Is­rael is the so­lu­tion, not the prob­lem

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

As the “Arab Spring” rolls into an un­cer­tain sum­mer, the re­cent tur­moil al­ready has ex­posed some re­gional home truths. The pop­u­lar un­rest that has shaken dic­ta­tor­ships through­out the Mid­dle East has put to rest the fal­lacy that Is­rael is the root cause of Arab anger and the source of the re­gion’s prob­lems. Al­though there re­mains lit­tle love lost be­tween the Arab world and Is­rael, it is a hunger for democ­racy that is fu­el­ing the Arab street.

But not only is Is­rael not the prob­lem in the Mid­dle East, it is, if any­thing, the so­lu­tion. If the ap­petite for free­dom in the Arab world is to be sat­is­fied and the dream of re­gional peace ul­ti­mately re­al­ized, Is­rael would be bet­ter viewed as a model to be em­u­lated, not vil­i­fied. Is­rael is far from per­fect, but through­out the 63 years of its ex­is­tence, it has stood as lonely proof that the lib­erty, free­doms and open­ness de­manded by waves of Arab demon­stra­tors can be­come a re­al­ity in the Mid­dle East.

Yet for those who have taken to the streets of Cairo, Benghazi, Tu­nis and else­where, Is­rael has for­ever been the scape­goat of their suf­fer­ing. With Is­rael re­garded as the en­emy of ev­ery­thing Arab, its val­ues of democ­racy, op­por­tu­nity and equal­ity be­tween men and women have been re­jected as “en­emy” traits. Af­ter decades of con­dem­na­tion, it may there­fore be a bit­ter pill to swal­low (as all ef­fec­tive medicine is) but Is­rael pro­vides a prox­i­mate ex­am­ple of what Arab cit­i­zens could at­tain.

Is­rael stands out in the Mid­dle East not only as the only non-Arab or nonMus­lim state, but as the only coun­try to boast a ro­bust, vi­brant and en­dur­ing par­lia­men­tary democ­racy. Some­times, sitting in par­lia­ment, I won­der if any other cham­ber in the world is able to peace­fully con­tain such a mind-bog­gling spec­trum of opin­ions and back­grounds. Is­rael’s free press fre­quently gives voice to even the most dis­sent­ing of opin­ions, in­clud­ing those call­ing for the state’s dis­so­lu­tion. Mean­while the coun­try’s jus­tice sys­tem is, as it should be, a hy­per­ac­tive ob­sta­cle to the abuse of power, plac­ing nec­es­sary and con­stant checks on the gov­ern­ment and army.

Is­rael’s achieve­ments stand out in par­tic­u­lar when one con­sid­ers its con­stant strug­gle to sur­vive and thrive in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment and its need to bal­ance the val­ues of moder­nity with re­spect for thou­sands of years of Jewish tra­di­tion. Is­raeli so­ci­ety gen­er­ally has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to wal­low in a self-im­age of vic­tim­hood and re­sponded to catas­tro­phes with re­newal. De­spite the con­stant threat of war and scarce nat­u­ral re­sources, Is­rael’s nascent democ­racy grew up and ma­tured quickly, build­ing a home for mil­lions of Jewish refugees pushed out of their homes in Europe and the Mid­dle East.

At its birth, Is­rael in­fused the mod­ern idea of po­lit­i­cal democ­racy with a tra­di­tional Jewish con­cept of equal­ity, which re­jects the need for an in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween man and God.

The Arab world is sim­i­larly rooted in a re­li­gious tra­di­tion, Is­lamic, that ad­vo­cates in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity, re­spect and learn­ing and, in the ab­sence of an agreed re­li­gious au­thor­ity, is forced to ac­cept dis­sent.

It too can fuse democ­racy with its an­cient val­ues.

Is­rael is the Mid­dle East’s only democ­racy, but our vi­sion is to be but one democ­racy among many.

A demo­cratic Arab world would rep­re­sent un­prece­dented hope for re­gional peace — not just a nar­row and lim­ited agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, but an all-en­com­pass­ing ac­cord that would change the face of the Mid­dle East.

If any­thing, the Pales­tini­ans, as they move ever closer to gain­ing their own state, are likely to cre­ate one of the Arab world’s first democ­ra­cies.

In­deed, were Is­rael sur­rounded by like-minded en­light­ened so­ci­eties, the very real Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­cerns of to­day would fade into dis­tant mem­ory.

A re­gion de­void of con­flict would al­low for un­par­al­leled eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion, ul­ti­mately ful­fill­ing the ma­te­rial as­pi­ra­tions of the re­gion’s youth.

Is­rael is not and never has been a real (rather than imag­ined) ob­sta­cle to progress in the Arab world.

It is an in­spir­ing model for demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment amid dif­fi­cul­ties and chal­lenges.

And now that the Arab world is be­com­ing a source of inspiration to the world at large, Is­rael stands ready to be an en­thu­si­as­tic po­ten­tial part­ner in forg­ing a re­gion of peace and pros­per­ity.

Ei­nat Wilf is a mem­ber of the Knes­set within the In­de­pen­dence Party and sits on the For­eign Af­fairs and De­fense Com­mit­tee.

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