Israel is not interested in democracy as a value. On the contrary — it has a great deal of interest in making sure it keeps bearing the title of ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’
While many Palestinians were perturbed by the death of Egypt’s former president, Mohamed Morsi, and Knesset members of four of the Arab parties called for an investigation of the circumstances of his death, official Israel ignored Morsi’s death almost entirely. The only thing that Israel was interested in, in that regard, is the question of whether the government in Cairo can “handle the challenge,” meaning, whether it can succeed in suppressing the storm that might erupt in Egypt following his death, which still has many questions hovering over it.
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As an entity that constantly speaks of democracy and insists on calling itself the only democracy in a Middle East otherwise held hostage by tyrannical and brutal rulers, one would have expected some official response from Israel on the death of the Egyptian president who was elected in the country’s first democratic elections ever.
True, the election results that brought Morsi into power in 2012 were not to Israel’s liking (even though Morsi clarified immediately that he did not intend to cancel Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, and was committed to it more than Netanyahu ever was to diplomatic agreements Israel had previously signed). But leaders who were democratically elected by their people don’t have to be liked by their peers, because the nature of the rule is supposed to outweigh the ruling personality. In other words, the question is whether Israel is interested in a democratic Middle East, or in tyrannically rulers it can “do business with.” This is a rhetorical question, of course — one which Israel hasn’t really deliberated on.
One doesn’t have to go as far as Egypt to assess the depth of Israel’s “commitment” to the idea of democracy when it comes to its neighbors. It’s enough to recall its reaction to the election results of the Majles al-Tashri’i — the Palestinian parliament — in 2006. Israel likes to harp on the “Hamas took over Gaza” mantra, but Hamas did not take over the strip; it won democratic elections. This, however, doesn’t prevent Israel from barbarically punishing Hamas and the people who voted them in over a decade ago.
There’s quite a bit of irony in the fact that Israel itself contributed to Hamas’ victory; a year earlier, in 2005, the Palestinians chose the most moderate president they could have, and Israel carried out its unilateral disengagement from Gaza half a year later anyway, in a defiant lack of coordination with the Palestinian Authority. Israel made sure that Abu Mazen would not be able to take even a little bit of credit for Israel’s retreat from Gaza. It emphasized to Palestinians that, no matter if extremist of moderate, it has no interest in cooperating with their elected leadership.
Then, when Palestinians cast their ballots for the Legislative Council a year later, they had even less reasons to vote for Fatah, which was both corrupt and did not present any diplomatic achievements vis-à-vis Israel. These were some of the factors that Palestinian voters were considering on their way to the ballot box. Israel, however, is not interested in democracy as a value, but only in advancing its own aggressive interests, in whatever way it deems fit. Unfortunately, these interests, for the most part, tend to intersect with the interests of the worst and least democratic rulers in the region.
This policy has existed since the country’s founding, and its application is not limited to the Arab world. Human rights lawyer Eitay Mack recently published a report on Israel’s relations with Iran from the 50s to the eve of the 1979 revolution. The investigation, based on newly-released Foreign Ministry documents, shows how Israel was well aware of how the Shah oppressed the Iranian people, and how it decided to maintain close military and intelligence cooperation with him, nevertheless.
When the ground was trembling from underneath the Shah’s feet when millions of Iranians went out to protest for the future of their state, the director of the Middle East division at the Foreign Ministry, Yael Vered, wrote that the best option as far as Israel was concerned, was “extreme hardening by the military and the establishment of a military regime and a real military government.” The same military that Israel armed and trained, together with the SAVAK, the Shah’s notorious secrete police that brutally suppressed political opponents.
Israel will not shed any tears for Morsi’s death, just as it hadn’t regretted the end of Egypt’s short-lived democracy. The opposite is true — Israel has a great deal of interest in making sure it keeps bearing the title of “the only democracy in the Middle East,” a title it uses as a cover to promote any criminal policy, including an ongoing siege on Gaza and lethally firing at its residents if they dare rise against it. Israel will also not avoid dealing with the last of the anti-democratic rulers, from Sisi to any murderous tyrant, by exporting weapons which they then use to slaughter their own people. But while these criminals are oppressing their own populations, Israel, the only democracy in the galaxy, is oppressing a people is has been occupying for decades, who are even denied the privilege of electing their own corrupt leaders.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.