Celebrate Arab democracy? [Excerpts]
Over the past week, Israel has been criticized for being insufficiently supportive of democratic change in Egypt. While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been careful to praise the cause of democracy while warning against the dangers of an Islamic takeover of the most populous Arab state, many Israelis have not been so diplomatic.
To understand why, it is necessary to take a little tour of the Arab world.
In the midst of Tunisia's revolution last month, the Jewish Agency mobilized to evacuate any members of the country's Jewish community who wished to leave. Until the end of French colonial rule in 1956, Tunisia's Jewish community numbered 100,000 members. But like all Jewish communities in the Arab world the advent of Arab nationalism in the mid-20th century forced the overwhelming majority of Tunisia's Jews to leave the country. Today, with between 1,500 and 3000 members, Tunisia's tiny Jewish community is among the largest in the Arab world.
So far, six families have left for Israel. Many more may follow. Two weeks ago Daniel Cohen from Tunis's Jewish community told Haaretz, "If the situation continues as it is now, we will definitely have to leave or immigrate to Israel."
The fear now gripping the Jews of Tunisia is not surprising. The same fear gripped the much smaller Iraqi Jewish community after the US and Britain toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. The Iraqi community was the oldest, and arguably the most successful Jewish community in the Arab world until World War II. Its 150,000 members were leading businessmen and civil servants during the period of British rule.
Following the establishment of Israel, the Iraqi government revoked the citizenship of the country's Jews, forced them to flee and stole their property down to their wedding rings. The expropriated property of Iraqi Jewry is valued today at more than $4 billion.
Only 7,000 Jews remained in Iraq after the mass aliya (ascension) of 1951. By the time Saddam was toppled in 2003, only 32 Jews remained. They were mainly elderly, and impoverished. And owing to al Qaida threats and government harassment, they were all forced to flee.
Western — and particularly American — willingness to pretend that the Muslim Brotherhood is anything other than a totalitarian movement has been greeted by disbelief and astonishment by Israelis from across the political spectrum.
It is the likelihood that the Muslim Brotherhood will rise to power, not an aversion to Arab democracy that has caused Israel to fear the popular revolt against President Hosni Mubarak's regime. If the Muslim Brotherhood were not a factor in Egypt, then Israel would probably have simply been indifferent to events there as it has been to the development of democracy in Iraq and to the popular revolt in Tunisia.