In the End, Obama Stood Up to the Push by Israel and American Neocons to Stand with Mubarak in Egypt
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Both worries were unrealistic, rooted mostly in the dream-like fears Miller referred to, fears that Henry Siegman, former director of the American Jewish Congress, has called “pathological.” One Israeli columnist chalked it up to “the white Westerner’s primeval fear of the Arab mob,” which is also widespread among Israeli Jews, even those who are brown-skinned people of Middle Eastern descent.
Not all Israelis supported their government’s pro-Mubarak stance. While most of the U.S. mass media presented Israeli opinion as monolithic, the L. A. Times’ man in Jerusalem, Edmund Sanders, offered a more objective assessment: “Israelis Divided on How to Respond to Egypt Turmoil.” “This whole situation is making Israel's hawks more hawkish and the doves more dovish," one Israeli observer told Sanders.
The prestigious, dovish Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz editorially supported the Egyptian democracy movement and downplayed Israeli fears. There was virtually no evidence of anti-Israel sentiment among the protesters, the paper reported. All Egyptian factions including the Muslim Brotherhood were still committed to peace with Israel, and “Israel was simply not a factor in the whole Egyptian saga.”
Ha’aretz speculated that the real fear among pro-Mubarak Israelis was the Egyptian democracy movement spreading to Palestine: “How will the Israel Defense Forces respond when thousands [of Palestinians] march with bare hands toward the fences of the settlements, and demand a free country of their own?”
A prominent Israeli analyst told his readers that Obama believes “a democratic Middle East that will provide fair parliamentary expression to Islamist parties (with the exception of those that support terrorism) will safeguard the peace treaty with Israel and sign new agreements with it.” Some Israeli found that a convincing argument. Efraim Halevy, former chief Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, affirmed that Israel “has no reason to fear.”
Some argued that a less predictable Egypt would make it more compelling for Israeli to move quickly toward peace with the Palestinians. They agreed with Levy, who wrote in his own analysis that Israel would be better off with Mubarak gone. The Egyptian tyrant’s support was vital to a U.S.-led peace process that “sustained Israel's occupation and settlement expansion, that sustained an image of Egypt's usefulness as the indispensable peace-builder, and that allowed the U.S. to avoid making hard choices.”
With the masses in Egypt demanding Mubarak’s ouster, the U.S. -- and especially the president of the U.S. -- had to make a hard choice.
Growing number of Americans, including American Jews, sympathize with the dovish arguments coming from Israel. Yet the right-wing “Israel can do no wrong” lobby, which supported Netanyahu’s call to rally around Mubarak, is still a formidable political force both in Congress and in the Democratic Party. A president defies it at his peril, as Obama found out in his first months in office. He demanded an end to all West Bank settlement expansion, then felt compelled to back down when the Israelis refused to comply. Since then he has put the squeeze on Israel with some success. But he’s done it with the softest of kid gloves.
Watching the seemingly fearless crowds grow in Tahrir Square, Obama aides like Denis McDonough and Benjamin Rhodes told the president (according to the Times) that he could no longer afford to accept the “stability” argument, no matter how loudly the right-wing pro-Israel lobby echoed it.
People like McDonough and Rhodes are hardly starry-eyed idealists promoting democracy for its own sake. They are “realist” watchdogs of U.S. interests too. They argued that U.S. interest lay more with the protesters than with Mubarak. “Failure to side with the protesters could be remembered with bitterness by a rising generation,” as the Times summed up their view. An anti-U.S. backlash in Egypt would gain votes for the Muslim Brotherhood. Public opinion could turn fatally against the U.S., not just in Egypt but throughout the Arab and even the whole Muslim world.