Israel Nervously Watches Egypt

Friday, February 04, 2011

Palestinians marching in Ramallah wear chains around their wrists to symbolize their solidarity with prisoners incarcerated by Israel, May 15, 2012. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Neil MacFarquhar, UN bureau chief for the New York Times, and Sheera Frenkel, special correspondent in Jerusalem for McClatchy Newspapers, talked about how the Israeli government is reacting both publicly and privately to the events unfolding in Egypt.

As events unfold in Egypt, Israel is paying close attention. As both a Middle East democracy and a country with reason to fear the dissolution of the peace treaty, the outcome of the uprising — no matter how it ends —  is likely to have immediate repercussions for Israel. 

Sheera Frenkel wrote a recent article referencing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request that the US support Mubarak at all costs. While that was the Israeli government’s position at the beginning of the week, she said, she now believes they have moved toward a more realistic approach and are keeping quiet regarding the protests on Egypt. Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament that Israel needs to respond to any outcome in Egypt by “reinforcing the might of the state of Israel” but Frenkel said she believes was more posturing than policy. 

Israel’s military is in a state of flux, huge shift happening in terms of the head of military intelligence. I think Netanyahu was seeking to reinforce the Israeli public’s sense of security and safety along the border… I think he was really just trying to reassure the public with that statement.

Despite Israel’s claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East, Frankel sees other forces playing a powerful role.

It was an aid to Netanyahu who told me that Israel would rather see an evil dictator in the Middle East than a leader that they couldn’t predict…I think that Israel often touts itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, but at the same time, it's important for Israel to be seen supporting other democracies, but more so to be seen as enforcing its own security interests in the region.

Neil MacFarquhar said the move by the Palestinian Authority to call for new local elections could be interpreted as a sign that the protest movements are casuing some unease.

I think everybody is unnerved by the protest movements because of the sudden idea that all these police states are suddenly going to have to confront people power. It makes them nervous because they don’t have solid credentials to fall back on, so they’re all trying to take whatever short-term measures they can that they think will diffuse some of this public anger.

MacFarquhar did not think that either the Palestinian Authority or the Gaza government under Hamas was particularly strengthened by the protests. 

I think that the Palestinian electorate, having had a choice in recent years, is probably a little less disenfranchised than the others around the region, but I don’t think that the Gaza public exactly loves the rule of Hamas, certainly not all of them, so I think both of them are probably nervous.

While the Palestinian Authority may cede some ground to Hamas in the coming elections, the future is still very uncertain and the outcome of the protests unpredictable. 

People are in a surly mood and they want to fix some of the problems that they have been confronted with for a couple generations.

MacFarquhar called it an interesting moment for the Muslim Brotherhood.

They have a lot to gain, obviously, if the Egyptian political process opens up. They’re a very conservative bunch, they don’t like to stick their head above the parapet before anybody else. The last time Egypt experienced anything close to open elections was 2005, when they won 88 seats in parliament, which was about a fifth. And they didn’t do much, they just kind of sat there and they didn’t agitate, so they’re always a bit of a cipher when it comes to what their political wants are.

However he said it would be a mistake to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood as a monolithic organization, because there are huge generational differences within it, based largely on differing experiences of recriminations by the different generations of members. 

In response to a caller’s concerns that the dissolution of the Mubarak government could lead to a dissolution of the peace treaty, MacFarquhar expressed skeptisism. 

The demonstrations so far have not been about Israel and the peace process. I think the military believes in the peace treaty, and as long as the military is in the driver’s seat, that peace treaty is going to be maintained… Israel’s strongest insurance policy for securing the region is forming peace with the Palestinians. If there is a strong Palestinian middle class that has a peace treaty and believes in it, then they are going to support it and it doesn’t matter what the Egyptians say or the Lebanese say or the Iranians say, the Palestinians are going to say we have a peace treaty and we like it. So [Israel] should try to negotiate an agreement while they have people to talk to.

