Netanyahu and the Middle East’s epic battle
Three days ago we saw a reaffirmation of the long-standing strong relationship between Israel and the United States with the visit of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington DC and his second speech to the Joint Session of Congress.
Australia counts both the Unites States and Israel as close friends and allies.
The Prime Minister’s speech to Congress could not come at a more critical time for the Middle East and for the world.
There has been a historic tectonic shift in the Middle East in places like Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon, where people have taken to the streets to demand their basic democratic rights.
In his powerful address to the Congress Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
An epic battle is now under way in the Middle East between tyranny and freedom. A great convulsion is shaking the earth, from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar.
This is not a movement that is confined to a single country, but is one that is beginning to shape the entire Middle East, much like the fall of communism shaped Europe forever. Prime Minister Netanyahu said “There are millions of young people out there who are determined to change their future. We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty. These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989.”
The so-called Velvet Revolution in the now Czech Republic in 1989 saw the communist government begrudgingly allow a multi-party system, without the need for people to take up arms against the state. Indeed, the reason it is called the Velvet Revolution is because the protestors were non-violent, and the state eventually surrendered to the people’s wishes for democracy after the Warsaw Pact fell apart.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany occurred with an equal sense of inevitability amongst the state apparatus, and when the time came there was no opposition to people moving freely across the border. The East German government recognised that its time had come to an end. More importantly, there was little debate over what people wanted in the place of communism.
We can only hope that the Middle East transitions away from tyrants and militant Islamic governments as peacefully as Europe transitioned away from communism. But there are forces in the Middle East that are determined to ensure a bloody path to change.
Israel is a lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East. We hope that she will not be a lone beacon for much longer. But we must be mindful that in this tumult, anything is possible. And we must be realistic – with this great opportunity come real risks: threats to the security of Israel and her people, and to a long lasting peace in the Middle East.
The unity between Hamas and Fatah is something that we should be deeply concerned about. Hamas is a group that represents the antithesis of democracy and peace. It celebrates the terrorist Osama bin Laden as a holy martyr. It actively opposes Israel’s right to exist and is committed to her destruction. It has a charter of hate at its centre. It is committed to killing Jews wherever it finds them.
On the 25th June, it will be five years since the young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was taken by Hamas. He remains a hostage to this day. Hamas has refused requests from the Red Cross to visit Shalit because they don’t want anyone to know where he’s being kept. These are not the actions of an organisation that is striving for peace and stability, nor of a group that is deserving of any moral or political legitimacy.
I have had the opportunity to visit Israel twice, as a Rambam Fellow of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council in 2006, and last year with the Australia Israel Leadership Forum led by Albert Dadon. On both occasions I was able to see first-hand the threats to security that Israel faces. Moreover, I saw a country very similar to ours in terms of culture and values. Israel has been a valuable friend and ally since its inception and we celebrate her 63rd anniversary.
The best thing about democracy is that it maintains a habit of individual thought. A political party cannot simply push a single agenda and expect it to be met without resistance. It must negotiate and listen to other points of view.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu was heckled by a protestor during his speech to Congress, he brushed it aside by saying: “I take it as a badge of honour, and so should you, that in our free societies you can protest. You can’t have protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is real democracy.”
Australia and Israel both share in this great democratic tradition. It is vital that we support Israel and those who support freedom in the Middle East, whether they be Arab, Jewish or Christian.
Perhaps it can best be summed up by echoing the words of the Prime Minister of Israel when he said:
We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism.
With the ties between Israel and the United States reaffirmed, let’s hope that through this long-standing relationship peace will be achieved between Israel and its neighbours.
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