBC (6pm and 10pm), and listening and talking with him about what was going on in the world. But a few weeks ago I was sick, and it was during the crisis in Egypt was heating up. And, when I did not have the head to watch anything heavy – the news – it was my mother who was sending me skype messages about the status of Hosni Mubarak’s regime – when he was going on television, what he might say, and finally, what he might do. The last time my mother was glued to television news was during Hurricane Katrina, and that was at least understandable since I was in the middle of it all. But there was my mother, sitting in Winnipeg in terribly cold weather, following every minute of the revolution that toppled one of the most ‘stable’ regimes in all of Africa/Middle East, as if her third year political science paper was dependent on every single bit of news!

I do not think for a minute that my mother was very concerned about the fate of Hosni Mubarak, per se, or of the democratic hopes and fears of the Egyptian people. I think that my mother was concerned for the same reason that most of my Jewish friends were – because they saw what they saw and had once question in mind – how will this impact Israel and its thirty-year peace treaty with Egypt?

Of course, it is too early to tell who will end up running Egypt, how a new regime will relate to Israel, the state of the Camp David Accord peace treaty, changes that might be necessary for Israeli strategic defense planning, and a host (myriad?) of other domino-related actions that might occur because of this sudden and successful uprising. And now, with Tunisia and Egypt in a state of flux, demonstrations in other Arab Middle Eastern countries, the beginnings of a civil war in Libya,  and the US showing force through the navy in the region, questions relating to what President Obama will do this time are in the air. This is especially true since the US Administration received serious criticism from many sides with respect to its inability to decide whether or not to side with its traditional allies or those demonstrating for democracy. The United States has always been in a difficult position – it is the most success revolutionary superpower in modern times, and while its superpower tendencies push US leaders towards stability, its revolutionary past is admired by those seeking a change in their political situation (remember the Chinese student holding a mini-Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square back in 1989?). Caught between a rock and a hard place, US foreign policy was at its worst when it first sided with Mubarak, and then did not, and then somewhat did, and then worked towards pushing him out the door – all the while the other despots of the Arab Middle East who are also loyal to the United States watched in great fear – fear of the ‘street’, and maybe even more fearful of a United States leadership that will throw them under the bus when times get tough.

This being said, what Israel-watchers are saying is this – President Obama went to Cairo early in his first term and spoke about the need for liberalization and democratization, and then spent most of his time over the past two years arguing with Israel about Jerusalem and apartment developments, where the real trouble was somewhere else – in these so-called allies who are holding onto power by the thinnest of margins and at the barrel of a gun (if they are so lucky to have the army or their elite forces protect them). Josef Joffe, a well-respected German political scientist, once wrote an article called ‘The World without Israel’. In this article he made the point that the Middle East would not be a place of peace if Israel magically disappeared or had never existed. The Arab Middle East is rife with disharmony, discord, under-development, despotism, poverty, illiteracy, and the abuse of women, tTo name but a few problems. The non-existence of Israel would not magically make all these problems go away. In fact, most likely, if Israel did not exist these cleavages would become more apparent than ever, and non-democratic leaders of these countries would not be able to hide behind the mantra of ‘we cannot liberalize for the fear of Israel taking advantage of the situation’.

Extensive research in political science categorically shows that liberal democracies (no one counts post-Weimar Germany in 1933 as a liberal democracy) rarely go to war against each other. The checks and balances of a democracy, coupled with the accountability of political leadership, tends to mitigate extremism in all forms, especially judgment as it comes to war-making decisions. So, maybe President Obama should have given more heft to his rhetoric about democratization and liberalization of the Arab Middle East rather than apartment buildings in Jerusalem, if he really wants to change the dynamic of the Arab-Israeli situation and the overall plight of not only Palestinians (does anyone remember the last time there was an election in the West Bank?) but of the Arab street. And maybe he should point to Israel as the only successful, stable, working democracy in the region as the model of what a great Middle Eastern country can look like, instead of calling out its Prime Minister.

There are many reasons why I like President Obama. However, his foreign policy leaves a lot to the imagination, and in my opinion it is naïve in many aspects, including the Middle East. And to the question that my mother asks – how does all of this impact Israel – I do not yet have any answers. I do, however, know this - a strong and forceful American President, committed to real democratic reforms across the entirety of the Arab Middle East while supporting the one true, real, stable and democratic friend that it has in the region – Israel – would not be a bad place to start.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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