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J Street Crowd Gives Call for Revolution in Israel a Standing Ovation

Posted on February 28 2011 1:48 pm
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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Since the moment the Tunisian uprising spread to Egypt, few commentators have been called upon more often than Mona Eltahawy. The New York-based, Egyptian-born, former columnist for the Saudi-funded Asharq al-Awsat is sharp-witted and carrying a monumental chip on her shoulder for all those in the West who helped prop up Hosni Mubarak.

She has been a fixture on CNN (not to mention Twitter, where she has been out-tweeting Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell). So it was no surprise to see her pop up at this week’s J Street conference, which concludes Tuesday.

For those who have somehow not caught Eltahawy’s act, she has been understandably caught up in the revolutionary moment and, therefore, pooh-poohing any suggestion that the revolution could produce an Egyptian government unfriendly to liberal democratic values–as did the elections in Gaza and the revolution in Iran. She is so dismissive of this, in fact, that when she was asked by a friend about Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s concern about such a situation unfolding, this was her response at the conference:

“I said to her, you know it’s quite ironic to hear the Israeli prime minister talk about religious rightwing extremists when his government is very friendly and includes religious rightwing extremists that extremely concern myself and many people in the Arab world. So let’s not throw stones here.”

As soon as she mentioned “religious rightwing extremists” the audience, knowing where she was headed, applauded and laughed. Welcome to J Street.

In fairness to Eltahawy, she did make some undeniably true points about Mubarak oppressing his people while using Egyptian state media to delegitimize the Jewish state, neither of which will be missed. But then she moved on to comparing the Israeli leadership to the recently overthrown Arab leadership in the Mideast. Eltahawy said that both Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak were ten days late with their concession speeches. She continued:

“It was always ten days too late. So my question to J Street and my question to Israel is: Do you want to be ten days too late? Do you want to be like these dictators that the Israeli prime minister loves so fondly?”

What is the implication here, exactly? It sounds like Eltahawy might be calling for Netanyahu’s ouster amid a revolution in Israel. Thankfully, Eltahawy never shies away from spelling it out. That is exactly what she’s calling for, as you can see from her concluding remarks. The events in Egypt were:

“A beautiful, nonviolent revolution in which not one country’s flag was burned, in which not one anti-Israeli or anti-American sentiment was expressed, because it was about Tunisia and it was about Egypt. It was wonderful. It had the best of Gandhi and Martin Luther King combined. That spirit, now they’re saying it’s time to march for the freedom and dignity of our Palestinian sisters and brothers. And we will. So my challenge to you is, make a call. Make a call as J Street, make a call as Israelis, and say it’s time for the revolution–for freedom and dignity of Palestinians. And if you make that call, I will be there I will be marching with each and every single one of you peacefully, nonviolently, for the freedom and dignity of Palestinians. It is about time. And it’s something everybody in the region is thinking about.”

As if that wasn’t unsettling enough, the J Street audience gave Eltahawy’s call for revolution in Israel a twenty-second standing ovation.

Ignore, for a moment, her claim that there was no anti-Israeli or anti-American sentiment in the protests, which we know not to be true. The news here (though perhaps hardly surprising) is that a J Street crowd gave a standing ovation to the call for revolution in Israel.

Here’s a question for Eltahawy: Will she march in Gaza against the government of Hamas, which is holding its citizens hostage to its perpetual war against the Jews? Will she even march in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas?

No, her call is for revolution in Israel. And she will march with the J Streeters if they’re willing. Why? Isn’t it obvious? Because she knows she is safe there.

Eltahawy unwittingly proves that Netanyahu is nothing like the dictators across the Middle East. She is a coward. She wants the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Libyans and others to march against vicious dictators, but she is willing only to march on the streets of Tel Aviv, where she is guaranteed the freedom and security to do so by the very man she is trying to delegitimize–Binyamin Netanyahu.

Hamas is brutally oppressing its people in Gaza. Eltahawy says nothing. Abbas is running a corrupt dictatorship in the West Bank. Why do she and the J Streeters not hold them accountable?

The double standard is revolting, and it’s made worse by the fact that a group claiming to be pro-Israel supports this double standard–that the Palestinians can do no wrong, and that Israel bears sole responsibility for the conflict.

But worst of all is the fact that J Street’s audience is made up of those who support a call for the revolutionary overthrow of the Israeli prime minister.

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