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The Only Democracy? » Victories for Democracy » What will you do?

What will you do?

By Jesse Bacon

My friend asked me, only half-jokingly “What if you have to change your name for your blog?” I wish a swift and durable success to the people’s movements in Cairo. I was just coming of age when the Berlin Wall fell (my “camp” was actually a nerdy kids Current Events class in June of 1989.) I was starting to wonder if I would ever see another wave of revolutions like that, sweeping aside regimes that everyone assumed were ominpotent only a short time before.

The answer to my friend is that the title of this blog is a question. Because democracy is a conversation, and there have always been other voices raised in the various countries of the Middle East. But for years, people have hurled the autocratic nature of many Arab regimes at me, as if to suggest that Palestinians don’t deserve the democracy that was denied the people who speak their language. Why don’t you speak out against Saudi Arabia? I am asked, as if one crime justifies another.

Well the moment that previously existed only as a hypothetical is arriving. And I”m thrilled by the jubilation, the inspiration being drawn from the Egyptians, the Tunisians who in turn inspired them, and several other nations. I feel that we have been privileged after years of criticizing U.S. and Israeli policy in support of dictators, to bask a tiny bit in the hard-earned victory of the brave people staring down a far more invasive security apparatus than we face in the West.

But what of the braggarts of Israel’s democracy? I am amazed how much fear and bitterness pervade their reaction, furthering the divide between those who have to justify every Israeli action and those who don’t. I read a solicitation for blogposts from a local Jewish website “debunking” of the idea that Palestinains have anything to do with Egyptians, even though the accompanying article  described Israelis and Palestinians carrying Egyptian flags together. Am I to tell them to NOT feel a connection with their neighbors finally gaining freedom?  or to ignore the manufacturers of the same tear gas used against them both, as Joseph Dana discovered.

People in the street confronting police and army soldiers with revolutionary aspirations. Some youth throw stones in symbolic acts of resistance as the elders try to calm down their rage and focus on chants of unity. Armed forces reply with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. This is a regular occurrence in the West Bank in villages like Nabi Saleh, Ni’ilin and Beit Umar.  Over the past week, it has been unfolding on the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria as well. From Ni’ilin to Cairo, the tear gas that is being employed against demonstrations is made in the United States.

In a good summary of Israeli anxiety on the rise of democracy in Egypt, Yoav Fromer finishes the list with this:

4. The Loss of Israel’s ‘Special Status’…But if genuine democracy takes hold in Egypt—or anywhere else in the Middle East—it could also spell the end of Israel’s monopoly on righteousness and endanger this special status, along with the lucrative benefits that have come with it. Among them: gargantuan amounts of U.S. military aid (which Sen. Rand Paul has justproposed eliminating) and the U.S. veto at the U.N. Security Council, which has consistently parried any substantial attempts at condemning Israel in the world body. Finally, and possibly most disheartening for many Israelis, there is the chance that a genuine Arab democracy might raise the bar for Israel and prompt international calls for it to get its own democracy in order, end the occupation of Palestinian territories, and amend its discriminatory policies toward its Arab minority.

So it turns out that Israel’s government can only carry on with a backdrop of more obviously autocratic regime. It didn’t just require disenfranchisement of Palestinians but millions in neighboring countries. And so the wall between more open minded people in the Jewish community and in Israel and those who cannot take any pleasure in another’s freedom will grow greater, and Israel will for a time look more like its ally to the West. But all dictators will meet the same fate, I believe again.

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JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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