Slowly, Arab Attitudes toward Israel Are Changing

December 19, 2019 | Ed Husain
About the author: Ed Husain is a visiting professor at Georgetown University where he will be teaching a summer course on Judaism, Islam, and Western Civilization.

In the 1960s, what Ed Husain calls an “anti-Semitic craze to destroy Israel” was at its height, a force so strong that Gamal Abdel Nasser could use it to unite the fractious Arab states behind him. Now, many years later, it has begun to dissipate, and a new, somewhat more positive attitude toward the Jewish state has begun to emerge not only among rulers eager for allies in confronting Iran, but also among segments of the populace:

Polls show that the percentage of Arabs expressing trust in Islamist parties has fallen by well over a third since the uprisings of 2011. Three-quarters of Iraqis say they do not trust Islamist parties at all, and the number of young people who say they’re “not religious” is also on the rise. This generation wants Arab leaders to increase economic prosperity and minimize political conflicts. And to build alliances, including with Israel. . . .

I’ve noticed a change of mood on my own travels. I regularly meet Egyptians and others who desperately want to normalize relations with Israel. [One of the reasons offered most often is that] the events of the Arab Spring exposed the fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and other related Islamist groups, with the hardliners now being viewed as a threat to both Islam as a faith and Muslims as a people. Islamic State, and other “Islamic states” are, of course, the logical outcome of Islamism. Now that this creed has been tested to destruction, it is being seen for what it is—and rejected. . . .

Israel is [also] seen by moderate Arab governments as a trade and security partner as the West sends mixed signals. Barack Obama abandoned his Arab allies when they faced threats from the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran. . . . This lesson in unreliability has not been forgotten.

“Of course,” Husain adds, “there is a lot of history to overcome.” Just a few days ago, in fact, Saudi Arabia—whose ever-closer relations with Israel have become an open secret—revoked the citizenship of a vocally pro-Israel journalist for unspecified reasons.

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