"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What are they afraid of ?

The refreshing news coming from Cairo are regarded by many Israelis commentators, as a “threat”: How can genuine (self proclaimed?) democrats regard the chance of a free future for more than 80 million people as a “threat”? I will try to ignore “geopolitical” analysis and try to scratch the surface in order to see what is really behind that ( false) sense of threat.

Well, for many the “Threat” is a possible breakdown of the “stability” the region “enjoyed” along the last 30 years. These “stable” years include the events such as the 1982 invasion to Lebanon, many Palestinian uprisings, massive attacks on Gaza, etc. So stability in that case is not a synonymous to “No more bloodshed “ but refers to the relative impunity the Israelis hard line government enjoyed thanks to a loyal Southern ally, Mr. Mubarak and his gang.. It is clear that from now on the disposition and/or capability of any Egyptian ruler to ignore the natural popular resentment following any Israeli military actions should not be taken for granted. Any future adventure will carry other consequences than the prevailing along the previous “golden era”. That is one big “threat”.

Second “Threat”: A more deep concern arising from the Tahrir Square is what I would call “ Back to the Middle East”. Many Israelis consider their country location as a geographical casualty: According to that perspective, the country is an isolated Western democracy surrounded by wild neighbours (like a good Old Western) and as such it is deemed to be under a constant threat ( Mr Barak used the image of a “mansion in a jungle”). The “logical” conclusion is that the country must isolate itself from its violent neighbourhood, physically (walls), culturally, emotionally, militarily…etc.

In other words, the dominant motto is “My heart is in West and I am at the end of the East” ( as a paraphrase to the medieval poem of Spaniard Iehuda Halevi) . That is a key element in the Israeli self-image and identity. Anyhow, why are Cairo events regarded as a “threat”?

The autocratic regimes around Israel are a fundamental piece of that twisted image of Israel , as they reinforce the image of the ever threatened Democracy ( for internal and external use as well). For quite a long time that system worked with impressive success: Although Tel Aviv is less than 100 Km from a bombarded Gaza its habitants feel as if Gaza´s misery is something remote as Bangladesh. However the fall of Cairo walls was well heard in the neighbourhood and it heralds the end of an illusion that the Yarkon is closer to the Thames than to the Nile.

Third “Threat”: The image of the “Arabs” turned around in less than 20 of street protests. A population fighting for its freedom cannot be regarded anymore as a faceless, ignorant and even ridiculed mob (an image that reinforces Israel´s prominent status). Cairo street protesters were revealed as normal (some of them quite brave) human beings that wish freedom, a descent job, a normal future for themselves and their kids, like most of us, the normal guys. So, if in the other side of the fence there are normal people, why to isolate from them? Are they really a threat? That question could become a serious blow to the cult of “Bitahon”, (security in Hebrew) based upon the fears and history, a cult that displaces a lot of social and identity deep questions that can threaten the actual social relations in the country.

However, threats can turn into opportunities: New constrain” to the political equations of violence might bring second thoughts when comes the time to pull the trigger and should, hopefully, pave the way to a genuine reconciliation process. The new image of the Arab world arising from Cairo should convince Israelis and others that in the other side of the wall there are human beings, not blood thirst fanatics.

The end of isolation and the fall of the real and imaginary Ghetto walls can do only good to Israel. After all the idea of really living in the Middle East, the traditional bridge between West and East can turn to be a not too bad idea. Israel society can become a more just and equal society as the military threat ceases to be an excuse to a polarized society.

As a final word, let us not forget: Despite decades of conflict between Israel and Arabs, any single European nation spilled much more Jewish blood than all its Middle East Neighbours taken together. Tahrir Square events are a good opportunity to remind that simple fact.

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