The revolutionary wave that brought new leadership to Egypt, Yemen, and now Libya and that threatens to loosen Assad’s iron grip in Syria has tied Jewish observers in knots. Thoughts of a freer, more democratic Middle East quicken the hearts of Israel’s supporters who believe that all people deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And yet many of us remain wary, skeptical that the leaders who replace the tyrants will improve on their predecessors’ dismal track records.
According to testimony by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Arab Spring offers “the opportunity to strike a painful, perhaps decisive blow to the axis of anti-peace, anti-Western, anti-American regimes that is headquartered in Teheran, runs through Damascus, then on to Beirut and Gaza, and has aspirations to extend its reach to Baghdad, the Gulf, and beyond.”
Satloff’s testimony is quoted in a provocative column by Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. In it, Eshman applauds the bravery of the men and women who have stood up to the region’s despots. “We may not want to admit it,” writes Eshman, “but when the history books are written, the Arab spring may be seen as a far more effective force for the spread of democracy and Western values in the Middle East than all the American and European soldiers, monies, and neo-cons combined.”
Nevertheless, we see familiar anti-Israel messages among the protesters and worry that new regimes will try to consolidate their power by waving the banner of anti-Zionism. Will the brave people who took to the streets to express their yearning for autonomy and freedom respect similar aspirations among their Jewish neighbors? Will they inspire the Palestinians to embrace a nonviolent path to peace, or will they incite a third Intifada? Will they stand up to the anti-Western fanaticism of Islamists or allow them new and ominous roles?
Jews pray that democracy and Western values take hold in the Middle East. But many of us are withholding the celebrations until we see what kind of harvest follows the Arab Spring.