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When Clinton compares Israel's religious fundamentalism to Iran's "rule of the mullahs", the writing is on the wall for the "Jewish state"

January 25, 2014 at 4:46 am

Israel is no longer “the only democracy” in the political desert of the Middle East; indeed, it never was. Any country which maintains a military occupation, builds illegal colonies and practices racism in the land of another doesn’t deserve to call itself democratic. Nevertheless, that’s the stereotypical image of Israel in the West; the only partner of the free world with its similar values system. The Arab stereotype is that they are “outside of history”, dictatorial and corrupt, spending fortunes on weapons and repression.

The latter image has now changed and the people of the Arab world have launched a wave of democracy, inspiring other peoples, including some in the West. This has removed Israel’s “uniqueness”. In the best case scenario, it is now one “democracy” among emerging democracies in the region.

This week, however, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shattered – or, at least, created a mighty crack in – the image of Israeli democracy. Speaking in a stronghold of the pro-Israel Lobby, the Saban Institute, Mrs. Clinton expressed her concerns about the future of democracy in Israel. This speech came just a few weeks after she had welcomed the “Arab Spring” in her famous speech at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The images have, it seems, reversed, even at the highest levels of decision-making in Washington.

Clinton spoke about legislation put before the Israeli Knesset which, if approved, would limit press freedom and restrict human rights, as well as weaken the judiciary. She also mentioned the increasing influence of fundamentalist Jewish groups, which seek to make Israel’s a religious society based on discrimination between women and men in the military and education, and tackle other issues in Taliban-style.

The Secretary of State missed out two important aspects in her unprecedented critique of Israel: She skipped over the fact that when a people occupy the land of another the first can never be truly free; and she ignored the fact that if Israel pushes its claim to be a “Jewish state”, it will emphasise its religious fundamentalism. Even secular parties – of the right and the left – in Israel have been using the Jewish state slogan for many years. This is something that successive US administrations have also backed with their support for and bias towards Israel.

Traditionally, of course, the US has also supported corrupt Arab regimes in the name of “stability” and as a bulwark against “Islamic fundamentalism”. So Clinton’s comments take on a particular significance, given the apparent Judaic drift of Israeli politics, where extreme right-wing religious fundamentalists dominate.

Amazingly, Hillary Clinton went so far as to compare what is happening in Israel with Iran’s “rule of the mullahs”. Those critics of Israel who have had much to say about it over the years have never gone that far, myself included. One can imagine what angst this will have caused within Israel’s political, spiritual and cultural elites.

It is possible, therefore, that the revolutions emanating from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have not only changed the Arab political scene but may also have a major say on events in Israel. The “Jewish state”, for so long a strategic asset of the West may soon become a strategic liability, with concerns and complaints coming from other Western capitals, not just Washington. It’s not unimaginable, in these exciting times, that we might hear Israel being criticised as a threat to the emerging democracies of the Arab world.

Maybe I am being too optimistic, but did we ever imagine the likes of the Arab Spring? Or that the US Secretary of State would compare Israel to Iran’s theocracy? Hillary Clinton’s statement will go down as a landmark, despite its incomplete nature. Israel does not appear to be flavour of the month and it is vital that we take the opportunity to stick to our democratic options and uphold our national rights. The pens may not have quite lifted yet, nor the pages quite dried, but the writing is on the wall for Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.