Israel’s Image

New perspectives through Arab Eyes

By David E. Kaplan

Changes of mind often leads to change on the ground. With luck, it then presages peace.

Is this what is happening in the Middle East regarding Israel?

It appeared so to this writer when reading an article translated into English from the original Arabic by Ahmed Al-Sarraf, published on November 4, 2021, in Al-Qabas. This influential Kuwaiti daily has large bureaus in Washington, London, Beirut, Cairo, and Moscow.

Voice from the Gulf. The influential Kuwait daily, Al-Qabas with bureaus in Washington, London, Beirut, Cairo, and Moscow.

Israel and Kuwait do not have diplomatic relations. Kuwait refuses entry to anyone with a passport issued by Israel or documented travel to the State of Israel. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood  movement – hardly favourably disposed to Jews and Israel – is very strong in Kuwait. Disquieting quotes in the past from the Brotherhood’s luminaries include Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide, who lamented “Jewish control……spreading of corruption on earth” and recommended “holy Jihad” as a remedy.

It thus was hardly surprising that days after Israel and the United Arab Emirates in 2020 announced that they would be normalizing diplomatic relations, and with other Arab countries making noises that they might follow in the Emirates’ footsteps, Kuwait doubled down on its anti-Israel stance.

In a formal announcement at the time to Al-Qabas newspaper, a senior Kuwaiti official expressed:

Our position toward Israel has not changed as a result of the deal to normalize relations with the UAE, and we will be the LAST to normalize ties.”

Well, Kuwait may be “the last” as other Arab nations in the Middle East draw closer to Israel but is their once hardline position to Israel  softening?

The same Kuwaiti Al-Qabas newspaper that only a little over a year ago published that Kuwait “will be the last to normalize ties,” with Israel, published on November 4, 2021, a refreshing new understanding on Israel under the pen of it its esteemed journalist Ahmed Al-Sarraf. Most telling was Al-Sharaff’s opening line which he clarifies in mid-sentence so there is no misunderstanding.

Illuminating Insights. Correspondent Ahmad-Al-Sarraf at the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas

There is a huge gap between the Jews and their enemies or more precisely, between Jews and the Arab world.”

Although in the wake of the Middle East’s changing political topography following the historic 2020 Abraham Accords, Al-Sarraf still identifies the entire Arab world as Israel’s enemy, he then proceeds to illuminate for his readership a new understanding of the Jewish State characterizing it more by it cultural than its military attributes. He also quashes any notion or fantasy that the Jewish state will one day disappear.

Fruits of changing Perceptions. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid (left) visited Abu Dhabi in June to open the Jewish state’s first embassy in the Gulf. –(WAM/AFP/File)

“This gap is not only represented by Israel’s military superiority over its neighbours, but also in its more progressive culture and conscience. On the map, Israel looks as if it could easily be swallowed by its neighbours in a matter of seconds. However, it’s clear that it isn’t going anywhere. Although Arabs have lived in this region for thousands of years, what separated them has always been greater than what united them. In contrast, in Israel – where the overwhelming majority of the population immigrated from countless ethnic and cultural backgrounds – a unifying culture has been formed. Israelis were able, with limited resources and under the harshest conditions, to build up a national identity that is nothing short of a miracle. So, what is Israel’s secret?”

Al-Sarraf then draws an instructive comparison between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Zionist movement, both striving for a cohesive national identity but only one succeeds.

The Arab journalist reveals why.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by many to be the only ideological and political organization capable of uniting people across the Middle East under one joint identity, similar to what the Zionist movement sought to do in the first Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897. In only half a century, the Zionist movement succeeded in realizing its dream and established a modern state capable of imposing itself on the whole world. As for the Brotherhood, it has been trying for more than ninety years to do the same, but has failed time and again. The success of the Zionist movement and the failure of the Brotherhood movement is due to several factors. First, the Zionists succeeded in recruiting the best scientific and political minds to serve and lead their cause, regardless of these individuals’ adherence to traditional Jewish thought. This is what the Brotherhood failed in, as its choices were miserable from the get-go. The very nature of the Brotherhood precludes anyone who doesn’t adhere to the group’s view of Islam to actively take part in its activity. Second, whereas the Zionist movement was open about its goals, the Brotherhood always suffered from a lack of transparency about its ideology. No one truly knows the group’s plan for governance or its ultimate plans. We saw this clearly during its rule in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan.”

Finally, Al-Sarraf zones in on the Jewish passion for education particularly for the sciences and the Jewish penchant for setting up cultural institutions as an assured path to statehood.

Writes Al-Sarraf:

 Third, and most important, the historical interest of the Jews in science and their known passion for reading and academic inquiry allowed them to establish a state with strong educational and cultural institutions from day one.”

State in the Making – Emphasis on Education. Twenty-three years before independence, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was inaugurated in 1925. (left) Invitation to the celebration of the opening of the Hebrew University on April 1; (right) An original 1925 picture postcard from the dedication of Hebrew University.

The Kuwaiti journalist concludes by comparing what the Muslim Brotherhood failed over a century and what the Zionist movement succeeded in less than a half-century:

“As for the Brotherhood, it has proven its inability and failure, scientifically, politically and culturally, for nearly a century. Finally, allow me to end with the following parting thought:

A study conducted by the well-known American Pew Research Center in 2016 showed that the average Jew has 13.4 years of education, followed by Christians, with 9.3 years. I’ll spare you the embarrassment of knowing what the same rate stands at in our countries.”

No Wasting Time. Construction of the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in 1912. Born 36 years before Israel declared independence, in that time the Technion educated the engineers and brought the expertise to literally lay the infrastructure for a modern state.

Go figure!

Well, the Gulf States were the first to – “go figure”  – and join Israel in transforming the landscape. It is only a little over one year ago since the sighing of the historic Abraham Accords paving the way for the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain charting a new course in the history of Arab-Israeli relations by recognizing the State of Israel and normalizing diplomatic relations.

Creators of Chaos. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi throw stones during clashes with security forces in Cairo on August 14, 2013 that left over 600 dead. (Getty Images)

Later in 2020, two other Arab nations, Sudan and Morocco, followed suit and joined the Abraham Accords, raising the number of Arab States with formal diplomatic ties to Israel from two – Egypt and Jordan –  to six. Today, with the new coalition government in Israel led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, there are new political realities at play.

With more articles of understanding like Ahmed Al-Sarraf in Al-Qabas and maybe KuWAIT won’t wait so long!

Pulsating with Promise. A young country, Israel today is a world leader in the sciences.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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