Monday, January 31, 2011

The Fear of Democracy

"It's as though we never prayed for our Arab neighbours to become liberal democracies," Steven Plocker in Yediot Ahronot.

For years, Israel has prided itself on being the "only democracy in the Middle East". And haven't we always thought, how much better would the world (and the Middle East) be if our Arab neighbours turned into liberal loving, people voting, Western style democracies? Isn't this what Shimon Peres meant when in the 90's he talked about the "New Middle East", that if Israel made peace with it's neighbours, our democracy would stand as a model and would influence the peoples of the Middle East to stand up for democracy themselves?

Well that time has finally come: one of our closest Arab neighbours, the Egyptians, have taken to the streets to demand their freedom. Right now it doesn't seem like they have much of a plan, other than to flow into their streets, and into their squares, demanding that their 30 year tyrant step down, in favor of democracy, in order to regain their freedom.

In fact.... it's all very inspiring. Even as Mubarak sends the police in, closes down the Internet, demands a 4:00pm curfew and refuses to step down... the people don't give up. They are relentless as they continue to fight for their unalienable rights for freedom.

I think that many freedom, democracy loving peoples of the Western world are rooting for them to overthrow their dictator. But over here in Israel, the answer is not as simple as: democracy vs. dictatorship- it becomes a question of: what about us? What is best for us? And the answer: seemingly NOT democracy.

Even though our inclinations lean towards democracy, rationality dictates we ask- what kind of democracy? Will it be Iranian democracy? Gazan democracy? Lebanese democracy? The kind of democracy that supports terrorism and radical Islam? What is the cost for Israel of a

Egyptian democracy- the loss of a peace deal, the loss of a partner in fighting Hamas/Iran, a loss of aide in making peace with the PA and the gain of one more enemy, one more hostile border? And this is why Netanyahu, after being mum on the issue for a week, came out today in favor of the Mubarak government. Because while the Mubarak government continues to rule over the people- he offers stability to Israel: but democracy- well that's up in the air.

I don't know.... analysts across the world are debating this question. While Israelis are tending to believe that the Muslim brotherhood (or even ElBaradei- who as an opposition is not part of this group, but is supported by them) is the obvious group that will take power (mostly because they are the largest organized opposition, not necessarily most popular) others around the world are hoping for a more moderate government.

And even if this new moderate government starts to come together- how happy will they be towards Israel who, as self-righteous liberals, have thrown their cards not being the people, but behind the dictator? Wouldn't they have expected us to have some kind of obligation to do just the opposite?

But despite what Israel says right now and who they support, the reality is that Mubarak is going down. Maybe it won't be today or tomorrow, but the people of Egypt have put an expiration date on his rule. This is why the U.S has basically thrown their support to the people (saying everything BUT Mubarak should step down), calling for democracy and a reform to the system.

My left winged tendencies are rooting for a takedown of Mubarak... I want the Egyptians to live in a system that I believe provides freedom of rights, that every human deserves. However, as an Israeli citizen, it doesn't stop me from sleeping in fear that maybe they will create an Islamic state, that will eventually transform Egypt into Iran part II. Maybe it isn't, as I fear, so black and white. Maybe if the world, including Israel, can acknowledge what is best for the Egyptians, and not only themselves, they can extend a hand of support, in order to really help them create a true and lasting democracy. My roommate said to me the other day, that the mere idea that people are asking for freedom (and remember the rhetoric in the streets is not calling against Israel to stop settlements, or against Israel's existence, or against US- the rhetoric is freedom, and the fall of a dictator) means that the dissidents that want this, really want this. It's true that the Islamics are there, it's true that the radicals are there- but they are everywhere in the world, just as they are in Israel and the United States-- because they too make up a fabric of democracy. And so maybe those educated with a thirst for democracy, rights, equality and closing the gap between rich and poor, have a possibility of coming together and forging a real democracy.

We might fear what Egypt's democracy will look like- but how much of this should stop us from following what we know is right. But in the end, I suppose only time will tell what will be of the "New Middle East"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lessons from the Holocaust

holorememToday is the International Holocaust day, but I wonder what is the point of such a day? I suppose it’s appropriate to have a set date for the world to remember the Holocaust. Instituted by the UN in 2007, its purpose was to remember “the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”

Today is the day we are specifically supposed to remember the past, but also remember what not to do, or not let happen- don’t let evil and hatred to take a hold of society again.

But I always wonder about this… is it only today we are supposed to go around making flowery speeches about world love and peace and acceptance, and beautiful morals and principles? Generally that’s what most of these international memorials do. Yet is it what’s happening on the ground?

For me, living in Israel, these ideas are consistently making me shudder as I see what is happening to Israeli society. There are policies and attitudes, that I don’t think will lead up to anything close to a “Holocaust”, but to actions that shame the lessons we learn from it. Protests continue in Tel Aviv against the African refugees taking temporary refuge here, bills in the Knesset that discriminate against minorities and Rabbis banning together to warm Jews not to sell or rent to Arabs. It’s racism, prejudice and fear of the other.

It’s great that we can take one day from the year to remember this world’s largest genocide. Today I take the time to think about the victims, and the atrocities they faced. However, it shouldn’t only be today that we think about the lessons of the Holocaust: the consequences of racism, and exclusiveness. How many times do we say never again? We shouldn’t only say it in face of the genocide itself, but also the hate that took grip of a people- and hate that still exists today.