MacFarquhar said while the White House probably has their hands full trying to figure out the future of the situation in Cairo, the situation in Egypt still might present a good opportunity for the administration to demand that Israelis and Palestinians negotiate with no preconditions.

It would seem that in a period of transition like this, when both the Israelis and the Palestinians are nervous about what’s coming next in Cairo, it might be a good time to sit down and do some real hard bargaining, instead of talking past each other like they so often do.

Frenkel disagreed.

It’s a nervous time for all the entire region for all of the current governments and given that Egypt is the cornerstone for Israel’s peace policy in the entire region, Israel’s probably the most nervous of them all, and I don’t think it’s going to something that’s going to be cleared up or resolved on the coming days. I think it’s going to be quite a long process.


Sheera Frenkel


More in:

Comments [27]

DEF from Purchase

YZ seems quite beligerant in his war of words. Hopefully YZ won't have any children and this whole bizarre discussion will be moot.

In this day and age with limited resources it is selfish to have children and the last thing we need is more beligerent people.

Annee Marie
Moon Goddess
Purchase, NY

Feb. 06 2011 09:03 AM
YZ from on top of jGarbuz's head

actually you bring up a wonderful point:

Technicalities aside, both the Nazi regime and Jewish law use bloodlines to define Jewishness, as though it is some kind of genetic disease, and dispatch package treatments for individuals deemed to be Jews accordingly.

This similarity alone is enough to provide reason for walking away from the whole system altogether. If an individual is deprived of the right or ability to define his or her own self in terms of cultural or ethnic belief system, why should that ruling system be granted any credence?

So, is Jewishness a genetically inherited trait, like a disease? Is it a phenotype? Is it a religious or cultural (or dare I say, spiritual) affiliation?

If it's not clear-cut, how do you decide who gets to reap the benefits of having their own personal homeland (complete with an ecologically reprehensible agricultural system and theocratic rule)?

Feb. 04 2011 01:09 PM

That's interesting, thanks. As you know "Who is a jew" is a controversial topic:

As far as the Catholic-born wife, the way I saw it, frankly, from the Jewish perspective we could use the new blood. I never expected to get a thank you for it but when the rabbi did just this, for just this reason, to all the interfaith couples and specifically non-Jewish born spouses during the most recent high holidays much happy weeping ensued. I know the fundamentalists don't want to include those who are not like them -- bring it on! Jews love the righteous fight.

Feb. 04 2011 01:03 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

to pps

Well, under the Nazi Nuremberg Racial laws, a person was a non-Aryan, and labelled a Jew, if they had a single Jewish grandparent. That was enough to pollute his or her "Aryan blood." On that basis, up to 150,000 Germans who were so "defined" as "mischlings" or mixed breeds, were drafted into the Wehrmacht,and later came to be known as "Hitler's Jewish soldiers." But in fact, practically none of them were born to Jewish mothers, and many were even baptized Christians. Nonetheless, Israel's 1950 Law of Return did allow those who were so persecuted AS IF THEY WERE JEWS also to immigrate to Israel. "Righteous Gentiles, " or those Christians who had saved JEws in the war were also allowed to come and stay if they so wished. Many hundreds did. And if you are married to a non-Jew, she may come, but the children will still not be Jews, and hence cannot marry other Jews in Israel by the Rabbinate. However, in Israel one can live under civil unions with anybody. It's not recognized as marriage, but it is a legal status under Israeli secular law.

Feb. 04 2011 12:52 PM
YZ from jGarbuz's lap


I have no comment for you. Your thinking just isn't in line with reality. Of course it is only by considering what is going on and the ramifications of possible courses of action that we can arrive at any reasonable conclusions.

ABC in Netanya:

Please note that I am NOT the person who posted about their Irish wife. As it happens I'm not married, but I am a straight male, so if I were to marry and have kids, it would be with a woman who does not rely upon a national or religious identity to make decisions, and I would not impose a religious or national identity on my kids.

Most kids I know would aspire to grow up to become dinosaurs or garbage collectors or princesses or ninjas. I think that such internalized identities are much healthier because they imply that wonderful kernel of possibility in their little hearts.

