Julius Caesar: “Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Marc Antony: “Fear him not, Caesar; he’s not dangerous; He is a noble Roman and well given.”
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Caesar, of course, was right in being suspicious and Marc Antony was wrong. Result: Caesar murdered; civil war; tens of thousands killed; Marc Antony dead. Makes you think. Or at least it should.
An interesting and important question about the Middle East (and one can treat it on a global level, too) is whether being in power or running in an election inevitably moderates those who are radicals. It is automatically accepted by many people that this is so. Yet an examination of evidence makes such behavior more rare than common.
Let’s begin by pointing out that some of the problem is the unthinking transference of things that might be true in private and personal life into the political sphere. As individuals mature and have experience, they often become more moderate. There are many cases of individual politicians “selling out” and abandoning more militant ideas to become corrupt. Neither case necessarily applies to systems, movements, or ideologies.
Even more questionable is the view that the difficulties of having to make decisions in government forces leaders to become more responsible. For example, they learn that money is not unlimited and therefore priorities must be set. Supposedly, they say to themselves: Hey, collecting the garbage and fixing the potholes is what’s important, forget about all this silly stuff about fundamentally transforming society, imposing the Sharia, destroying Israel, or chasing America out of the Middle East!
A problem with this argument is that it leaves out the political advantages for rulers of using demagoguery, incitement, and populism. To stay in power a politician—particularly in a non-democratic country—gains advantage from militancy, real or feigned.
Another simplistic argument is that anyone who runs in elections and wins is automatically moderate because they participated in a legalistic, democratic process. This argument is quite full of holes. One should not confuse tactical caution with moderation. For example, President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria knew after 1973 that a direct confrontation with Israel was a losing proposition so instead he backed terrorist groups and used Lebanon as a launching pad for the attacks. Being radical does not necessarily mean being suicidal.
Clearly, the most famous ideological dictatorships did not become more moderate. These include the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Communist Cuba, among many others.
But wait, there is an escape clause of sorts. The USSR arguably became more moderate but only with three caveats. That process took place only after 70 years in power. Structural changes were involved but there was an equally or larger accidental factor, that is the coming to power of one or two specific individuals. And after the start of a cautious moderation policy, the regime quickly collapsed, sending a warning to others who might have similar thoughts of loosening the reins. Indeed, the collapse of the Soviet bloc was taken as a lesson by Middle Eastern dictators to hang tough lest they simply hang.
One might make a stronger case with China having moderated. But again it took a very long time indeed, roughly a half-century and of course some old features remain. Waiting for 50 years, however, is not what people are talking about when they speak of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt and quickly becoming teddy bears.
Turning to the Middle East, power does not bring about moderation. The Ba’thist regime in Syria remains radical after a half-century in power and the same would be true of Iraq if not for the U.S.-led invasion. What about the PLO? It did sign the Oslo accords after one-third of a century of terrorism but it did not keep the agreement as a result. The movement’s basic doctrine and strategy remains the same while its tactical shifts could be reversed in future.
Of course, it seems to be a stretch to say there has been no moderation in the PLO and Fatah. Yet let’s remember the original moderation thesis here. The argument made in the 1990s was that the responsibility of power (collecting garbage; fixing roads, educating the kiddies) would so moderate the group as to lead it into a compromise peace treaty with Israel and the end of the conflict. That certainly did not happen and the moderation thesis was a failure regarding Yasir Arafat. As for education, radical movements in power tend to train the children to be radicals, preaching the horror of compromise and the glories of aggressive war.
Google Chief Eric Schmidt, Dr. Ruth, and Nobel Laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman Offer Recipes for ‘Better Tomorrow’Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Nobel laureate Professor Daniel Kahneman headlined the first plenary session of the Israeli Presidential Conference, presenting their prescriptions for bringing about “a better tomorrow.”
The panel also featured world record-holding Paralympic swimmer Keren Leibovitch, Yuri Milner, a leading Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the renowned sex therapist.
Several of the panelists focused on the tremendous potential offered by technology, including social media, the rapid growth of smartphones and mobile devices and the widening of Internet access in the developing world.
“The smartphone revolution will be universal,” said Schmidt, emphasizing the need to increase Internet access in the developing world. “There are only one billion people with smartphones and two billion with access to the Internet. The World Wide Web has yet to live up to its name. Technology does not produce miracles, but connectivity, even in modest amounts, changes lives.”
Dr. Ruth spoke of her personal motivations and the lessons she would impart to the next generation.
