"Is it good for the Jews?" has been asked by Jews whenever they learned of a significant event outside their neighborhood. In the last few decades the question has been transformed into, "Is it good for Israel?" It doesn't bother me so much when Israelis and their supporters ask the question. But when the United States government sees everything through the prism of "Is it good for Israel?" then you know that something is deeply askew.
In the last few days, Representative Ilana Ros-Lehtinen, who is not herself Israeli or Jewish, has objected to the US "paying one fifth of the bills for the UN's anti- Israel activities, including the UN Human Rights Council, a rogues' gallery dominated by human rights violators who use it to ignore real abuses and instead attack democratic Israel relentlessly." (from the Jerusalem Post) . In other words, if the UN does something Israel doesn't like, we stop payment.
But the most extraordinary statement came from State Department spokesperson, P. J. Crowley. In an interview with Shihab Rattansi, when questioned why the US doesn't take a stronger line with Mubarak, who is cracking down on protesters, Crowley says:
We respect what Egypt contributes to the region. It is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that's important. We think that's a model the region should adopt, broadly speaking. At the same time we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia, other countries, do need to reform.
According to Crowley, Egypt's virtues seems to a) it is a stabilizing force and b) it's good for Israel.
So despite the fact that the US wants democracy and liberalism in the Arab world, it wants it if the Arabs elect governments congenial with its – oops, I mean, Israel's – interests.
There is a strong parallel between Washington's "tough talk" on Arab democracy and its "harsh criticism" of Israeli settlements. Clinton and Obama will make a few speeches, offer some carrots for change, but will never come down hard on its client states. Remember that the US gives 1.3 billion dollars of aid to Egypt and more billions of dollars of aid to Israel. They may not be happy with their respective governments, but they aren't going to unduly ruffle any feathers, even though the US taxpayers have a stake in the outcome. As long as the opposition in Egypt is Islamist the US may be able to get away with its double game.
But when the US supports protests in Iran and only gives lip service to the protests in in Egypt, even though both sets of protesters are protesting authoritarian regimes, the US earns itself the contempt of the protesters, and of the Arab world.
And of decent folks everywhere.
h/t to a few friends who follow these things more carefully that I do, especially Helena Cobban, who has an important analysis hereAnd an important interview with Egypt-expert Joel Beinin that explains US's interests in Egypt, see here