Israel is no stranger to conspiracy theories. Over the years it has been at the centre of some beauties. With time, the small country has learnt to shrug off many of these absurdities with poise.
This tradition of ludicrous scapegoating has peaked over the last twelve months. First, in January, a heinous conspiracy blamed “Israeli death squads” for the massacre of twenty children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In an internationally televised news broadcast, Michael Harris, former Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, cited “Israeli revenge” in, what he called, “the terrorist attack in Connecticut.”
Then in April of this year, Press TV, Iran’s English speaking television network, circulated a story (which gained international traction), accusing Israel of backing the Boston marathon bombings in which three people were killed.
This string of ‘anti-Israel’ conspiracy theories continued this week when Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted that Israel was behind the ousting of Morsi and the ensuing civil-war in Egypt. He remained adamant that “we have evidence to prove it.”
According to Y-Net, and supported by many other media outlets, Erdogan’s documentation was a video of a discussion held at Tel Aviv University on the Arab Spring in June 2011, between then-opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and French Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy. During the discussion Levy urged the prevention of the Muslim Brotherhood from coming to power. He said the Muslim Brotherhood would not be permitted to rule even if it won an election “because democracy is not the ballot box.” You can watch the footage here.
“This is what has been implemented in Egypt,” Erdogan said. “And who is behind this? Israel.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest quickly moved to denounce the Turkish leader; “suggesting that Israel is somehow responsible for recent events in Egypt is offensive, unsubstantiated, and wrong,” he said.
Egypt’s interim government also rejected Erdogan’s statement as “baseless, irrational and “very bewildering.” It also said its “patience was running thin with Turkey, one of the biggest critics of the July 3 military coup.”
These comments come off the back of dwindling diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel since the Flotilla incident of 2010.
Interestingly, Haaretz published an article on the Turkish Prime Minister’s long-held animosity towards Israel, and his loss of credibility.
“Erdogan burns with anger every time it is hinted that he is anti-Semitic, and he quickly presents proof from Turkey’s long history that it helped the Jews.”
It continues; “He stresses that his government is doing everything to protect the Jewish community in Turkey. This time, though, it seems he will have trouble persuading even his own supporters that he only meant the political aspect of the conspiracy.”
Turkey has repeatedly backed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and has strongly condemned the Egyptian military. Last week Istanbul recalled its ambassador to Egypt in protest and Egypt’s interim government followed suit by recalling the Egyptian ambassador to Turkey. Indeed, this signalled a cutting off of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Equally relevant is the collaboration between Israel and Egypt in recent times, which has also been the source of much media speculation. As the civil-war explodes, where now over 900 people have been killed, the obvious question is ‘what does this mean for Israel?’
The Washington Post reported that Israel is “quietly and carefully watching the turmoil in neighbouring Egypt while maintaining close contacts with the Egyptian military amid concerns that the escalating crisis could weaken their common battle against Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula.”
But this so called ‘alliance’ has put Israel in a precarious position. While Israel needs the Egyptian army to maintain security along their shared border, the backlash from being seen as siding with the Egyptian military in its standoff against Islamist supporters of Morsi, could be dire.
Preserving its historic peace treaty with Egypt, Israel’s first with an Arab country and a cornerstone of regional security since 1979, is Israel’s utmost priority. For Egypt too, it opened the way to billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, and so for moderates at least, must be maintained.
Last Sunday, Israel was again unfairly placed at the centre of media scrutiny. The New York Times published a controversial article saying “Israel plans this week to intensify its diplomatic campaign urging Europe and the United States to support the military-backed government in Egypt despite its deadly crackdown on Islamist protesters.”
The article said that this ‘lobbying’ sends “the message, in part…that concerns about democracy and human rights should take a back seat to stability and security because of Egypt’s size and strategic importance.”
Israel has remained mostly mum in this context, yet International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister; Yuval Steinitzquickly denied the loaded claim that Jerusalem is lobbying Western governments to continue supporting the Egyptian military.
“Our official policy is not to interfere. And up until today, this policy served us very well. The entire Middle East is turbulent and stormy, and we look like Switzerland,” he said.
“[Except] we’re not Switzerland, [because] there is enmity against us in this Middle East.”
Already, Israel’s cooperation with the Egyptian military along their shared border has been used as ammunition by Egyptians hostile to the Jewish state.
The ‘Tamarrod Rebellion movement’ (a youth movement that called for mass protests against deposed President Morsi, and started collecting signatures in Tahrir Square in May which led to mass protests on 30 June), circulated a petition titled “Stop Foreign Aid” aimed at rejecting U.S. aid and annulling the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Over 300,000 Egyptians have already signed the petition.
While this seems trivial in a population of over 80 million, the group’s political might in rallying protesters back in June shows that it is a force of political sway.
Yorram Ettinger, former ambassador and expert on Middle East politics, laid out his view on Egypt’s civil war and its impact on Israel in an interview with RT, the Russian English speaking news channel. You can watch his clip here.
The media’s careless splashing around of conspiracies relating to Israel’s role in the Egyptian coup only gives impetus to Israel’s opponents. Luckily, Israel has learnt that with friends like these, expect anything.
Until next time,
Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia