As Israelis mark the 64th independence day of their country, Jews in Israel and outside also watch with apprehension the increasingly volatile situation in the region.
Jews as a people are instinctively cognizant of history. Indeed of Jews, it might be said, they are a nation which has survived through history bearing witness to the endless cycle of madness seizing hold of people, cultures and civilizations.
The current cycle of Arab volatility, or Iranian hostility towards Israel, from this perspective is not new. They are recurrent, and in watching them, Israeli apprehension is tempered by past experience of similar situations.
Israelis are intensely aware of the deep-seated animus among Arabs and Muslims directed at them, and there is nothing they can do unilaterally to improve the situation. A half-century ago the Arab world was deeply stirred by the tide of Pan-Arab nationalism. Gamal Nasser, as Egypt’s military dictator, skillfully rode this tide after the Suez War of 1956 to new heights of popularity, and turned the street rage of Egyptians arising from decades of neglect and poverty in the direction of Israel. Pan-Arab nationalism under Nasser’s tutelage sought to undo the collective humiliation of Arab states failing to defeat and annihilate Israel at the moment of its birth.
The Arab-led war of 1948 against the Jewish state, established as a result of the UN partition of Palestine Mandate, had turned out to be a military disaster for the invading armies. Nasser would get hoisted on his own petard in June 1967. He catastrophically miscalculated Israeli capacity to pre-empt when he escalated his rhetoric toward war, lost the Sinai, and never recovered from the defeat he brought upon himself and his allies.
The seeds of Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power were sown in the aftermath of the June 1967 defeat of Pan-Arab nationalism.
But despite the ruin of Arab nationalism under Nasser, there was something still positive in that strain of politics striving for accommodation with modernity. The politics of Muslim Brotherhood is a leap backwards since it is dismissive of modernity. It is, however, riddled with insatiable bigotry towards others, especially Jews and Israel.
Members of the MB celebrated the murder in 1981 of Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, who had signed a peace treaty with Israel and recovered Sinai lost in 1967. Sadat’s murderers came from MB’s splintered ranks, as does Ayman al-Zawahiri, the present head of al-Qaida. In September 2011, a mob in Cairo attacked the Israeli embassy while military authorities delayed in providing protection. The mob’s fury reflected the deep undercurrents of a miserably failed and impoverished society.
Egypt is the most populous Arab state, and the most vulnerable to the fears of hunger in an economy barely afloat.
Israel, in contrast, is a model of economic and technological success in the region, though her population is one-twelfth the size of Egypt. Her success is a rebuke to those who still feed the beast of anti-Semitism in their midst.
And while anti-Semitism is a recurrent peril to Jews, their remarkable story is also a reminder there is something providential in their survival when those with whom their history began have long since turned to dust.