When it comes to Arabs, Israel knows only what it wants to
After listening to our Arab affairs analysts, I reached the conclusion that the Knesset should pass a law banning Jews from learning Arabic.
Sayed Kashua, 4 February 2011
I decided at the beginning of the week that I just had to get a Facebook page. Up to now, I’ve refrained because of my tendency to develop addictions, but now I realized I had no choice. No way was I going to miss the next revolution. Not that I really understood how revolutions are made on Facebook, but I figured I ought to be on there, just to be on the safe side.
For more than a week now, I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the news. All the television and radio stations, newspapers and websites. I feel a need to be up to date at any given moment about what’s happening in Egypt. I’m pleased and worried by the news and hoping it all turns out well.
This week I discovered that I love revolutions, at least on television. They have a way of making most existential concerns disappear. When there’s a revolution in Egypt, you can’t really get depressed about not knowing what happens after you die. When there are millions out on the streets, that’s not the time to start panicking about contracting swine flu.
“Quiet!” I shouted at my daughter when she asked me to give her a ride to her music class earlier in the week. “Music? They’re bringing down Mubarak and you want to talk to me about music? Do you know what it is to get Mubarak out?”
“Hey, maybe you could get the dishes out of the sink,” suggested my wife.
“What’s wrong with you?” I barely turned my head away from the screen when I responded. “You want me to miss the event that’s about to change the face of the region just because of a few dirty dishes? People are dying in the streets and you want me to take care of some dishes.”
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll take her to her class and you keep on starting revolutions from the sofa. Just watch where you spit out the sunflower seeds.”
That’s it, everything’s about to change here. Not that I understand how or why, but that’s the general feeling. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that the authorities in Israel are so fearful of change? Ah yes, they’re afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and another Iran on the border. After all, most of our analysts have already decided that contrary to what the demonstrators in Cairo’s streets are demanding, there is no chance for democracy in the Islamic world. “That’s not right,” argued Dr. Uriya Shavit on Reshet’s morning program. “Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, and it has a real democracy.”
“Yes,” countered Eli Shaked, “but Indonesia is not an Arab country. And there’s a difference.” According to the former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, whose employment history proves he must know Egypt like the back of his hand, Arabness is the problem that’s preventing democracy.
And it’s not racist, he explains to the host. They just don’t have the good old Judeo-Christian values, says the ambassador. In other words, it’s not a matter of education or poverty or long years of oppression; it’s the lousy Arab character that’s prevented us from reaching the status of Christians and Jews who tout acceptance of others as their supreme slogan.
I used to think one of the troubles with this place, where people are always buzzing about humanism and accepting others, was the lack of knowledge of Arabic. After listening to our Arab affairs analysts, I reached the conclusion that it would be better not to teach Arabic at all here. In fact, Yisrael Beiteinu should get a law passed banning Jews from learning Arabic, if the result is going to be analysts like Guy Bechor.
“Women?!” he laughed when the host asked about the role of women in events transpiring in Egypt, and he cited a completely true story about how Saddam once mocked the Americans for sending a woman representative to warn him against the consequences of invading Kuwait. Bechor ignored all the television images from the demonstrations showing women taking a substantial part in the events in the Arab street. But as Bechor himself said, “I’ve come here to explain to you how the Egyptian mind works.” The Israeli media can’t manage to be consistent. At the start of the demonstrations, our analysts all decided that what was happening in Tunisia would not happen in Cairo. Afterward, they went back and forth between declaring that these were Mubarak’s final days and insisting that what happened to Ben Ali would not happen to Mubarak, instead of providing the plain facts, showing some respect and telling the simple truth, which is: “We have absolutely no clue what’s going to happen.”
There’s a lot of hypocrisy and condescension in Israel’s institutionalized support for Mubarak’s tyrannical rule, in its backing of a corrupt leader who established a brutal secret police state to suppress his citizens and keep their mouths shut. Sometimes it seems that what really worries the Israeli governments, even more than the Muslim Brotherhood, is the real Egypt. It has always been more comfortable for Israel to fight the Muslims, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks documents that revealed how pleased the former IDF military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin was about the Hamas takeover in Gaza. The real problem is that, unlike Mubarak, Arab democracy will not accept and will at least issue a voice of protest against Israel’s policies in Gaza and the territories. It will make relations with its neighbor contingent upon the existence of a real democratic regime that is not based on intolerance and the trampling of the other. “One thing is certain,” President Shimon Peres said this week. “Mubarak knew how to keep peace in the Middle East.” That’s precisely the problem, Mr. President: “There is no peace in the Middle East.”
One of the Israeli tourists who hastened to cut short his Cairo vacation and was interviewed upon landing in Israel gave a good description of what Israelis are feeling: “We were in a taxi and suddenly we saw thousands of people with sticks and stones coming toward us. It was terrifying.” I know it’s hard for us to conceive that the whole world isn’t circling around us, but I have the strong impression, contrary to what many Israelis think, that the demonstrations in Egypt are not against Israel, and that whether or not the revolution succeeds, it is not aimed at toppling the government in Israel but rather the one in Cairo.
“How do you get on Facebook?” I asked my wife when she brought the kids home from their activities.
“If you do the dishes, I’ll show you and I’ll add you to my friends list.”
“Don’t bother just yet,” I said, as I went back to staring at the live pictures from Tahrir Square. “A lot of water still has to flow in the Nile before revolution arrives here.”