Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thomas Friedman — at Home in a Middle Eastern Mob

by P. David Hornik

Even if the passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal was still uncertain, it was a week that rattled Israelis’ nerves.

It began on Sunday with a stern lecture by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that got considerable play in the Israeli media. “For anyone who spent time in Tahrir Square these last three weeks,” he wrote, “one thing was very obvious: Israel was not part of this story at all. This was about Egypt and about the longing of Egyptians for the most basic human rights….”

And because Israel, in Friedman’s view, failed to enthuse over nascent Egyptian democracy and instead feared the fall of the nonbelligerent Mubarak government, Friedman found himself “more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region—and we have just seen the beginnings of it—Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.”

Friedman, for his part, continued to enthuse in his Tuesday dispatch, writing that “Egypt has now been awakened by its youth in a unique way—not to fight Israel, or America, but in a quest for personal empowerment, dignity and freedom.”

One doesn’t know if his ardor has been cooled by the fate of his journalistic colleague Lara Logan, brutally assaulted in Tahrir Square by an anti-Mubarak mob shouting “Jew! Jew!” Material on the anti-Semitism of the “democracy protesters” had already been available, though; it clearly made little or no impression on Friedman.

Israelis, for their part, could be impressed by USA Today’s report on Wednesday that “top leaders of the protest movement that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak” are calling, among other things, “to cut off natural gas shipments to Israel.” Those shipments are supposed to be guaranteed by the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. While flouting many other provisions of the treaty, the Mubarak government upheld that particular provision for thirty years.

But let’s not get picayune about these “youth…in a quest for personal empowerment, dignity and freedom.”

And if Israelis turned their eyes from their neighbor to the southwest to their neighbor to the north, Lebanon, the picture was also something less than inspiring. On Wednesday Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Hezbollah terror organization, threatened in a ceremony in Beirut to take over the Galilee in the event of another war with Israel.

“I’m telling the Zionist commanders and generals,” he said, “wherever you go, anywhere in the world and at any time, you always need to look out, because Imad Mugniyeh’s blood has not been spilled in vain”—referring to the terror master assassinated by Israel in Damascus in 2008.

Israelis can remember another “Arab spring” not long ago—in Beirut in 2005. Then too democracy protesters—many of them undoubtedly authentic—thronged the streets and succeeded in getting Hezbollah’s ally Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. But today Lebanon is very much in the grip of Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles cover every inch of Israel.

One does not have to be Israeli—just intelligently sympathetic—to understand that such experiences dispose Israelis to caution about purported transformations in the Middle East. Intelligently sympathetic, and a good deal less arrogant than Thomas Friedman.

And what about Israel’s neighbor to the east, Jordan—with which, like Egypt, it signed a peace treaty, this one in 1994?

Some rather unpleasant winds blew from that direction, too, this week when Jordan’s new justice minister Hussein Mjali called for the release from a Jordanian prison of Ahmed Daqamseh—a Jordanian who murdered seven 11-year-old Israeli schoolgirls in 1997.

Mjali had been appointed by King Abdullah a week earlier “in a shakeup,” the Jerusalem Post noted in a stinging editorial, “geared to stem protests inspired by Egypt’s turmoil” and “facilitate greater democratic freedoms.” But

the fact that Mjali, who served as Daqamseh’s attorney during his trial, could be appointed minister of justice in the first place raises gave questions…. It would have been no great surprise that he’d be the blusterous chief speaker at a demonstration [pictured here] for Daqamseh’s release.

For now Jordanian officials have told Israel that there are no plans to free Daqamseh—even though “Jordan’s powerful Islamist movement and the country’s 14 trade unions, comprising over 200,000 members, relentlessly campaign for [his] release.”

Thomas Friedman, of course, does not live in a country surrounded by neighbors where journalists are beaten and sexually abused by a mob of “democracy supporters,” where a terror potentate threatens invasion and conquest, or where much of the population is enamored of a mass child-murderer. How much easier to visit the Middle East for a jaunt, hobnobbing with the Facebook and Twitter-savvy youth in Tahrir Square, and direct one’s bile at Israel.

At least Thomas Friedman fits in.

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P. David Hornik

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