“Young people need to get out there, stop complaining and do something productive,” said the 84-year old Dr. Ruth. “I survived the Holocaust, whereas 1.5 million children didn’t. I knew I needed to commit myself to Tikkun Olam (fixing the world).”
In one of his first statements since leaving office, former President George W. Bush remarked on Middle East developments in an article, “The Arab Spring and American Ideals,” in the Wall Street Journal, May 18. The former president reflects certain American misconceptions about the Middle East that are starting to blow up big-time in the region.
Bush writes: “We do not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. We only get to choose what side we are on.”
While one should not overestimate U.S. influence, one should also not underestimate it. Consider:
–In the Gaza Strip, by supporting the inclusion of Hamas in elections for which it was not qualified to run (since it had not accepted the Oslo accords), Bush’s own administration ensured that there would be a radical Islamist revolution in the Gaza Strip. This weakened the already dim prospects for any Israel-Palestinian peace process, has already brought one war, and will certainly bring others.
–In Lebanon, by refusing to give strong support to the moderate forces, the last two presidents ensured that the “freedom revolution” in that country would end in an Iran-Syria-Hizballah takeover.
–In Egypt, by taking the side not only of a total overthrow of the regime and even openly and unilaterally supporting the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama Administration did help ensure that the fundamental transformation of Egypt began with the inevitable end of an anti-freedom Islamist regime.
–In Iran, by ignoring the upsurge of protest following the stolen election, the Obama Administration ensured that a “freedom revolution” didn’t get started there.
–In Syria, by refusing for all practical purposes to help the rebels, the U.S. government ensured that the “freedom revolution” would be defeated. Equally bad, by giving disproportionate help to the Islamists, the administration made it far more likely that if the rebellion succeeded it wouldn’t be a “freedom revolution.”
–And finally, in Libya, the United States and its European allies determined pretty much everything, overthrowing Muammar Qadhafi and determining who would rule the country.
Thus, a simple claim by Bush, which is also about the closest he and his successor would agree on any issue, is easily and can be demonstrably proven false. One hallmark of those favoring “neoconservative” positions is their lack of knowledge about the actual Middle East.
But that’s not all. The most important point of all is this one: “We only get to choose what side we are on.” The underlying assumption here is that there are two sides: evil dictatorship and noble democracy advocates.
In fact, there are three sides:
–Dictatorships of various levels of repressiveness, some of which are friendly and some that are sworn enemies of the United States.
–Moderate democracy advocates who want freedom in the Western sense of the word.
–Revolutionary Islamists who want a new, and anti-American, dictatorship run by themselves.
During the Cold War, American policymakers were very much aware of this three-part distinction (the third being Communists, in that case). They didn’t always choose correctly but they tried to evaluate each situation seriously. Sometimes they chose the dictators; sometimes they chose the democrats; and sometimes they even helped nudge the dictators (usually military juntas and especially in Latin America) into returning to the barracks and letting democracy resume.
No such careful process goes on now. In fact, the Obama Administration has repeatedly done the opposite of what a proper policy would be.
Bush also reflects Obama in using the be-on-the-right-side-of-history argument, a fatal flaw in a president of the United States who should be making choices based on U.S. interests.
Here is Bush’s argument annotated by me:
“The idea that Arab peoples are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever.”
Again, the question, sadly, is not necessarily dispensing with oppression altogether but which kind of oppression we’re talking about. They are either willing, or can be forced, into getting rid of the old Arab nationalist oppression and then substituting Islamist oppression for it. Bush argues as if they are going to jump out of the frying pan with no danger of ending up in the fire.
He speaks critically about policymakers who “argue [that America] should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.”
Al Ahram reports that a women’s demonstration has been planned for Thursday to coincide with International Women’s Day, in downtown Cairo. Organizers are expected to provide parliamentary leaders with 100 suggested names of prominent female Egyptian figures for inclusion in a constituent assembly that will be mandated with drawing up a new constitution.
Despite the notable female role in last year’s revolution, women have hardly been represented politically. They fear that the constituent assembly, members of which will be chosen by March 24, will lack adequate female representation.
After Mubarak’s ouster, a quota for female MPs was cancelled by Egypt’s ruling military council and replaced with a law obliging competing political parties to include at least one woman per electoral party list. This led to most parties including women at the very bottom of their electoral lists, however, which badly hurt their electoral prospects.
The Middle East is ablaze with political revolution. Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Syria – the list of countries keeps growing. All is quiet, however, on the Israeli front. The question is: Why?
