Why Israelis can’t just lie back and think of Arab democracy

From a young age, the vast majority of Israeli Jews are taught that Judaism is a superior religion and treating Arabs badly is a necessary price to survive in the Middle East. Hence a nearly 45 year old military occupation of Palestine.

Here’s an interesting perspective from Eyal Press:

Shortly after the democratic uprising began in Egypt, a group of young Israelis led by freelance journalist Dimi Reider launched Kav Hutz (“Outside Line”), a Hebrew-language blog devoted to covering the events across the border. Unable to enter Egypt on short notice with his Israeli passport—a predicament all Israeli correspondents faced—Reider chronicled the insurrection by posting minute-by-minute updates culled from an array of online sources on the ground: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Egyptian bloggers. The tone of Reider’s blog was reportorial, but hardly detached. “Good luck,” he wrote on the eve of the huge “Day of Departure” rally in Tahrir Square—a sentiment rarely voiced in Israel’s mainstream media, which stressed the danger of a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood if the protesters prevailed. By the time Egyptians had succeeded in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak, Kav Hutz was getting up to 12,000 visitors a day and had been singled out in Haaretz for leaving the rest of the Israeli press “in the dust.”

As the story suggests, Egypt’s uprising managed to inspire not only countless young Arabs but also some young Israelis. A contributor to +972, an Israel-based online magazine that features commentary and reporting by mostly young progressives—it is named after the area code shared by Israel and the Palestinian territories—Reider was deeply moved by the courage of the protesters in Cairo and dismayed by the patronizing reaction of many Israelis. “The line the establishment took was that it’s all very nice but they’re going to end up like Iran,” he recalls. “I didn’t take that line because I bothered to read stuff by Egyptians and it quickly became apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood was just one player. It also felt distasteful to me to judge the extraordinary risks Egyptians were taking solely by our profit—by how it would affect Israeli security and the policy of a government I don’t support anyway.”

For observers troubled by Israel’s alarming recent shift to the right, the emergence of Internet-savvy liberal voices like Reider’s may seem heartening. But while such bloggers appear more capable of reaching a younger demographic than Haaretz—the venerable leftist newspaper whose aging readership seems likely to shrink in the years to come—it’s not clear how many of their contemporaries are listening to them. One reason is apathy. Increasingly cynical about politics and the prospects of peace, not a few young Israelis I’ve met in recent years have told me they’ve stopped following the news. When they go online, it’s to chat with friends, not to check out sites like +972.

There are also growing numbers of young Israelis who simply don’t share Reider’s views. Against the 12,000 readers of Kav Hutz were countless others who didn’t question the alarmist tone of their country’s mass-circulation tabloids when the revolt in Egypt began, as NPR discovered when it aired a segment on what Israeli youth thought of the uprising. “For us it is better to have Mubarak,” one young Israeli said. “I kind of feel sad for President Mubarak,” said another.

“For the last two or three years, we’ve been seeing a very consistent trend of younger Israelis becoming increasingly right-wing,” Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion analyst who also contributes to +972, told me. Last year, Scheindlin carried out a survey on behalf of the Kulanana Shared Citizenship Initiative that showed eroding support for democratic values among Israeli youth, at least insofar as the rights of non-Jews go. One question in the survey asked whether there should be “Equal access to state resources, equal opportunities [for] all citizens.” Among Jewish respondents between the ages of 16-29, a mere 43 percent agreed.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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