In February 2011, when it was clear Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule over Egypt would not survive the popular uprising that had begun on January 25, the Israeli media’s reporting was characterized primarily by a combination of confusion and unease about the big issue that concerns the country above all others – security.
On the evening television magazine shows, panels of white-haired male analysts in their 60s reminisced in tones of near-nostalgia about their army service in the 1967 and 1973 wars with Egypt. They mentioned the porousness of the border in the south and implied that without Mubarak to hold them back, hordes of hostile Arabs were just waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate the country. They offered no insight into the issues that had inspired the revolution, nothing about Egyptian society, no analysis of why Mubarak was an unpopular leader, and no logical reason for implying that the peace accord would end with his rule.
A handful of journalists with dual nationality flew in to Cairo on their alternate passports. They checked in to hotels near Tahrir Square and tried to bring some insight to their reports on the revolution. Mostly, with the exception of one television report by super journalist Itai Anghel, they failed. They could not run the risk of asking anyone to speak for attribution to the Israeli media, so they were reduced to describing the atmosphere around them in broad brushstrokes.
But somehow the enthusiasm of the popular uprising, which introduced young Israelis to telegenic, articulate young Egyptian activists via social media, did have an impact.
Fast forward five months to July 2011, when tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demonstrate in what became known as the social justice uprising.
From the start, it was completely clear that the organizers of the demonstrations were profoundly influenced by the Egyptian revolution. They adopted the chants of Tahrir, customizing them for their cause. Instead of “the people demand the fall of the regime” in Arabic, they chanted “the people demand social justice” in Hebrew. They carried placards that read, “Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qadhafi … Netanyahu.” One enormous banner was emblazoned with the Arabic word “erhal” – “leave” –the same word Egyptians chanted rhythmically leading up to Mubarak’s resignation. On the same banner, in Hebrew: “Egypt is here.”