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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

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Israel and the Arab Spring

Posted: 04/26/11 06:35 PM ET

I've heard it said here and there that Israel may be "worried" about the wind of democracy blowing through the Arab world.

I understand this apprehension.

I know how, in at least two cases, that of Algeria in 1991 and then Gaza in 2006, free elections have produced the worst result.

And I am all too conscious of the fact that, in this regard, Israel is not entitled to the least error in taking lightly the risk of seeing these Egyptian, Libyan, or, tomorrow, Syrian revolutions engender a world of increasing danger.

Yet, being worried is one thing -- one that demands lucidity, skepticism when it comes to lyrical illusions, and vigilance.

But exaggerated caution, withdrawal, silent disapproval would be quite another -- which would place the heirs of the great Zionist dream in an untenable position, one that would be unworthy of their history.

I am hard put to see how a country can be be proud -- rightly so and for such a long time -- of being the sole democracy in the Middle East and yet hesitate to welcome its neighbors when they attempt to join it, embracing, at the cost of heroic combat, the values it has exemplified.

I cannot imagine an Israel that, alone among the great democracies, would retreat into I don't know what reserve, nurturing the suspicion (and, God knows, rumors and conspiracy theories, thus suspicion, run rampant in this part of the world!) that, through fear of an uncertain future, they have bet on the wrong horse and -- unpardonable mistake in the merciless realm of realpolitik -- sided with the losers.

And what impression of itself would a people give who, rightly and incessantly, repeat, "We don't have a problem with the Arab people (with whom we are ready to live on good terms and in peace should they wish to as well), but with the hardliners (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.)" and yet, when the youth rise up, immature no doubt but seeking freedom from all dictatorship (including that of the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihad-inspired groups), hesitate to extend a hand and grant them at least a chance?

But there is more than that.

Whatever the merit of a Mubarak who was able to maintain the peace treaty signed by his predecessor Sadat, there exists a simple but constant law: fragile is the contract that depends solely upon the will of one man, moreover a dictator, who is not only mortal but, as we now know, vulnerable. The same contract would be solid if, as seems to be the case in Cairo, it were validated, confirmed, re-legitimized by the élite, the army and, perhaps tomorrow, a middle class to whom it would no longer be presented as an obligation, a bitter pill, a punishment.

In Libya, whatever the order that will replace the disorder and the arbitrary currently in force, whatever the measure of residual antisemitism left by a regime that hammered the population with its slogans and disseminated its literature (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, bestseller in all the bookstores) for long and heavy years, I find that one has a strangely short memory. For ultimately, can there be a worse solution for Israel than a Gaddafi who has bankrolled terrorism, blown up synagogues, given asylum or honors to the vilest of negationists and who, only recently, when he was supposed to have calmed down, multiplied his threats and provocations? (Just two among many were the episode of the new ship bound for Gaza, sent on July 10th to "avenge" the Turkish "humanitarian flotilla" and, the following month, the Guide's address at the opening of the African Union summit in Tripoli, where he bellowed that the Israelis were "a gang," that they were "behind all of Africa's conflicts," and that "their embassies" should be immediately and forcibly closed.)

This is all the more so because these Arab revolutions have already produced still another effect -- at least as important, ultimately, as the eventual hijacking of the movement by an Iran which, one might remark in passing, all being fair in love and geopolitical war, nothing prevents from countering the machinations without delay. Here is a people crushed under the boot and subject, for 42 years, to the deadly disinformation that has been pounded into them. Here is a people who have been convinced, then, that all the world's misfortunes come from a methodically demonized Israel. And here they are, this people, who discover they have had another, even more dreadful adversary, one that wears the face of their own state and its mercenary brutality.

Suddenly, that changes everything.

This re-entry into the real world, where it is an Arab leader who promises his "brothers" he will drown them in "rivers of blood," is a tragic but significant event.

And without judging what the future may bring, without excluding the possibility that new demagogues may one day return to raise the bogeyman, I am inclined to believe that a threshold has been crossed and that it will be a little more difficult, on this point and others as well, to fool a people who, in combat, are learning the truth.

It is first of all for love of what is right and hatred of tyranny that I have taken sides with free Libya.

But it is also because, as I said even in Benghazi, before gatherings of people from whom I never hid my belonging to one of the world's most ancient tribes, I believe this revolution serves the cause of peace.