Boycotting Israel is a failure, and has only helped that country while damaging Arab nations that have long shunned the Jewish state, according to a small new group of liberal-minded Arab thinkers from across the Middle East who are pushing to engage with Israel on the theory that it would aid their societies and further the Palestinian cause.
The group has brought together Arab journalists, artists, politicians, diplomats, Quranic scholars and others who share a view that isolating and demonizing Israel has cost Arab nations billions in trade. They say it has also undercut Palestinian efforts to build institutions for a future state, and torn at the Arab social fabric, as rival ethnic, religious and national leaders increasingly apply tactics that were first tested against Israel.
“Arabs are the boycott’s first — and only — victims,” Eglal Gheita, an Egyptian-British lawyer, declared at an inaugural gathering this week in London.
Calling itself the Arab Council for Regional Integration, the group does not purport to be broadly representative of Arab public opinion. Its members espouse a viewpoint that is, to put it mildly, politically incorrect in their home countries: Some have already been ostracized for advocating engagement with Israel and others said they feared retribution when they return.
Some participants urged measures like establishing a teachers college and research institute with campuses in Casablanca, Amman, Haifa and Manama. And an Iraqi counterterrorism expert living in Germany, Jassim Mohammad, urged Arab security services to stop the spread of “radicalism and hate” in the media, schools and mosques and to spread “corrective content about Israel and Jews” instead.Al Khaleej Online adds:
He called this a “matter of Arab national security.”
Participants, particularly from Bahrain, Tunisia and Algeria, went on to praise the social, cultural and heritage role of Arab Jews in their countries, both in the past and in the present.
Representatives from Arab countries that witnessed a multi-motivated Jewish exodus, such as Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and Algeria, expressed regret over the loss of their Jewish citizens, who had an important role in the development, culture and economy of their societies.
The Jewish Journal adds:
Extremism and terrorism were deplored, and concern expressed about “brainwashing” of children in school and of students at university level; and, remarkably, from the clerics Hassen Chalghoumi, a condemnation of the “politicization” of Islam, and from Lebanon’s Saleh Hamed, a plea to Europe to crack down on the number of mosques in which imams were preaching hatred.We've seen a pattern emerging in recent years of lone voices in the Arab world starting to speak up against the insane anti-Zionism and antisemitism in that world. It used to be articles that were primarily critical of Arab regimes that would incidentally say that Arabs under Israeli rule have it better, or articles that would point out that Israel had more Nobel Prizes than all the Arab nations combined. It has accelerated into open calls for dialogue with Israel.
The event was sponsored by the US-based Center for Peace Communications, whose board of directors is headed by Dennis Ross. The CPC describes itself as “a group of Americans who believe that security and prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa require a peace between peoples.” Joseph Braude, the convenor of the conference, is a senior fellow at the Middle East Program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in Washington D.C., and is CPC’s founder and president.
No Israelis were present, because some of the delegates could have been subject to prosecution in their home countries for the “crime” of normalizing relations. It was clearly, Braude said, “a civil initiative in which no government had a hand,” but the views expressed are bound to resonate throughout the Middle East.
The events prompting this small revolution include, above all, the understanding of the Iranian threat to the region and the realization that Israel is the best ally in that undeclared war. But there has also been a significant drop in support for the Palestinian cause as the Palestinians themselves have shown no interest in peace, and maintained its split between Hamas and Fatah. Finally, the Internet - and education of Arab intellectuals in the West - has allowed the Arab world to be exposed to points of view that were simply unavailable to them even a decade ago. Israel itself has been energetically pursuing relations with the Arab world and standing up for itself in international forums, such as sports. Its economic and military strength evokes respect among Arabs.
Put all of that together and Israel is now in higher esteem among Arabs than it has ever been.
To be sure, antisemitism and anti-Zionism is still the norm in the Middle East. But that position is no longer unified, and opposition to it no longer turns the "radicals" into pariahs as much as it used to.
It is a sea change in direction, but there is a long way to go.