Peter Beinart's Liberal Fantasies

It is a difficult thing to keep one’s head when the world is in a state of euphoria. This is probably why so much of the coverage of recent events in Egypt, including the recent resignation of Hosni Mubarak and the installation of a military government, has lacked the kind of elementary skepticism that ought to be applied to any event of such potential magnitude. To a certain extent, this is understandable. The intoxicating power of revolutionary change is very real, and can overwhelm even the most cynical personality. It becomes problematic, however, when people become so addicted to it that, like any run-of-the-mill alcoholic, the suggestion that they might have a problem throws them into a defensive rage. The reaction toward Israel’s cautious skepticism in regard to the Egyptian revolution provides a case study in the phenomenon, with many apparently intelligent and worldly journalists throwing themselves into spasms of inchoate fear and loathing at the Israelis’ refusal to jump on the happy bandwagon. What this has revealed is not so much the childlike naïveté lurking beneath the sophisticated exterior of many commentators, but also their tendency to abandon their own intelligence whenever Israel is involved.

An extraordinary example of this was published in The Daily Beast on February 7, several days before Mubarak’s resignation, titled “What Israel is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising.” It was penned by Peter Beinart, a former member in good standing of the American pro-Israel camp who has recently become one of its more violent critics. Beinart’s take on the situation -- and I do not think it is an unusual one among American Jewish leftists and American leftists in general -- is equal parts wishful thinking and willful self-deception. His thesis, to the extent that one can be gleaned from Beinart’s grab-bag of homilies, is that Israel is opposed to the Egyptian revolution because it is opposed to Arab democracy. The reason Israel is opposed to Arab democracy is that a democratic Arab world would make it much harder for Israel to do evil unto the Palestinians. Beinart presents no evidence whatsoever that this is actually the case, and it should be noted that the Israeli government has thus far declared no opposition to democracy in Egypt, though it has expressed strong concerns about where the current upheaval in that country may be leading. In Beinart’s eyes, however, even this elementary skepticism is simply incomprehensible and unconscionable. While he admits that “a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel,” he informs us that this is “unlikely” because Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood “abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process.” He asks, “Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens,” and reassures us that “Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel ‘rock solid.’”

Indeed, Beinart appears to believe that Israel’s concerns about radical Islam are caused by nothing more than paranoia and craven self-interest. He illustrates this by drawing a rather tenuous connection between the unrest in Egypt and the Hamas regime in Gaza. In fact, Beinart appears to hold Hamas -- which is nothing more than the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood -- in special affection. He reminds us that the group “won the freest election in Palestinian history,” and “the organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum.” Any opposition to the Hamas regime meets with Beinart’s violent disapproval: “Ever since 2006,” he notes angrily, “Hamas, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip.” While he admits Hamas is “vile in many ways,” he nonetheless asserts that “a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue.” In his opinion, “Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy.” Beinart’s obsession with Islamic theocracy in Gaza leads him back to Egypt; since a democratic Egyptian government would not, he believes, help Israel and America contain that theocracy, “partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters.” In fact, he says, a democratic Egypt that refuses to “collude” against Hamas “may be doing Israel a favor.”