I do not want to meet the child who aspires to grow up to be a Jew in a Jewish Homeland. Might as well want to grow up to be a prisoner in a death camp.

Feb. 04 2011 12:47 PM

As I told my wife before conversion, you may not think you are jewish, the black hats don't think you are, but the nazis sure would! That's my horse in the race.

Feb. 04 2011 12:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To YZ,

You ask too many questions. It's called paralysis by analysis. The reason why Israel exists is because it is the homeland of the JEwish people. It is not a tiny version of Canada. Israel will exist for as long as it will exist. No point in prematurely trying to end it. It was ended for 2000 years by the Romans, occupied by others, most of whom became Muslims, and is back in Jewish hands. What others will do, they will do. Why waste thinking about every possible scenario that might happen? Israel is NOT the US or Canada or Australia, which are occupied homelands of marginalized indigenous peoples settled by a wide variety of immigrants who had no ancient claim to it. By contrast, Israel is the ancient homeland of the Israelites, and the remaining Jewish peoples. It is the country for everybody, There are large countries like the US, Canada and Australia for that purpose. It is the tiny homeland of a tiny tribe, and nothing more than that. Those who can fit in, fit in, and those who can't, there's always America, Canada or Australia.

Feb. 04 2011 12:31 PM
YZ from The Sky Above Brooklyn

The idea of a Jewish homeland seems to appeal to a certain obsolete sentimentality, an irrational obsession with one's family history as perceived on top of a pedestal, and the failure to see this concept in a larger context.

A few simple questions:

At what cost? How far should Jews go in preserving for themselves a homeland in the middle east, in which non-Jews (defined however you like) are not granted the same scope of rights, access to resources, and mobility, as Jews? What kinds of actions would indefinitely be justified in accordance with this goal?

For how long? Is a Jewish State sustainable? Do you believe that Arab states will indefinitely tolerate the presence of an Israeli state, especially one which continues to discriminate against Arab Israelis and Palestinians? Can the US continue to afford bankrolling the IDF and other Israeli domestic interests?

To what end? Let's say that Israel is stabilized, its neighbors cease their hostilities, the Palestinians get their own state and drop their hostilities as well. Then what? Are all the Jews of the world supposed to come and live in Israel? Only the orthodox? Should all non-Jews within Israel be deported? If Israel is no longer dependent upon the US, would they sever their diplomatic ties, since such a state would no longer be in US foreign interests (think about the weapons trade between the US and Israel, and between the US and Arab nations)? Would Israel continue to be a democracy (what if a completely secular leader got elected and wanted to dissolve the Jewish component of Israel's charter)? Would Israel continue under its current hard-line Jewish fundamentalist legal code, or would it become a secular, by-name-only Jewish state?

Feb. 04 2011 12:22 PM
dear bella

"Dont live the "pick and choose what I like" reform Judaism." -- haha this is exactly the mindset my formerly catholic wife escaped from! thanks for your opinion, and Baruch Hashem for the reform movement, it showed me (with the help from our lesbian rabbi) that judaism isn't narrow minded or even judgmental, orthodoxy by definition is. My orthodox parents and their friends are switching to reform as we speak. it's called reform for a reason and i incidentally recommend it for every religion. Our synagogue, like the Jewish reform movement, is based on making the world a better place, and we do it mostly through secular, often anonymous acts and programs of kindness and empathy. Shabbat Shalom.

Feb. 04 2011 12:19 PM

If that's really true, Bella, I am glad I am not Jewish!

Feb. 04 2011 12:13 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To American Reform Jew

You decided to go off the reservation and marry a non-Jewish woman, and I guess no one informed you that as nice and wonderful as your wife may be, your children by her are NOT Jews. Sorry. I went to Israel married a woman, had a son there, and later was divorced. My son is today in the US navy. He is in the grandson of Holocaust survivors, but if he marries a non-Jewish women, my grandchildren will not be Jewish and that will be my loss. If that is fate, that is fate. Israel is the Jewish tribal state, and it cannot let every non-Jew immigrate, no matter how pro-Israel or nice they are. It is not fair to the Arabs. It is the Jewish state, and a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother. That is the legal definition of a JEw under Jewish law. However, a Jew can bring a non-Jewish spouse to live in Israel with him or her, but the rabbis will not marry a Jew to a non-Jew regardless. This is 2,500 year ancient tribal law. Jews must marry only other JEws, regardless of race or color or whatever. White Jew can marry Black Jew, but Jews are not allowed to marry non-Jews under Jewish law.

