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Israelis are not hostile to the Egyptian revolution

There are many Israeli positions that should make one angry these days. The reaction to the Egyptian uprising is not one of them

Protest in Egypt, Jan 26 2011 (photo: Al-Jazeera / via flickr)

This weekend, several writers on +972 Magazine claimed that Israelis are generally hostile to the Egyptian revolution and that they prefer to side with President Hosni Mubarak (examples here, here and here). I believe this to be inaccurate, maybe simply untrue.

Yes, recent events took Israeli pundits, experts, and leaders by surprise, and in the first days of protest, they tended to estimate that the demonstrations would soon die out and the president would survive. This is the reason for some of the public comments that seemed to be downplaying the importance of protest. But frankly, who wasn’t surprised? No one in the West imagined that Mubarak’s regime was so fragile. The determination of the protesters found the Egyptian opposition leaders themselves unready, and it took them a day or two before they joined the protesters (or three days, in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood). Blaming Jerusalem alone for not recognizing the full potential of the uprising is ridiculous.

I was watching Israeli networks over the past few days, and I found their coverage to be pretty similar to those on CNN or Sky, and more balanced and professional than FOX News. Channel 1 had a reporter in Cairo broadcasting live on Friday, and he was clearly exited by the protest. In other TV stations, there were lively exchanges between those who saw the risks involved in an Egyptian revolution (these were mainly the military correspondents) and those who were impressed and even moved by the Egyptian cry for freedom.

Israelis never liked President Mubarak very much. Unlike the late Jordanian King Hussein, Mubarak was perceived as cold and aloof, even patronizing. To be sure, nobody thought of him as “our guy.” Mubarak was simply the person you do business with.

There is a consensus in Israel that peace with Egypt is the greatest strategic asset the country has, after its special relationship with the US. Except for some on the extreme Right, the dominant view is that Israel should do business with whoever will be calling the shots in Cairo. Mubarak kept the peace – so Israeli leaders trusted him. The same could happen with his successor.

On Channel two on Friday, Tzvi Mazal, a rightwing diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt, said that the revolution is a blessing for both Israel and the Egyptian people (today, in an op-ed in Maariv, Mazal claimed that the peace treaty with Israel is not at risk, and that the prospect of an Islamic regime resulting from the revolution are very low). Other pundits expressed concern over the possibility of a Muslim takeover in Egypt. Following Hamas’ rise in Gaza and recent moves by Hezbollah in Lebanon, that is the main Israeli fear. I think Israelis tend to exaggerate these risks, but I can understand the reasons for them. If there is any hostility to the Egyptian revolution in Israel, I think it is because of these fears, and not due to a patronizing attitude towards the Arab world, as some writers suggested (though this sentiment might also exist among some people).

Regardless of the revolution’s outcome, Egypt will remain a great nation, and one of the region’s major powers. Many Israelis understand and respect that. Right now, I feel that the dominant view is that it is for the Egyptian people to decide who rules them. To be honest, I think that a full embrace of the revolution by the current Israeli government would have embarrassed Egyptian opposition leaders more than it could encourage them. I actually believe that the government did the right thing in keeping mostly silent on these events.

On a personal level, when I think of Egypt, my grandparents are the first to come to my mind. Born in Basra, Iraq, they were both fans of Egyptian culture. At home, they watched Egyptian films which they borrowed from a special video store in our town. They listened to Egyptian music and spoke Arabic with their friends. Had they lived to see this moment, I think they would have been thrilled and exited by the images coming from Cairo.

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    1. Ben Israel

      What Israelis think one way or the other about what is going on in Egypt or other countries is not important, as far as the Egyptians go. Do you think Egyptians care what Israel thinks about their demonstrations? I don’t even see why it is a matter of discussion but I note severl 972’ers have written about it.
      However, Israel and any other country has a right to be concerned what a neighboring country is doing , if it affects them. I think the vast majority of Israelis don’t believe there is going to be democracy in Egpyt no matter how current events come out, so it is natural to hope for a regime that is relatively less hostile to be in power (I don’t know if Mubarak qualifies as “less hostile”…his state media propaganda is very anti-Israel, anti-American and antisemitic, even while he takes our support).

