Bad timing for ‘WSJ’ author who says Arab spring won’t leap the Sinai

on 9 Comments

The theme of posts here the other day was attitudes of “denial” regarding the Palestine issue. Nothing could illustrate this more than an op-ed a couple of days ago  by a “scholar” with a comfortable job at a right-wing think tank. Josef Joffe, former publisher of the influential German newspaper Die Zeit and now ensconced as the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution. Joffe wrote a piece in the April 26 Wall Street Journal on The Arab Spring and The Palestine Distraction. His theme was to debunk the idea that the upheavals around the Arab world had anything to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. (The subtitle was: Arab peoples aren’t obsessed with anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. It’s their rulers who are.)

Shoddy political theories—ideologies, really—never die because they are immune to the facts. The most glaring is this: These revolutions have unfolded without the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli screaming. It’s not that the demonstrators had run out of Stars and Stripes to trample, or were too concerned about the environment to burn Benjamin Netanyahu in effigy. It’s that their targets were Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben-Ali, Moammar Gadhafi and the others—no stooges of Zionism they. In Benghazi, the slogan was: “America is our friend!” . . .[Palestine] is not the core conflict that feeds the despotism; it is the despots who fan the conflict, even as they fondle their U.S.-made F-16s and quietly work with Israel. Their peoples are the victims of this power ploy, not its drivers. This is what the demonstrators of Tahrir Square and the rebels of Benghazi have told us with their silence on the Palestine issue.

Bad timing. The next day it was announced that the new Egyptian regime, spurred on by popular demand, had brokered a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas — against the clear wishes of the US and Israeli governments. Fatah may well have felt pressured to agree by the loss of their political patron with the fall of Hosni Mubarak. (It was a common complaint from Fatah supporters I met in the West Bank recently that the US made a big mistake in “letting Mubarak go” or that the Egyptian uprising was some kind of CIA-Al Jazeera plot.) Then there were a series of marches to the Israeli embassy in Cairo in support of the Palestinians and demanding that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty be abrogated. And finally, the new Egyptian government announced that it was ending collaboration with Israel in maintaining the siege of Gaza and would be opening its border to all traffic, making the 2007 agreement with Israel on controlling the Rafah Crossing a dead letter. The Egyptian foreign minister pointedly warned Israel “not to interfere” with a decision that was an internal matter to his country.

Glenn Greenwald (Strong anti-American sentiment in Egypt) usefully compiled polling results from Egypt indicating overwhelming sentiment in support of Palestine – and hostility to the US for its unwavering backing of Israel. 

What’s most remarkable about that 20/79 favorability disparity toward the U.S. is that it’s worse now than it was during the Bush years (a worldwide Pew poll of public opinion found a 30% approval rating in Egypt for the U.S. in 2006 and 21% in 2007). In one of the most strategically important countries in that region — a nation that has been a close U.S. ally for decades — public opinion toward the U.S. is as low as (if not lower than) ever, more than two years into the Obama presidency. . .

. . .this new polling data [reveals] the huge gap between the views of the Arab dictators we prop up and the Arab citizenry generally: the reason why the U.S., despite its lofty rhetoric, wants anything but democracy in that part of the world. Consider, for instance, that “54 percent [of Egyptians] want to annul the peace treaty with Israel, compared with 36 percent who want to maintain it.” 

And strong popular opinion in favor of the Palestinians is by no means a phenomenon limited to Egypt. Noam Chomsky also cited similar polling results in the Arab world: 

The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. . . . They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar.

Joffe, the author of the WSJ op-ed, is not a hard-core neocon. His academic and political associations suggest an alignment with the “realist” school of diplomacy. But on the Palestine issue, he should be more appropriately called “surrealist.” Or maybe it’s just denial.

About Jeff Klein

Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action. He has a blog:

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9 Responses

  1. Avi
    April 30, 2011, 5:06 pm

    Joffe, the author of the WSJ op-ed, is not a hard-core neocon. His academic and political associations suggest an alignment with the “realist” school of diplomacy. But on the Palestine issue, he should be more appropriately called “surrealist.” Or maybe it’s just denial.

    I would go with “propaganda”, but, then again, perhaps it’s just the Hudson.

  2. Bandolero
    April 30, 2011, 7:15 pm

    From what I see in Germnay I see Josef Joffe as a Israel firster first and a hard-core neocon second.