For 20 years, millions of Israelis have opposed “land for peace.” In 1996 they voted for Benjamin Netanyahu assuming he would abandon the policy; in 2001, they voted for Ariel Sharon for the same reason. But to no end. In the name of “peace,” one prime minister after another has continued shoving left-wing policies down the population’s collective throat.
And yet there is no peace. Terror? Yes. Shame? Yes. But certainly no peace.
Astonishingly, though, Israel’s leaders refuse to let go of their “land for peace” chimera. Netanyahu entrances many Jews with masterful speeches before Congress and the UN, but the fact is that he – just as much as President Obama – envisions a judenrein Palestinian state in most of the West Bank in the near future. This is the bitter truth and anyone who is honest with himself knows it.
Why, then, do Israelis tolerate it? What normal nation would continue to live under a government committed to surrendering the heartland of the country to its sworn enemy? What normal nation would continue to live under a government that has let 10,000 – 10,000! – rockets rain down on its cities in the past few years? What normal nation would sit passively as its government released 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one soldier?
Sure, Israelis protest. Some of them are currently protesting social and economic inequality, and for years some of them have protested ceding land to the Arabs. But peaceful protests in Israel generally accomplish nothing. Roughly three percent of Israel’s population – 200,000 Israelis – protested the Gaza Disengagement in 2005. Three percent of America’s population amounts to nine million people. Can you imagine what a nine-million man march on Washington would achieve? In Israel, its equivalent made no impression.
Despite their political failures, many right-wing Israelis declare, “It will be good,” and go on with their business. But as Rabbi Meir Kahane used to say, “It will not be good unless we make it good.”
Some Jews, based on their reading of certain biblical prophecies, believe Israel will survive forever – no matter what. But many Jews believed the Gaza Disengagement would never, for theological reasons, come to pass. Look where that belief got them.
Besides, is mere survival sufficient? Do Israelis really want to live in a country without the Temple Mount and the West Bank, which will almost certainly belong to the Arabs in a few decades’ time if current trends continue? Do they really want to live in a country where terrorism is accepted as an inevitable part of daily life – much like sunrise and sunset? Do they really want to live in a country that takes a structure like beautiful, modest Kever Rachel and converts it into a fortress?
Many Jews argue that revolt is unthinkable. But is it? Earlier this year, leftist columnist Merav Michaeli penned an article in Haaretz titled “Why There’s No Revolution in Israel” in which she argued that leftists are “yearning for a revolution.” Right-wing Israelis typically condemn radical leftists. But instead of denouncing them, why not appropriate their tactics and radicalism for their own ends?
When in Jewish history have Jews shied away from rising up in righteous wrath when the hour called for it? The Bible records many such incidents (see Joshua 22 and Judges 20 for just two examples), and the Chanukah saga began when Matityahu, the father of Judah the Maccabee, murdered a Jewish Hellenist in cold blood.
As revolution sweeps across the Middle East at a dizzying pace, cries for freedom, equality and an improved standard of living ring out, touching millions around the world and bringing hope to millions more. Finally, their voices are being heard. Progress is being made.
Still, an important segment of the population goes unheard as they cannot participate in high-profile protests or even voice their grievances and concerns. The mentally and physically disabled are underrepresented throughout the Middle East and there are few signs of this changing any time soon. Progress is at a standstill.
Everywhere, that is, except Israel.
Over the past few years, Israel has launched a quiet revolution of its own. Residential and treatment centers for the disabled, once funded and run exclusively by private individuals and initiatives, have now garnered government funding, support and participation.
Influential Israeli corporations in the fields of technology, defense and telecommunications are making projects to support the disabled population a priority, contributing significant amounts of time and money to the cause.
In addition, public discourse on equal access for the disabled has set in motion a heroic effort by the management of thousands of eateries, malls, schools, office buildings and theaters to ensure that their facilities are accessible to one and all. And the discussion extends well beyond government offices, corporate boardrooms and activism meetings.
A recent conference in Jerusalem gathered together religious leaders, teachers and celebrated thinkers to publicly address the need to include the disabled in religious life. In an effort to “ground” their soldiers, institutions like the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet have all made assisting the disabled a crucial part of the training process for advanced officers.
So, what brought about these dramatic changes?
I believe the key has been a national re-evaluation of life and what makes it worth living. Israel has transitioned from its obsession with identifying one’s abilities – due, in part, to a history fraught with trials, persecution and an ongoing struggle for survival – to a deeper commitment to the value of human life.
Instead of gauging one’s worth according to his or her military profile, we have come to the realization that every human life should be treasured, even those who will never contribute to society. An example from my own life should help clarify the point.
