The Australian's Israeli correspondent, Abraham Rabinovich, recently put together a little promo for MEMRI, those industrious Israeli cherry-pickers of the Arabic-language media, who craftily translate, package and deliver to the Western media anything they think might paint the Arabs in a negative light. (For the full monty on MEMRI, see my 27/7/08 post The Beat-Up Goes On)
Rabinovich opens with a caricature of an Arab media as awash in jihadi jibber-jabber as central Queensland is today in floodwaters, albeit with the odd island of 'moderate', pro-Western discourse bravely holding out against the jihadi tide:
"Amid calls for jihad emanating from websites and television channels in the Muslim world, a counterpoint has emerged: fierce Arab self-criticism and openness to the West. Although small in number compared with fundamentalists in the media, Muslim liberals have been able to expose the Arab world to a totally different, often shocking, way of seeing itself." (Reforming voices in the Middle East, 1/1/11)
The standout performer in this joint Rabinovich-MEMRI production is undoubtedly Qatar's Sheik Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari:
"Sheik Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari, former dean of Islamic law at Qatar University, attributes the backwardness of the modern Arab world to the disappearance of critical thinking and the resultant absence of accountability. 'Despite the defeats we have suffered for half a century [an apparent reference to to the wars with Israel] we have not learned a thing' he said on Abu-Dhabi TV. 'We say that Israel is the enemy and that we hate it, but let's ask ourselves why Israel is always victorious. It is because it has a tradition of accountability'. Although Israel was the victor in its war with Hezbollah in 2006, said al-Ansari, most Arabs chose to believe otherwise. 'Would you believe that after the war, Israel, despite all it had achieved, established a committee to examine the accountability of the government because it hadn't achieved a total victory; just 80% instead of 100%?* We, on the other hand, are still proclaiming from the rooftops that we won'. Although Israel is a target of vilification in the Arab media, it is not infrequently portrayed, as by al-Ansari, in a positive context as an example of a modern society from which Arabs could learn."
Of course, this particular, MEMRI-treated, account of al-Ansari's views may or may not be entirely accurate. That's MEMRI for you. What intriqued me, however, was Rabinovich's conceit that the Arabs have something positive to learn from Israel, which he touts as a paragon of 'modernity' - the latest weasel word doing the rounds.
Let's put this to the test then. What do the experts have to say about the nature of the society that Rabinovich would have the Arabs emulate? And just how 'modern' is Israel?
"A pioneering research study dealing with Israeli Jews' memory of the conflict with the Arabs, from its inception to the present, came into the world together with the war in Gaza. The sweeping support for Operation Cast Lead confirmed the main diagnosis that arises from the study, conducted by Daniel Bar-Tal, one of the world's leading political psychologists, and Rafi Nets-Zehngut, a doctoral student: Israeli Jews' consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering... Bar-Tal, who has won international awards for his scientific work, immigrated to Israel from Poland** as a child in the 1950s. 'I grew up in a [Polish] society that for the most part did not accept the reality that the authorities tried to portray, and fought for a different future', he says. 'I have melancholy thoughts about nations where there is an almost total identity between the agents of a conflict, on the one hand, who nurture the siege mentality and the existential fear, and various parts of society, on the other. Nations that respond so easily to battle cries and hesitate to enlist in favor of peace do not leave room for building a better future'. Bar-Tal emphasizes that the Israeli awareness of reality was also forged in the context of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens, but relies primarily on prolonged indoctrination that is based on ignorance and even nurtures it. In his opinion... the general public has not been interested in knowing what Israel did in Gaza for many years; how the disengagement was carried out and why, or what its outcome was for the Palestinians; why Hamas came to power in democratic elections; how many people were killed in Gaza from the disengagement until the start of the recent war; and whether it was possible to extend the recent ceasefire or even who violated it first. 'Although there are accessible sources, where it is possible to find the answers to those questions, the public practices self-censorship and accepts the establishment version, out of an unwillingness to open up to alternative information - they don't want to be confused with the facts. We are a nation that lives in the past, suffused with anxiety and suffering from chronic closed-mindedness', charges Bar-Tal."
Chronic closed-mindedness, eh? Now what was that that the Sheik was saying about the disappearance of critical thinking in the Arab world? Living in the past? Now what was that Rabinovich was saying about Israel being an example of a modern society?
I rest my case.
[*When the Sheik talks of Israel achieving an 80% victory in Lebanon in 2006, but nevertheless setting up a committee to examine the government's accountability for the remaining 20% failure, he is, of course, talking (through his turban) about the Winograd Commission. In their partisan account of the war, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah & the War in Lebanon (2008), Haaretz journalists Harel and Issacharoff write: "The word 'failure' appeared in the report dozens of times. 'The primary responsibility for these serious failings rests with the Prime Minister, the minister of defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff'." (p 246) But did such a finding cost Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz their heads? No. So much for accountability. And so much for the sheik's imagined 80% victory. Moreover, his reference to all Israel had achieved has me wondering. Does this include the near 5 thousand Lebanese dead and wounded, or the 10,000 Lebanese homes destroyed, as cited by Harel & Issacharoff? (p 249)
** The Economist's 2010 Democracy Index, incidentally, categorises both Israel and Poland as "flawed democracies." Interestingly, however, in the crucial area of civil liberties, Poland rates 9.12; Israel 5.29.]