It wasn’t just one article over the weekend. No fewer than four articles in the New York Times over the past few days have made the case that Israel values its security more than it does freedom for Egyptians. While any country would reasonably put the safety of its own citizens ahead of other concerns, the New York Times makes it appear unseemly. At a time when the United States is uncertain what approach to take, the reports present a selfish Israel attempting to impose its preferences on those who are struggling to do the right thing.

The most explicit of these articles was Jodi Rudoren’s, Israel Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy:
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of an edict from the prime minister not to discuss the Egyptian crisis, said Israeli ambassadors in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and other capitals would lobby foreign ministers. At the same time, leaders here will press the case with diplomats from abroad that the military is the only hope to prevent further chaos in Cairo.

With the European Union planning an urgent review of its relations with Egypt in a meeting Monday, the message, in part, is that concerns about democracy and human rights should take a back seat to stability and security because of Egypt’s size and strategic importance.
The article quotes a number of critics of Israel’s perceived policy. An Israeli academic named Yoram Meital was particularly brutal.
“The Obama administration took a stand that has a lot to do with universal values. Of course, killing hundreds of protesters in this brutal way should be condemned. If we study the Israeli perspective, then these universal values are secondary to the top priorities of security and security.”

Israel handling Egypt with appropriate amount of discretion

Interestingly, two former Israeli ambassadors to Egypt interviewed by Rudoren contradicted the fundamental premise of the article. Both said that Israel was handling Egypt with an appropriate amount of discretion. Israel Matzav cleverly deduces that the likely source for Rudoren’s story isn’t an Israeli as she claims, but someone from Washington.

I thought the tweet above from David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times, was dismissive of Ambassador Yitzchak Levanon’s statement about “illusions” the West has about the possibility Egypt has for democracy. Leslie Gelb provided a welcome rebuttal.

Where are the reminders about how President George W. Bush paved the way for free elections in the Gaza Strip, how Hamas won, and how, then, democracy there came to an end and terrorism made a full comeback?
In any case, the theme of Rudoren’s article was repeated several times in three other New York Times reports.

How American Hopes for a Deal in Egypt Were Undercut:
The violent crackdown has left Mr. Obama in a no-win position: risk a partnership that has been the bedrock of Middle East peace for 35 years, or stand by while longtime allies try to hold on to power by mowing down opponents. From one side, the Israelis, Saudis and other Arab allies have lobbied him to go easy on the generals in the interest of thwarting what they see as the larger and more insidious Islamist threat. From the other, an unusual mix of conservatives and liberals has urged him to stand more forcefully against the sort of autocracy that has been a staple of Egyptian life for decades.
Leaving Military Aid Intact, U.S. Takes Steps to Halt Economic Help to Egypt:
Israel and several Arab counties have lobbied the United States not to cut off aid, arguing that the army is still the best hope to stop Egypt from slipping into chaos and that the need for stability should outweigh, for now, concerns about democracy and human rights.

Egyptian Court Is Said to Order That Mubarak Be Released
Israeli ambassadors in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and other capitals planned to advance the argument that the military was the only hope to prevent further chaos in Cairo. On another diplomatic front, ambassadors from the 28-member European Union planned to meet on Monday to review the bloc’s relationship with Egypt, confronting a similar question of whether stability and security outweigh considerations relating to human rights and democracy.

If only powerful forces would let President Obama follow his instincts

To some degree these articles are all written from the perspective that the President really wants to do the right thing (and cut aid) but powerful forces, such as the Israeli government are pushing back against his better instincts.

Obama -- just following his instincts... Credit: Wiki Commons

A parallel Washington Post article, Obama balances goals in Egypt, by contrast, downplays Israel’s role:
Many lawmakers back Obama’s cautious approach. So do Israel and powerful Persian Gulf nations that oppose ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and are willing to bail out Egypt’s drowning economy.
For that matter, the Washington Post has Israel and Obama on the same side of the issue!
This spin of the New York Times isn’t exactly new.
At the end of July an analysis, U.S. Balancing Act With Egypt Grows Trickier presented the administration’s options as being limited by Israel, though a bit more subtly.
For the Obama administration, the problem is not simply its relationship with the Egyptian military but also with Israel, whose security interests are weighing particularly heavily on administration officials as they try to nurture a new round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel depends on Egyptian troops to root out Islamic extremists in the Sinai Peninsula, and Israeli officials have publicly and privately urged the United States not to cut off the aid, which underpins the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Yet Saturday’s attacks on members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which left more than 80 people dead, combined with signs that the generals are paying little heed to American officials, have made it increasingly difficult for President Obama to keep striking the balance between security and democracy, according to several analysts.
Again, it is Israel that prevents Obama’s ability to strike a proper “balance between security and democracy,” as if it were such a simple and clear issue.

Presenting Israel as an impediment to liberalization in the Arab world and in Egypt, specifically, goes back further still. At the beginning of the Arab Spring, Thomas Friedman wrote Postcard from Cairo Part 2:
Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’
The past two and a half years – with the violence and instability sweeping Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq – have borne out the attitude that Friedman (and his source in the administration, if there was one) so easily dismissed. Israel wisely stayed out of the fray then (if Israel had said that it supported the protesters the Mubarak regime would have used that to discredit the protests) and is quietly pursuing diplomacy now.

There’s nothing wrong with that, except in the eyes of the New York Times.

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