How Americans Misunderstand the Middle East, and Israel

November 9, 2016 | Martin Kramer
About the author: Martin Kramer is a historian at Tel Aviv University and the Walter P. Stern fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served as founding president at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

Discussing the current state of Middle East scholarship, Martin Kramer explains what he believes to be the biggest source of American misunderstanding of the region, and of the Jewish state. (Interview by Lee Smith.)

Americans tend to assume that everyone wants democracy, and that more democracy is the solution for dysfunctional parts of the world. That’s no surprise: America has an admirable record in spreading it around the globe. But parts of the Middle East resist, and for good reason: democracy and its freedoms undercut the entire political, social, and moral order. So if you bring down a dictator, it’s not “mission accomplished.” It’s “mission complicated,” because you’ve unshackled all the genies that the dictator locked up, such as Islamism and sectarianism. . . .

[But] here’s the paradox. Americans sometimes forget that Israel really is a democracy, a vibrant one. Israel’s top leaders are sometimes faulted in America for not making “tough decisions” or taking “risks for peace.” But they’re politicians in a democracy; they answer to voters, and Israelis aren’t putty in anyone’s hands. There’s a lot of wisdom in the Israeli “crowd,” the common people. In almost every household, there are soldiers and reservists who know the realities surrounding Israel through first-hand experience. They’ve not just been brainwashed by a newspaper or a politician. The idea that someone can blindfold them and lead them to peace or war, or lure them away from democracy, is fundamentally misinformed.

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