Dictionary.com defines values as “the ideals and customs of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. Values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy”.
Our leaders often tells us that the main reason the U.S. supports Israel, it often seems unconditionally, is because more than any other country in the region we share important values. We are led to believe that these values include a respect for human rights and adoration for democracy. Given both governments’ handling of the Egyptian crisis it does seem the U.S. and Israel have common values, but unfortunately not positive ones.
Israel’s position on whether Egyptians should enjoy the same civil rights and democratic government that Israelis enjoy was expressed last week in an urgent message Tel Aviv sent to its allies encouraging them to save Mubarak and his dictatorial regime. In spite of Mubarak’s anti-democratic, anti-human rights measures the Netanyahu government has become his biggest fan club. I mean we are talking about a man who has brutally squashed dissent, tortured people sometimes at the behest of our own government, and stolen elections by intimidation and fraudulent vote counting. Just recently he sent his goons into Tahrir Square to harass and beat protesters and journalists. By all definitions Mubarak’s 30 year reign in Cairo has been a dictatorship. But Israel, who allegedly cherishes democracy, not only would like to see Mubarak remain in power in Egypt but is leading the foreign efforts to make it happen.
The Obama Administration’s response to the crisis has been more subtle but no less egregious. Why we just can’t leave Egypt’s affairs for Egyptians to decide is beyond me? But, of course the U.S. government has to get involved. Currently it is attempting to broker a deal whereby Mubarak steps down immediately and eventual constitutional reforms, free and fair elections, and a renewed respect for civil rights would take place. This sounds good, however the U.S. plan is unacceptable because the man chosen to take control of the government in the transitional phase is Mubarak’s handpicked vice president Omar Suleiman. Suleiman is the former head of Egypt’s spy agency, an alleged “CIA point man” and the go to guy for Egypt’s rendition program – whereby terror suspects caught by the U.S. were taken to Egypt for extraordinary interrogation sessions. In other words Suleiman is even more of a thug than Mubarak and could not be trusted to follow through on reforms.
At the end of the day this whole situation is the same old same old. You can hardly fault Israel for supporting Mubarak. He is a brutal dictator to Egyptians, but he has been a loyal friend to Israel. He has adhered to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. He has protected Israel politically from demands that Tel Aviv obey international law and halt new settlements in East Jerusalem. Lastly, he has worked closely with Israel in its campaign to eradicate Hamas in Gaza. Thus, in the name of self-preservation Israel is acting like any other self-respecting nation-state.
But what justifies the actions of the U.S. government? Nothing. Our government is once again looking at a major world crisis through a narrow black and white lense. You are either for us or against us. What’s a shame is that this could have been Obama’s big chance to actually bring promised “change” to our foreign policy. But, once again Washington is supporting the wrong side in a pivotal crisis. Like Tel Aviv, Washington speaks with a forked tongue. We talk a good game about supporting democracy, but when push comes to shove we support the next brutal dictator in waiting all because he can be purchased to fall in line behind the so-called “War on Terror”.
So, yes, Israel and the U.S. share common values and unfortunately they are not good ones. All the verbiage about respect for human rights and adoration for democracy is just rhetoric. The bottom line is that both governments support despots at the expense of democratic movements. Israel has an excuse. It’s called self preservation. The U.S. has no such excuse. We pursue policies that support only Israel to our own peril. And we wonder why we have a terrorism problem.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina