The Elephant in Liberation Square
Fresh from watching ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour , generally the class act of the Sunday AM talking heads shows, which broadcast live from Cairo this week. She had an excellent group of US and Egyptian journalists for her round table discussion, who talked about just about every conceivable issue involving both the internals of the situation (short-term political maneuverings, the uprising’s effect on the economy, cultural cross-currents, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the external factors (the Obama administration’s reaction, a potential domino effect on other non-democratic Arab regimes).
Except for Israel. Shockingly, I didn’t hear the word uttered once.
That made me curious, so I did a Google News search on ’Israel’, then on ‘Egypt Israel’. For ‘Israel’, of the first 10 topics*, only 2 of them mentioned Egypt –one was Ha’aretz, which criticized Israel for hypocrisy of supporting democracy except in the case of Egypt, and the other was a little-known blog called ‘The Jewish Week’, which had a remarkably balanced discussion focused mostly on how certain commentators are talking about the issue.
For the ‘Egypt Israel’ search, I got similar results – most of the discussion of the nexus between the two was on non-US news organs, with only a few commentators at the fringes of the US media scene having notice that there’s an elephant in the room.
Looking back at the week’s coverage of the Egyptian revolt, I realize that I’ve heard only the barest treatment of this central issue. We’ve heard a lot about how the US has backed Mubarak for 30 years because we’ve wanted “stability” in the region, and we’ve heard a huge amount about how this has compromised our credibility on the street, but the central question as to where our interests lie given recent events has been danced around – and only barely.
It seems to me that the central debate in the US right now should be as to where we come down on the intractable conflict between Egyptian democracy and our “special relationship” as Israel’s protector/enabler in its decades long refusal to make rational compromises in order to foster stability and peace in the region. If this were any other region in the world we’d be treated to lengthy news analyses of the pros and cons of backing each side, hear strong opinions expressed by political leaders and pundits, and be given the feedstock for healthy policy debate.
But, as always, not so with Israel. The silence seems deafening to me – a glaring hole in the conversation. Hard to fathom, except for the fact that talking about Israel is the third-rail of American media…a guarantee of a fast & slippery slope to someone (usually AIPAC) throwing down the Antisemitism card.
This isn’t exactly censorship…exactly being the operative word. But it is certainly a on the part of the media failure to shine the light on an issue of huge import to our own democratic processes. It feels quite ominous to me. As though once again — as with Iraq and Afghanistan — our national conversation will shy away from a full and balanced discussion of all of the relevant issues before some pretty important foreign policy decisions are taken.
Something to think about.
* For those unfamiliar with Google News, it returns responses by topic – so a single link in the response page will itself then link to a page of multiple stories on that topic on various news or current events websites. Since it ranks the responses based on volume, it’s a reasonably good proxy as to how widely a particular issue is being covered.