February 8, 2011
Letter to George Soros: Israel, a stumbling block or shining light?
Dear Mr. George Soros:
I saw that you wrote in The Washington Post last week that Israel is the “main stumbling block” to democratic progress in Egypt. You also said that “as a committed advocate of democracy and open society, I cannot help but share in the enthusiasm that is sweeping across the Middle East.”
I’m writing to let you know that I share your enthusiasm for democracy and open societies, but I need to challenge your view of Israel.
For many years now, I have been struck by the tragic absence of basic freedoms and human rights throughout the Middle East. You might have seen the latest findings from the independent Freedom House, which reports that “The Middle East and North Africa remained the region with the lowest level of freedom in 2010, continuing its multiyear decline from an already-low democratic baseline.”
They define freedom based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of the 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, 14 countries (population: 330 million) are “not free,” 3 countries (population: 39.3 million) are “partly free” and only one country (population: 7.6 million) is “free.”
That free country is Israel.
Since you are a world-famous liberal and the founder of the Open Society Foundations (it works “to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens”), I figured that Israel’s democratic success would be a source of pride. I hoped that you might look at the turmoil in the Middle East and then point with pride to Israel and say: “Hey, look, there’s an exception! This is what the protesters in Egypt are screaming for — their rights and freedoms, just what Israel already offers!”
But you didn’t do that. Instead, you actually called Israel “the main stumbling block” to the hopeful evolution of an Egyptian democracy. Not just a stumbling block, but the main stumbling block!
This, with due respect, is ludicrous. As if Israel has the magical power to “block” the evolution of democracy in Egypt or any other country, even if it wanted to.
And as if some real and concrete stumbling blocks aren’t already there in Egypt, like a history of anti-democratic regimes that have ruled the country since before Israel was born; or the absence of myriad democratic institutions that are essential to the flourishing of a civil society; or the widespread dissemination of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and anti-anything Western; or the fact that the only significant organized group in the country — the Muslim Brotherhood — is enamored more with the theocracy of Shariah law than the democracy of Thomas Jefferson.
Aren’t these “made in Egypt” stumbling blocks big enough for you? You still had to find a way to squeeze in Israel as the main culprit?
In a sense, I see where your obsession with blaming Israel comes from. It hit me the other night, when professor Micah Goodman of Israel was speaking at a private home about his new book, “The Secrets of the ‘Guide to the Perplexed.’ ” Our personalities and characters are guided by our actions, he said, not the other way around. We become our actions.
You, Mr. Soros, have been criticizing Israel for so long that you have become that criticism. Even when you are presented with a glaring example of the value of Israel’s open and civil society, you refuse to give the country its due. You must criticize Israel, you must find a way to blame it, because this is what you do — and this is who you are.
You are like many Israel bashers who call themselves “pro-Israel.” They’re so used to criticizing Israel under the guise of “tough love,” that when they see an opportunity to show a little pride, they, well … they quickly change the subject. Israel still hasn’t made peace with the Palestinians! Israel must make peace now more than ever! As if Israel doesn’t crave peace and has never made any offers or sacrifices for peace.
God forbid Israel bashers should ever take a time-out from criticism and say, “Israel must spread its democratic values throughout the Middle East!” But no, that would make Israel look too good, and shift the attention to the 330 million Arabs who are not free, who are not under Israel’s rule, and whose voices have been drowned out for decades by the world’s obsession with blaming Israel for the ills of the Middle East.
Well, thanks to the extraordinary human eruption now happening in the Middle East — an eruption that is about freedom and dignity and not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — it will become harder and harder for people like you to make your “blame Israel first” arguments. I have no doubt, though, that you will try.
So I am challenging you to a live debate: “Israel: Stumbling Block or Shining Light?”
Because I don’t have a private jet, let’s do it in Los Angeles.