October 21, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for January 18, 2012


1) I never met an Islamist I didn't think was moderate

How can you tell when an expert who predicted one outcome realizes he is wrong? When he starts telling you that a different outcome isn't so bad.

A week and a half ago Thomas Friedman naively told us that the victory of the Islamists in Egypt was a good thing. To be sure there were skeptics.

Today in Trust but Verify, Friedman walks back his earlier unbridled enthusiasm.

Friedman starts by observing that Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns met with a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who declared that his organization's relationship with the United States was important.

(The full statement Friedman referred to is here:

Dr. Morsi called on the United States to rethink its strategies and change its policies toward the people in line with the Arab Spring revolutions, and to take more positive positions toward Arab and Islamic issues, because evident bias of U.S. administrations against Arab issues in the past never was in the US’s favour. Morsi added that the FJP is convinced of the importance of Egyptian-American relations, which must be based on balance between both parties.

The "balance" Morsi referred to is demanding that American not to be so closely allied with Israel.)

Then Friedman noted that MEMRI reported that the Muslim Brotherhood's website was filled with antisemitic imagery and articles and that a leading Coptic businessman was charged with "contempt for religion."

Skeptics might say that the Muslim Brotherhood leader was cynically seeking to reassure a major donor that his country's billions in aid would be money well spent, but that the Brotherhood was really an extreme organization. Thomas Friedman is so much more sophisticated than that …

There are two ways to read these news reports. One is that the Brotherhood and other Islamists are cleverly hoodwinking the naïve foreigners, feeding them the lines they want to hear. The other is that the Islamists never expected to be dominating Egypt’s new Parliament — with more responsibility than other parties for completing the country’s democratic transition, constitution-writing and election of a new president — and they are trying to figure out how to reconcile some of their ideology, with all of their new responsibilities.

My view is that both can be — and are — true at the same time.

In my mind, we all have to guard against lazy happy talk about the rise of the Islamist parties in Egypt (“I’ve met with them; they all seem reasonable”) and lazy determinism (“Just read what they say in Arabic; they clearly have a secret plan to take over Egypt”).

Of course Friedman filled his earlier column with "lazy happy talk" based on a few superficial interviews. The other side is based on an extensive archive of material, which can't be so easily dismissed.

Friedman continues:

In the happy talk department, please don’t tell me that the rule of Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., proves that no one has anything to fear about Islamists taking power democratically. There is much I admire in the A.K.P.’s performance. (The recent suggestion by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas that the A.K.P. is a party of “Islamic terrorists” is shockingly stupid.) But I will only cite the A.K.P. as a reassuring example of Islam and democracy in harmony after I see it lose an election and vacate power. That is the real test. As The Economist noted about the rule of the A.K.P. in Turkey in its Nov. 26 issue, “Around 76 journalists are now behind bars” in Turkey, “more than in China, many of them for supposed terrorist crimes. … The West does not seem to notice the steady deterioration in human rights in Turkey, instead extolling it as a model for the Arab spring.”

Gov. Perry's reference isn't far from the truth as AKP does have ties with IHH, an international terrorist organization.

Friedman's condition for looking favorably on the AKP, its vacating power after losing an election, is a pipe dream as everything Erdogan's government doing is aimed at consolidating its hold on power and marginalizing its opponents.

So Friedman suggests engagement:

America needs to offer the Islamists firm, quiet (you can easily trigger a nationalist backlash) and patient engagement that says: “We believe in free and fair elections, human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, free markets, civilian control of the military, religious tolerance and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and we will offer assistance to anyone who respects those principles.”

And what if America offers those things and the Muslim Brotherhood continues playing the double game of nice words to America but not so nice words in its own milieu? That isn't something that Friedman addresses.

But why should we trust Friedman. In a 2006 column, The Weapon of Democracy, Friedman concluded:

But Hamas will have its hands full managing the West Bank, where it doesn't have as many people or arms as Fatah. As the Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein put it, Hamas "is like a snake that swallowed an elephant." It has a lot to digest before it can move sharply in any direction.

Hisham Abdullah, the West Bank A.F.P. reporter, told me that when he went into Ramallah's main bookstore the other day and asked what was selling, the owner said he'd noticed Hamas people buying Dale Carnegie books on management.

This is just another way of saying that the burdens of governing will moderate Hamas. No doubt those Dale Carnegie books advised building up Gaza's armaments and planning ways to attack Israel, which is what Hamas did for the next couple of years leading up to Cast Lead.

It's clear that Friedman has backtracked a bit from his earlier column in that he at least is entertaining the idea that Islamists may not be democratic exemplars. However, his equivocation here and his own history suggest that he will go far to excuse the excesses of Islamists in power.

2) The banality of anti-Zionism

Sol Stern has an extensive essay in the City Journal, Hannah Arendt and the Origins of Israelophobia. Given the recent discussions about who is pro-Israel and what is wrong with the "Israel firster" calumny, this is an excellent primer for one of the earlier and influential leftist critics of Israel. Stern writes:

Arendt’s greatest legacy to the Left, however, isn’t merely that she is remembered as a martyr; it’s the nature of her criticism of Zionism. As Hebrew University philosopher Elhanan Yakira shows in his 2010 book Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust, Arendt’s accusation that Ben-Gurion manipulated the Eichmann trial in order to justify Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians has become a “master postulate” for the international coalition of anti-Israel intellectuals and activists. This “community of opprobrium” wishes to bring about a great reversal of our understanding of history. No longer will we believe that the Holocaust proved the correctness of the Zionists’ solution to anti-Semitism; rather, the Zionists’ manipulation of the Holocaust for their own ends reveals the fraudulent basis of the Jewish state. “Although the anti-Israel uses made of the Holocaust are multifaceted, . . . they coalesce into a single pattern of defaming Israel and Zionism,” writes Yakira. “The Holocaust, or the story of the destruction of European Jewry by Nazi Germany, plays a central role in this defamation, which aims, on the one hand, to deny legitimacy to the Jewish state in principle and, on the other, to indict the state, across the board, on moral grounds.”

Amos Elon’s 2006 homage to Arendt makes explicit the Left’s debt to Arendt. “In the past, the difficulty of many Israelis to accept Arendt’s book ran parallel to another difficulty—foreseen by Arendt early on—the difficulty of confronting, morally and politically, the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians,” Elon wrote. “The Palestinians bore no responsibility for the collapse of civilization in Europe but ended up being punished for it.” What Elon didn’t mention, any more than Arendt had, was that the Palestinians were “punished” not because of the Nazi extermination of the European Jews but because of the self-destructive policies of their own fanatical, Jew-hating leadership.

Nowadays we hear many of Arendt's arguments echoed among Israel's critics.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.