Feb. 04 2011 12:12 PM
2 yz

(on your second point, that if Egypt gangs up with the other Arabs on Israel that they will somehow ruin it, I think even most terrorists know that sounds more silly than scary.)

Feb. 04 2011 12:05 PM
Bella from New York

"Reform Jew" - no such thing. You are a Jew if your mother was a Jew, whether you are observant or not. As far as being "married to Irish woman", who I assume is not Jewish, you have, assigned your family the same end as ther rest of your family suffered, in as much as your children are not Jewish; it does not matter that you are "bringing them up Jewish". According to Halacha, which is the authentic Jewish law, they are not Jewish. I would suggest that you tap into your rich, authentic Jewish traditions and find out what real Judaism is all about. Dont live the "pick and choose what I like" reform Judaism. I am sure you would want the "real thing", as the ad says.

Feb. 04 2011 12:02 PM
ABC from Netanya

YZ - get your facts straight.

1. You and your non-Jewish wife can make Aliyah.

2. Your statement "Israeli leaders don't even consider most American Jews as Jews!" is utter nonsense.

Don't let heated emotion get in get in the way of facts and intelligence.

Yes. there is a legitimate discussion about religious law as it pertains to conversion. Reasonable people can differ. So what?

Did your wife convert?
If she didn't, then even Reform doesn't recognize her as Jewish whether or not your kids are "raised" as Jewish. If she did convert, then she'd be recognized by the denomination that she converted. If she converted Orthodox, all denominations would recognize her. But that's up to you and her. No country including Israel needs uninformed critics spouting inaccuracies no matter what they're family background.

Feb. 04 2011 11:57 AM
Gigi from New Brunswick, NJ

I was 14 when People Power in Manila happened. My parents are very proud to be in the frontlines of that uprising and it taught me that if you stand up for what you believe in and, if enough people share your belief, you can definitely oust a dictator and restore democracy in your country peacefully. I will tell the people in Egypt and Tunisia, just keep the faith and you will succeed to restore peace in your country.

Feb. 04 2011 11:54 AM
Israeli Revolution?

YZ --
American Jew here. Fundamentalists are making most decisions in Knesset not "Zionists" (the term referring to Jewish determination for a homeland in Zion, as I understand). Many Zionists are against the current leadership in Israel. For starters, Israeli leaders don't even consider most American Jews as Jews! As a "Reform Jew" rather than "Orthodox Jew," married to an Irish woman and raising our kids Jewish, we are not entitled to aliyah. Personally I believe the current Israeli government is undermining itself by alienating most Jews in the world. YET it has also articulated to me how much I do value the idea of a Jewish homeland, especially given that most of my family was killed, having been unlucky enough to be living last century in Russia, Germany, Poland and Austria. Perhaps a Jewish Israeli Revolution is in order!?

Feb. 04 2011 11:46 AM
YZ from Brooklyn



I didn't say it would happen. I know it won't. I'm just saying that it should, if they actually want to achieve anything.

And on that note, I also think you're wrong about Israel being an inhospitable place for your pro-Zionist mindset. I think you could still happily make aliyah and find plenty of like-minded Israelis who are willing to make exceptions to their general code of ethics and morality in the name of preserving the purity of their Jewish identities. Such Israelis are, after all, making all the decisions in the Knesset.

But...when Egypt joins Syria and Lebanon and Iran in training their weapons on Eretz Yisrael, and when the US can no longer afford to compromise their economic ties with the Arab states that are sympathetic to the anti-Israeli/anti-Zionist factions, you will be standing in the rubble and the nuclear fallout and your Jewish identity will be something you will have to reconstruct from the corpses of your loved ones.