      Reply to Comment
    2. Branko

      Noam, this is an excellent analysis. Very level headed and objective. I usually enjoy your opinion pieces but this half-report-half-opinion is really awesome. Thank you!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Eyal

      Noam, thanks for responding, but I strongly disagree. I feel that you don’t read between the lines, and miss the point.

      1) Nobody claims that Israel/ies are against a free Egypt, only that they’re less happy about this prospect than they would have been if they would have really believed that it as a universal right, which people should have regardless of whether you like them or not, or whether you’ll gain from it or not.

      2) Although some of the human moments and moving pictures do get to Israelis, even to generals, bottom line is that their fears prevail. The government and militarists are clearly displeased, and prefer (as they did persistently for decades) a “friendly tyrant” to a “potentially hostile democracy” (and it’s easy to feel it in the quotes given in the texts you respond to); but also people on the street are less excited than they were during the Green Movement protests in Iran, and this says it all.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Several quotes/paraphrases from Israeli Media and commentators: “The time is not right for the ‘Arab world’ to have democracy”; “Mubarak’ regime is strong, the protests will fail”; “If they would have suppressed the protests better in the first place….”; “What brutality, how they shoot unarmed protestors!”; “Americans are so cynical, they just abundant him… how can’t they see that Arabs are not suitable for democracy. Iraq proves it”; “At least now we’ll get more tourists to come to Eilat”


      Reply to Comment
    5. Martin Sandberger

      Massage deleted for offensive content

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Nazism was a genuinely popoular movement in Germany after Hitler came to power once the policies to eliminate unemployment (i.e. increasing armaments production) began to have an effect. We must acknowledge the democratic will of the people, right Eyal, even if we have a warmongering neighbor? The Will of the masses….

      Reply to Comment
    7. Haaretz this morning

      Israel: The oppressive regime is good for the west!

      Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt’s Mubarak

      To the media – “Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt” but behind the scenes – “the Foreign Ministry issued a SECRET directive to around a dozen key embassies [… ordered] to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt’s stability. […] Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West’s interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian dictatorship”.


      Reply to Comment
    8. Mohamed Selim

      Morning everybody, first of all thank you for your quiet comments on the Egyptian rervolution of the Egyptian people, and I would like to share some points with you.
      First, I live in France and have a lot of jewish friends, who are French and Israeli too, everythibng is quite wonderful between us, smooth contact, direct understanding, and natural intention to love and to be loved,

      Reply to Comment
    9. Haaretz reports today:

      Israel urges world to curb criticism of Egypt’s Mubarak


      According to Haaretz: “Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West’s interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian [dictatorial] regime”.

      Thus, while “Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt” when it comes to media relations, it is behind the scenes that “the Foreign Ministry issued a secret directive to around a dozen key embassies [ordering them] to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt’s “stability” […] as soon as possible”.

      Reply to Comment
    10. ChicagoMonster

      Israel is more interested in propping up a puppet dictator to replace Hosni Mubarak so their safety isn’t “threatened.” Remember Israel’s legendary paranoia in thinking everyone wants to destroy them…but never stop to think about what is pissing the Arab world off.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ilana Sebba

      1.- I also really enjoyed this analysis, found it very enlightening. Thanks.

      2.- Mohamed Selim, thank you for your lovely comments too…

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jennifer

      thanks for the info about the coverage in the Israeli media, since I neither have access to it nor speak Hebrew.
      But dude, a camel’s backside is more balanced and professional than FOX News. Saying Israeli coverage was better than FOX isn’t really a compliment.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Firstly I want to say that I agree with everything Noam has written above and secondly Jennifer he was taking the piss out of FOX , ” A lot of Americans can’t even find their own country on a map. So I’m not surprised Fox News has no idea about Egypt! ” 😉

      If you like this blog then try this one :

      Reply to Comment