Objecting to Objections: Lisa Goldman and the Egyptian Elections

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One of the more curious aspects of left-wing discourse concerning Israel is the tendency to take something which would be perfectly normal in other countries, and to use it as a stick with which to beat Israel and its people. In the case of Lisa Goldman’s recent article on +972, this includes Israelis expressing concern about the results of the Egyptian elections. This is in response to a short piece by Larry Derfner, in which he admits that, had he had known what the results of the elections would have been, he would not have supported the revolutionaries.Goldman declares that the citizens of Israel “freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party…So I don’t think we have all that much credibility when it comes to commenting on the election results of our neighbours.” Is Goldman establishing a universal principle, or does this only apply to Israelis? If one is a citizen of a country which has some nasty elements in its government, does this mean you shouldn’t object to other countries with nasty elements? Is Goldman now telling her Egyptian friends that they can’t comment on Israeli elections because the Salafists won 25 per cent of the vote, or is their democracy too nascent for this to apply? Do their years of suffering under autocratic rule mean that we should treat them differently? Not to mention the fact that Derfner presumably didn’t vote for Yisrael Beitenu anyway.

Next, rather tangentially, Goldman writes: “I am also pretty sure that the Egyptians don’t care whether Larry or any other non-Egyptian supported their revolution. They particularly don’t care whether or not Israeli liberals supported or opposed their revolution. We Israelis can be quite vain, but really – this revolution is not about us. At all.” Again, notice a commentator supposedly committed to universalism drawing attention to Israeli vanity, and all because they do what anyone would do in their place – worry about what’s going on in their neighbourhood. Would Goldman have taken the Egyptians to task for worrying about the results of the last Israeli elections? Of course not. That she herself is Israeli (albeit one who publicly states that she has left the country for political reasons) should not mean a free pass from critical scrutiny.

Goldman goes on to say that, because of its support for Mubarak, “Israel is not part of the discourse about the Arab world”, before arguing – reasonably, I think – that the primary reason for the weakness of liberalism in Egypt is the repression of liberal parties during the Mubarak years. In any case, she rightly notes that the liberal parties still won 30 per cent of the vote. I agree with her when she suggests that the “situation will probably get worse before it gets better”, but that we should not yearn for Mubarak. Once democracy is out of the bottle, it is very hard to put it back in. However, this does not mean that Israelis are acting unreasonably by expressing their concerns, even if Derfner did it in a rather insensitive, zero-sum way.

Goldman seems to be in awe of the judgements of her Arab friends and colleagues, and it is with these that she portentously completes her piece. “He [important Arab journalist with “an impressive knowledge of Israeli society and politics”] said that there was not a single Israeli journalist who evidenced any true insight or deep knowledge of the Arab world. And he said that the Arab rising was unstoppable.” One can only wonder whether Goldman was the exception to this seemingly absolute rule, but, as someone who neither claims nor particularly desires to have a deep knowledge of the Arab world – at least not any more than a concerned neighbour would want – I remain mystified by the mystification of it. For an Israeli to express concern at the Egyptian election results is reasonable, irrespective of Israel’s past relationship with Egypt or the current make-up of the Israeli government, just as Egyptian concern at the right-wing make-up of the Israeli government is reasonable. Goldman is right to criticise Derfner for yearning for Mubarak, but then takes things too far in declaring that Israelis have no right to comment. She may be very confident about the ultimate outcome of the “unstoppable” (and presumably glorious) Egyptian revolution, but her criticisms of Derfner’s worries are at best banal, and would be of no interest if the citizens being reprimanded for their concern were not Israelis.

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