Thursday, May 19, 2011

The "Arab Spring" should learn from the “Jewish Spring”

From Huffington Post, May 17, 2011, by Danny Ayalon: 
It is extraordinary that many supporters of the so-called 'Arab Spring' have criticized and condemned the only real 'Spring' to have successfully brought democracy and freedom to the Middle East. As of last week, the 'Jewish Spring' is 63 years old and showing no signs of weakening.

While many take the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in Israel for granted, the details could serve as an inspiration for the region.

Since the expulsion and exile from the Land of Israel by the Romans, the Jewish People have largely only known repression, persecution and massacres. Wherever many of our ancestors lived they yearned for freedom and equality with the nations of the world by returning to the land that they were expelled from two thousand years prior and rejoining the remnant who maintained the Jewish presence in Israel.

The Jewish struggle for full civil and national rights is unparalleled in the annals of time. No other people survived such a long exile with their language, civilization, culture and attachment to homeland intact.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the reestablished Jewish State created a stable liberal democracy out of a population, the vast majority of whom had never experienced representative government for even one day. While there are those who claim that the lack of democracy in Arab history negates its possibility of success, their Semitic cousins, the Jews, have proven that lack of experience should not prove a barrier.

Moreover, Israel is a bastion of decency and human rights. Our Declaration of Independence is the only such document that actively invokes the universalist principles of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, Israel's founding document extended a hand of peace and fraternity to all of our neighbors, even while many at that moment were massing at the Jewish State's borders in a war of attempted extermination.

If the 'Arab Spring' is to succeed it could do worse than learn from the Israel experience. While successive Arab rulers have instilled a 'scapegoat mentality' in parts of the population, this must be removed at the earliest opportunity. Arabs have been distracted from the real issues for too long by blaming all the ills of the Middle East on the colonial powers, Israel, the U.S. and the West in general.

The broken bodies and souls that escaped the Holocaust, the excesses of Communism and suppression as dhimms in Arab lands had ample reasons for failure bar one, the determination to succeed, build and look forward.

Israel began its existence as a developing nation with all of the challenges that entails, and many others, like mass immigration, and boycotts and other embargoes laid against it. Nevertheless, Israel met all these challenges and many more, and is a proven success by any measure.

The challenges facing the Arab world are many. The UNDP Human Development Report for Arab states report in 2009 placed the Arab world at the lowest level on the development ladder. The ever-increasing poverty, unemployment, desertification, water scarcity, rising food prices, civil wars, sectarian and ethnic conflicts make the task daunting.

According to the report, the Arab countries will need to create around 51 million new jobs by 2020 just to maintain their current precarious unemployment figures.

Many of these challenges were Israel's challenges. However, regardless of the fact that Israel had to fight many bloody wars and spend an enormous amount of its budget on defense, Israelis continue excelling in many areas.

Perhaps Israel's key is not letting our challenges define us. While many around the world associate Israel with war and conflict, Israelis define themselves by their achievements as a society.

We measure ourselves by the most developed and wealthy nations and in areas such as hi-tech, innovation, medicine and finance and others, we compare well. Perhaps our over-achieving has entitled many to criticize us more than our neighbors. However, we started with far fewer resources than any in our region, so if we have reached a high level of development it should be to our credit, not our detriment.

Few understand the yearning for freedom and an end to repression more than the Jewish People. We commend those in the Arab world who have the courage to end their tyranny. However, we should not confuse the start of the process with the process itself. There is a long and difficult road ahead.

I hope Israel can serve as a model for the region. The Jewish Spring is a remarkable story and disproves many of the geographic and historic arguments that seek to excuse failed societies in the Middle East and North Africa.

The West has a role too, the narrative of victimization and the allowance of moral relativism must cease. The Arab world must be deemed accountable as any other, when nations, international organizations and NGO's hold a people to a different standard; this discourages and does not embolden those that seek change.

Israel remains to this day under the largest magnifying glass of the international community and we have been held to the highest standards, some would say unfairly so. If the Arab Spring is to match the Jewish Spring, it deserves no less.
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