Around 10 p.m. in our New York Hotel room, I heard a strange voice and decided to investigate. It was actually a television monitor in the hallway showing the news. Much to my surprise, it was Republican Senator of Arizona John McCain, who had obviously been taped on a Sunday morning television talk show. The sentence McCain was saying as I came up to the television monitor was, “Yes but because of a U.S. alliance, Israel can defend itself.” I immediately retorted out loud, “Yes, but supposedly the United States is supposed to act so that Israel–and other allies–is supposed to, given the alliance, have less need to have to protect itself, not more and not to have to face disadvantageous risks and foolish policies.”
I spent the next few hours flying from Newark, NJ, to Israel on a long, boring trip. And I reflected how certain and yet wrong the understanding of the Middle East was in New York and in Washington.
I spent the next half-dozen hours traveling to Israel, specifically Tel Aviv. Once I had arrived, I walked in the bright sunlight. I couldn’t help but overhear a group of about six men who were drinking coffee and talking about politics: “Americanim lo mevinim et hamizrach hatichon” [“Americans don’t understand the Middle East”], one of them said, and the others nodded. It struck a clear point. When he said, “Americans don’t understand,” it wasn’t just a policy statement but the heart of the problem. There can be no lasting coalition between the Islamists and their opponents. One must decisively defeat the other and their fellow traveling allies, too. Every coffee drinker between Morocco and Kabul knows that.
I got up and went to the next table and said in Hebrew, “Excuse me for interrupting you,” although I knew that the act of apologizing marked me as not being native-born. I continued, “I have studied the Middle East for almost 40 years and cannot believe how many naive, determined, and influential people support the Muslim Brotherhood, America’s impassioned enemy.”
These men understood exactly what they were saying, knowing what radical Islamist thought is really like, the fanaticism of that doctrine, its long record, and the extent to which its adherents go to spread violence, revolution, and that doctrine.
Indeed, everyone in the Middle East knows it, no matter which side they are on. American policy is no longer in the ballpark. It has changed sides–something that would have been shocking even a few years ago. Washington is no longer an ally of Israel, nor of Egypt, Jordan, nor of the moderates in Syria, Tunisia, and Lebanon; nor even of the democratic movements in Iran or Turkey.
I sighed and looked down the block where the Egyptian embassy flies its flag from the roof. Who knew that one day Egypt and Israel would have to cooperate against Washington, which is so far away from the interests, knowledge, and experience of them both.
Thanks to Josef Kaner for the transcription.