And I will be very sorry at the loss, and the thought of the kind of peace that could have been instead.

Feb. 04 2011 11:34 AM

posting this at 1128 -- why aren't posts being uploaded during the actual conversation? Too controversial too discuss? Too many rude comments to post?

Feb. 04 2011 11:29 AM
elaine from li

To the woman who just called about how she felt traveling in Israel-Some people can't see past their own noses. The reason who may have had a gun in your face is because the Palestinian people refuse to accept the nation of Israel and have used violence over years against the Israeli people. There is a solution to this situation. It rests with the Palestinians.

Feb. 04 2011 11:28 AM
jgarbuz from Queens


Shalom v' ma nishma?
No, Israel is not going to become an Arab country again. Sorry. The State of Israel is not going to become the State of IShmael. Nice try, though. Not going to happen.

Feb. 04 2011 11:22 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I support both Israelis & Palestinians. I don't support much of what the gov'ts. of both have done.

One thing I haven't heard yet is what Arab citizens of Israel think about the events in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, & other countries whose politics the Tunisian revolution is affecting. Can either of the guests tell us?

Feb. 04 2011 11:21 AM
YZ from Brooklyn

Ah, JGarbuz, we meet again! :-)

As I said last time, I am Israeli-born and it is clear to me that the only road to peace in the middle east and beyond is the abandonment of the two-state solution.

Israel is a theocracy right now. I see one paranoid theocracy among many other theocracies, whereas if the Jewish State became a Free State (in which Jews and Arabs live with equal rights as neighbors, as they did before 1948), it would be clear that its neighbors would not only drop much of their hostilities but also possibly follow suit in becoming free (non-theocratic) states, especially in light of recent events.

Feb. 04 2011 11:18 AM

is turkey not in the middle east or not a democracy?

Feb. 04 2011 11:10 AM
Bethany from UES

This station spends WAY too much time talking about Israel/Judaism.

Israel has blood on its hand and thrives on the tyranny that surrounds it.

Feb. 04 2011 11:10 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

It is true that during the Russian revolution that ousted the Czar, eventually the most ruthless party, Lenin's Bolsheviks, took over. But the Czar's army was defeated and weak. I think in Egypt today, the army is still strong and I do not think the Muslim Brotherhood could seize power, as the Bolsheviks did in 1917, because I think the Egyptian army will not let it happen. But, I could be wrong.

Feb. 04 2011 10:13 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

As the first democracy in the Middle East, of course Israel prefers democracies to tyrannies surrounding it. In democracies, the people who must send their children off to war and death, can think twice about it and openly express their views, and vote those who led them to war out of power, especially if the war is disastrous. IN Isael, many governments were thrown out of power, but in Arab world it did not matter how many wars they lost, the dictators usually managed to hang on.

But what Israel wants is that the treaties it agreed to be kept by the other side. If treaties can be broken, then there is no point in signing them or wasting time in so-called "peace talks." Certainly there can be no peace unless all sides accept and respect each other's right to exist and STICK TO SIGNED TREATIES!

Feb. 04 2011 09:52 AM
Israeli govt. vs. people

Would also like to hear the voices beyond the govt. I support Israel in no small part because it is a democracy in whose people I ultimately trust to do the "right" thing eventually. The government is but one voice there.

If the Egyptian people rise up and strive for a democracy that actually "is" the people -- in my opinion as an Israel booster -- this is the first time that Israel has a partner for peace. Peace between democracies feels infinitely more vibrant and noble than peace with a strongman and his propped up government. A democratic Egypt at peace with Israel would be one of the world's great powerful act of peace. I have no idea whether Israel's government realizes this today -- but I have no doubt that many Jewish and even Arab Israelis feel this way.

Feb. 04 2011 08:58 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About It's A Free Country ®

Archive of It's A Free Country articles and posts. Visit the It's A Free Country Home Page for lots more.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at


Supported by