Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Anwar and Pakatan’s Tune on Israel

Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional (especially Umno) have made a big production out of the recent flotilla issue involving Israel. In the aftermath of the violence that unfolded off in the Mediterranean, both political factions have attempted to play up the anti-Israeli rhetoric and to capitalise on the incident.

Naturally, much of the theatre that unfolded was catered for domestic consumption. Indeed, both camps seem to be falling over each other trying to make the most out of the Israeli government’s actions against the flotillas, and once again trying to score political points off of the Palestinian-Israeli stand-off.

Not wanting to be outdone by Barisan Nasional, Anwar Ibrahim, like a boxer trying to counter-punch his opponent, has been trying to keep the tussle with the prime minister going by levelling criticisms about the latter’s response to the Israeli. In many respects, I am rather disappointed by Anwar’s exhibitionism on this front. It is, to say the least, utterly disappointing.

It is not surprising to see Umno play up its anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic tendencies every chance it gets. There, after all, is a long legacy of doing just so in Umno. At times, this Umno-led anti-Semitic propaganda has served it well to galvanise support for the government against a far away villain that ultimately doesn’t represent a threat to Umno in any way whatsoever. On other occasions, the anti-Semitism serves to temporarily divert attention from Umno’s domestic troubles.   

At the end of the day, it is the persistence of a political narrative which, inevitably, has as its central premise the demonization of Israel. In this case, the centre of the controversy stems from Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Of course, the critics of the blockade do not appear to have made a big cry out about Egypt’s role in enforcing the blockade of Gaza. Yes, the same Egypt, which along with Turkey, is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference – to which the Palestinian Authority also belongs. Egypt too, in other words, has actively imposed a blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza by closing the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Such are the realities of the region, not to mention the realities of supposed Arab brotherhood itself.

Let us just make note of the fact that the Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza would not, from the Israeli standpoint, be as effective if they were not being complemented by the contributions of the Egyptians - that is, the Palestinians’ fellow Arab brethrens. What, one has to wonder, could be the Egyptians’ motivation for aiding and abetting the Jewish state in its supposed efforts to punish the Hamas regime, which happens to be hell bent on the destruction of Israel?

This reality, of Arab complicity in the blockade of Gaza, sure is not a pretty picture of Arab brotherhood, is it? How exactly is it that Israel’s efforts to weed out and undermine a terrorist organisation such as Hamas seems to draw universal public condemnation from Pakatan Rakyat and Umno, but we never see the Umno Youth charging en masse to the American or Egyptian Embassy to protest Egypt’s complicity in the blockade and persecution of Palestinians?

More disturbing and disappointing actually, is the fact that while Anwar Ibrahim likes to tout himself as a moderate to his western friends, he is too quick to join in the anti-Israel and Jew-bashing orgy here at home. In this respect, Anwar Ibrahim unfortunately doesn’t set himself apart from Umno’s bigotry - he virtually embodies it.

Pakatan and Anwar Ibrahim, while unlikely to steer away from the Jew-bashing that goes on in our politics, could nevertheless take a different tact and potentially be a real source for bringing the public to a more constructive posture vis-à-vis Israel.

It seems convenient for our politicians to attack Israel’s blockade, as Turkey seems to be doing. Of course this is also the same Turkey that had its own blockade of Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. This is also the same Turkey that is deeply implicated in an Armenian genocide and the persecution of the Kurds. So, in our condemnation of Israel, we seem to also conveniently overlook the blood on the hands of our fellow anti-Israeli allies such as Turkey.

By the way, it is worth noting that many a victors happen to have justified annexing territory captured in war. Israel, however, despite having repelled its aggressors, has not claimed to annex and incorporate the West Bank and Gaza into the Israeli state. On the contrary, Israel has shown the desire to revert control of these territories to the Palestinians. It is for this reason that we saw the birth of the Palestinian Authority limited self-governance.

Therefore, even if Umno politicians can be expected to exploit the Israeli issue for domestic propaganda purposes as they have repeatedly done, there are arguably really good reasons for Anwar Ibrahim to take the high road and to make his reputation abroad as a moderate mesh with his rhetoric here at home.

When it comes to domestic politics, Anwar Ibrahim seems to think we voters are more mature than Umno tends to give us credit for. Perhaps it’s time he recognised that he can also apply the same premise to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If only he would be willing to see that he should also help bring PAS and others along and promote a more constructive approach toward Israel within Pakatan Rakyat, and the wider public instead of just doing what is simply politically expedient on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It’s about time Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat also realise that following in the footsteps of Umno in this respect and fanning the flames of Israel-bashing for political mileage is not doing us – and especially not the Palestinian cause - any favours.

G. Krishnan