PARIS – It is difficult not to be struck by the contrast between the “Asian”-like energy of Israel’s economy and civil society and the purely defensive nature of its approach to political change, both within and outside the country. A recent law bars Israeli citizens from supporting Western boycotts aimed at reversing the country’s settlement policies and at backing an independent Palestinian state. While Israel has never been so affluent, dynamic, and confident, it also has never been so isolated internationally.
Israel could have embraced the Arab Spring as an opportunity, rather than as a profound risk. If Arab citizens could transform their culture of humiliation into a culture of hope, perhaps they would be able to reconcile themselves with Israel’s existence. But Israeli leaders reacted purely negatively to the Arab upheavals. In their estimation, a complex regional environment has now become even more dangerous, making prudence even more urgent.
For Israel, yesterday’s despots, like Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, were much more predictable than the “Arab masses.” While some of the demonstrators might be inspired by democratic ideals, let’s have no illusions, the Israelis seem to be saying: Islamist forces will emerge as the only winners, and they are much more hostile to Israel and the West than their predecessors were.
Of course, with the Syrian regime’s massacres of its own citizens, some in Israel say that the suffering of Gaza’s inhabitants pales in comparison, and thus fails to attract the same sympathy as it did last year. But this should not obscure the overall diplomatic picture for Israel, which remains essentially negative.