The discussion that evolved at the Frontline Club’s collaboration with BBC Arabic on Israel post-‘Arab Spring’ was almost a metaphor for any debate where Israel is central. Misquoted facts, distorted truth, PR spin, internal bickering and a general sense that no-one was really listening far enough to retain an alternative idea were all rife throughout. It was a great shame, as panel and audience alike were making some valid and hitherto unspoken points that seemed to be lost in the noise. Lost in the dogged determination to get a point across. It seems to me that nothing is ever going to be achieved in the sphere of Israeli-Arab politics until both stop and listen: to each other of course, but more importantly to themselves in the context of the other.

A classic case in point from last night’s debate was the Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Lior’s statement that “There is no country that yearns and strives for peace more than Israel.” In what way? “We pulled out of Gaza.” Cue much scoffing and shuffling in the audience. If the Ambassador stopped to look at his comment from the other side, ignoring all the positives that spring to his mind and only seeing the contradictions to it, as many do, would it be so easy for him to make such a claim? To turn it around to the scoffers and shufflers, have they assessed the threat that Israel faces from all sides? Ultimately it can appear a very one-sided battle from the outside and Israel’s ‘PR’ (attacked by one audience member) could gain more respect if it recognised that. But back to the issue at hand (having returned from the tangent that was inevitable at last night’s talk): the Arab Spring.

About half the room raised their hand in answer to the question posed: should Israel feel threatened by the Arab Spring? And it was on this point that the Ambassador spoke most candidly. He said, “It’s easy to deal with dictatorships,” and that pretty much sums up the world view in Middle East relations before December 2010 in Tunisia. As journalist Daphna Baram put it, Israel and America like democracy if it suits them. Journalist Eldad Beck came across as pessimistic like the Ambassador. In Egypt all parties agree on anti-Israeli sentiment was his view, and Israel is at “point zero” because Arab countries don’t accept its existence. But human rights advocate Miri Weingarten was more optimistic: “Change always gives reason for hope.”

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