Enough with the "Axis of Evil"
By Yaron Ezrahi
(Hebrew original here)
A 180-degree turnaround is needed in Israeli policy towards the Muslim world
As the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, Israel will not be able to exist in the region for long if it continues to fulfill, in her own perception and in the perception of her neighbors, the role of front in the Western struggle against Islam. In spite of the fact that this struggle began with its focus on fundamentalist-terrorist Islam, Western and Israeli reactions have increasingly been blurring the distinctions between that and moderate Islam.
While Israel is seen as a foreign body, the globalization of the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism not only does not contribute to our security - but also puts the best of our young generation in the line of fire; this Herculean weight is placed upon the shoulders of a state that reveals such extreme sensitivity to losses and kidnappings of soldiers and citizens.
Over the years leaders were not sufficiently wise to dismantle the ticking bombs of settlements in the occupied territories, including the Golan Heights; leaders who failed to understand the accumulating dangers resulting from 'teasing' the Islamic world and who have turned Israel into the local bullhorn for overarching anti-Muslim slogans such as 'axis of evil' or 'retarded civilization', put Israel on a collision course with the entire Muslim world. For dozens of years we donated difficult pictures of the killing of civilians under occupation, of the humiliation of women, the elderly and infants at checkpoints, and of walls besieging villages. Therefore, precisely after another failed war, and after the Yom Kippur war, the Intifada, the scud missiles, the terror, the qassam rockets and the katuyshas have together proven that the price of attempts at a military solution are rejected; precisely now is the time for a sharp turnaround in Israel perception and policy towards the Muslim world.
Now is the time to position ourselves to the side of moderate Islam and to appear as the defense lawyer for Islamic civilization, that is intimately connected to Judaism through deep historical channels. My intent is not to support Arab dictators in neighboring countries, but to stand against the cultural, religious, moral and media assault on Islam, an assault that portrays the Muslim way of life as essentially violent and primitive.
Paradoxically this position, that would show Israel as a bridge over the deepening chasm between Islam and the West, would also benefit the United States. Israel as an Eastern-Western mixed culture attempting to integrate itself in the Middle East through understanding and respect for the unique elements of Muslim society and culture, would be a much more useful and convenient friend to Washington.
Likewise, we should not cooperate with US efforts to bring up Israel as a prime front against the Iranian nuclear threat against Israel, the moderate Muslim world and the West. Of course we should not look down on this threat and the Israeli army should prepare for any possibility; but a move that would turn Israel into an authentic voice in the Middle East and not a spokes-country for the West, would eventually enable a necessary historical change in our position and our security in the region.
Now, after the second Lebanon war, the country's leaders talk relentlessly about the next round. A non-conventional political imagination and much courage is needed to make the next stage a decisive turning point in the political and cultural Israeli strategy. What is needed right now is a 180-degree turn, abandoning the conventional political path that has been producing rotten fruit for years.
This change can not only rescue Israel from a unavoidable existential clash with the Muslim world and its supporters, but can also renew our cultural connections to historical Jewish-Muslim ties, that were formed during the period of joint bloom of the two religions.
Prof. Ezrahi teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
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