Many of the children in my care suffer from severe disabilities as a result of complications during childbirth. Extreme prematurity, prolonged lack of oxygen and other traumas have left these children in a very difficult state. They are the babies you don’t normally hear about. They aren’t the ones who “passed away too soon,” or the miracle children celebrated far and wide. They are born injured and their limitations are extreme. They will never speak, write or walk on their own. They will never earn a college degree or hold a steady job. They are completely dependent on our care.
There was a time when families were so ashamed of such children they would leave them at our doorstep and disappear, sometimes even fleeing the country. But today, this is simply unheard of in Israel. The families of disabled children, and the communities in which they live, see a soul – like yours or mine – trapped in a damaged body. Not something to be ashamed of but rather someone who needs more love and support. This is the principal upon which our silent revolution continues to thrive.
As Major General (res.) Doron Almog, one of the most vocal champions of the disabled population in Israel, has said, “Our generation will be judged by the way we treat the weakest members of society.”
Not surprisingly, the revolution has benefited all who embrace it on many levels. When one spends less time seeking out those who can advance his own position and more time seeking out opportunities to give of himself, life becomes more rewarding and truly worth living.
As an entrepreneur who supports our work recently said, “I have never seen such an investment in a project that exhibits no clear results for a bottom line, and yet the results for those involved are truly invaluable.”
While the revolution marches on, progressing at a pace previously unimaginable, Israel still has one more hurdle overcome. We must find our voice and share our story with the rest of the Middle East, with the world. In short, the revolution can no longer move forward in silence.
“Israel does not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.” That is more or less the reaction of Israeli officialdom to the unrest in Iran. Nobody questions this response. We have become accustomed to the fact that our response is not important. What does the oppression in China have to do with us? Why does the war in Chechnya concern us? Why is the slave trade in Sudan our business? And even more so, what does it matter what we think about Iran?
Every imbecile on the globe allows himself to interfere, express his opinion, create tension and propose himself as a negotiator in our small and troubled country. We roll out the red carpet for the British ambassador or for the French foreign minister when they land here, and then they run off to sympathize with our enemies in Ramallah and Gaza. We look on passively as the U.S. ambassador interferes in the dealings between Israel and its Bedouin citizens in the Negev or the Arabs in the Galilee. It seems clear to us: They have the right to tell us what to do, but we do not have the right to tell them what to do.
Why? Because when we decided to found the state of the Jews on Christian values – on the laws of England, Turkey and Rome – we left our Jewish ethics by the wayside. In effect, we told the nations of the entire world that they are the moral compasses, and they decide who is ethical and just. In truth, their interference in our affairs is our own fault. The flip side of that coin is our feeling that we have no moral right to intervene in ethical issues in other countries.
The Jewish state that will be created on the foundation of Jewish ethics will be a state whose destiny is the ancient Jewish destiny – “to perfect the world in the Kingdom of the Almighty.” Judaism certainly has a universal message and as soon as we revolutionize our mentality, we will no longer see ourselves as grasshoppers. And the world will not regard us that way either. On the contrary, the world will expect to hear the opinion of the nation that testifies to the existence of God.
What is the chance that there will be a true revolution in Iran? This is the stuff of speculation. What is far more important is Israel’s ethical stance regarding the events that are actually taking place. The Jewish response is that we are in favor of liberty. A Jew is a free person by his very essence. He is the servant of the King of Kings and testifies to His existence. Thus, it is impossible to truly enslave him. That is why absolute dictators always try to destroy the Jews. We are on the side of those who fight for liberty, wherever they are. And that is why we also favor the people fighting for their liberty in Iran.
Will the outcome of the struggle in Iran be good for the Jews? In the long term, yes. In the short or intermediate term, I do not think so. The uprising actually harms Israel, as it makes it more difficult for Israel to act against Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Who would attack Iran when it is possible that the evil empire will fall on its own?
The government that would, theoretically, replace the present regime in Iran would not be better for Israel. The opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, has a long history of radical declarations against Israel. In addition, his Western appearance is calming to Westerners, and that would help him make the Iranian nuclear threat a reality.
So are we for the revolution? Of course. Do we think that this potential revolution can remove the Iranian nuclear threat hovering over our heads? Not at all. That responsibility remains solely on the shoulders of Israel’s government.
Save the date: Manhigut Yehudit is planning a major conference at the New York Marriott East Side hotel in Manhattan on Sunday, July 26 from noon-2 p.m. (registration at 11:30 a.m.). The conference theme will be “no to a Palestinian state; yes to a strong and proud Jewish state.” For more information, call 516-295-3222 or e-mail USAevents@jewishisrael.org.