    I never saw him criticize anything of what Israel did, even when other Germans had rare moments to do so. He was a staunch support of the war against Iraq in Germany. He is best friends with the Cheneyists in the AEI.

    I would even not disagree if you call Joffe the BHL of Germany.

  3. Debonnaire
    April 30, 2011, 7:17 pm

    Carl Bernstein (interviewed on TV after Mubarak fled): “Now that the Egyptians are free – I hope you won’t hear them go on about ‘Zionism’, or ‘Israel’ or any such nonsense.” Michael Neumann: “How can anyone so insignificant be so patronizing?”

  4. piotr
    April 30, 2011, 8:10 pm

    What Joffe and others overlooked is that Israel follows a certain strategy. It is not 100% so details may be debatable, but some key points include: permanent division among Palestinian, Gaza as a dumping ground (and shooting gallery. This required not an indifference on the side of Egypt, but eager cooperation. Which is quite secure given the paranoia of Egyptian rulers in respect to Muslim Brotherhood.

    Now it seems to be the slender staff made of reed that pierces the hand that leans on it. With that particular paranoia gone, Egypt will do what is good for Egypt, and the self-image of Egypt. And the siege of Gaza does not seem to fit either. Observe that mostly verbal but resolute support of Palestinians by the ruling party in Turkey in no way dented its popularity. Is it a central issue for Turks? No. Are they indifferent to what is their government doing in this respect? Again, no.

  5. Robert767
    May 1, 2011, 1:18 am

    We should all rejoice that Egypt is to open the Rafah crossing,the siege of Gaza has been a disgrace,condemning Palestinians to malnutrition,homelesness,lack of clean water etc.To hear Israel whine that Egpyt is breaking an “international agreement”induces a hearty if cynical laugh-this from the serial breaker of international law,serial invader of neighbouring countries,repeat ignorer of UN resolutions,44 year long illegal occupier of Palestine-another example of the perpetrator claiming to be yhe victim.

  6. ToivoS
    May 1, 2011, 2:53 am

    The Angry Arab on his blog has been describing for weeks the anger on the streets of Egypt against Israel. This Joffe jerk must be living in a world of denial. The Egyptian people have been demanding this for some time.

    But it must be good news to watch the Zionist pods thrashing in fear, denial and panic. Arab spring is coming home to roost.

    • Walid
      May 1, 2011, 4:56 am

      “Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. ”

      The distraction isn’t Palestine but the systematic deposing of corrupt Arab leaders to touch up America’s tarnished image from what it’s been doing to the Arab world. America’s invisible hand in getting rid of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi and the rest isn’t going to make the Arabs forget or forgive what has been done to Iraq and Palestine and Bahrain and how it had helped their own ruthless dictators stay in power. For a change, Arabs are now “using” the Americans but regrettably, the kind of Arabs doing it are the ones that will ultimately bite the US hand and everything else in that gets in their way, somewhat as the Mujahideens did a few years back.

      • Citizen
        May 1, 2011, 9:06 am

        Walid, in your second paragraph of your comment here, the first serpentine sentence seems completely divorced from the second serpentine sentence. Did you fall down a hole while writing this paragraph? Or is that the nature of the short term hand belonging to Uncle Sam? Seems to me the Mujahideens have been the consistent ones, not Uncle Sam, at least when it comes to the best interests of the Arab people as a whole, rather than the best interests of the US elite’s agenda, which has in common with the now shaking Arab regimes that the street people are waking up to the game long played with them as pawns, both here in the USA, and over there, in the ME. Just wait ’till Joe & Jane Plumber recognize the treasonous nature of AIPAC.

  7. gazacalling
    May 1, 2011, 2:38 pm

    His theme was to debunk the idea that the upheavals around the Arab world had anything to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    The US supported Mubarak’s repressive regime as a payoff for keeping the peace with Israel. The US has given Egypt an average of $2 billion a year since 1979.

    Mubarak also apparently made a fortune with corrupt dealing with Israel: Global Post

    Mubarak repressed his people horribly. He also directly opposed public opinion in his country on Israel. Egyptians on the street hate and want to attack Israel. This is not an ideological statement but just a fact.

    Absolutely the US will do everything it can to prohibit real democracy in Egypt. This is in Israel’s short-term best interest. But at some point short-term thinking needs to give way to long-term strategy. The only long-term solution that will work is justice for the Palestinians. This is in America and Israel’s best interests.

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