Regards From the Iranian Intellectuals

While Israeli politicians have done little to dissect the politics of the Arab world, Iranian academics are watching us closely, and publishing their analyses abroad.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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The name Prof. Amal Abdul Aziz al-Hazani is not a familiar one in Israel; the name of Dr. Ata’ollah Mohajerani is known mainly to scholars of Iran. They should become better known, especially to those who are terrified by all the “Zuabis.” Al-Hazani is a scientist of international repute in the field of molecular genetics at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Mohajerani was culture minister in Iran under President Mohammad Khatami. A supporter of the green revolution that sparked the civil uprising in Iran in 2009, he now lives in London. Both scholars wrote separate articles this week in the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat about the results of the election in Israel. Both have extensive knowledge and an abiding interest in what is happening in the Zionist “enemy country,” which affords them a dispassionate, hard look at processes in Israeli society.

“What Arab young people do not know is that there is in Israel a large group of people opposed to the government’s policy, toward the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general. These are not only leftists, but also social activists and volunteers, university graduates who believe that Israel’s stability is linked to coexistence with the Arabs,” al-Hazani writes. Arab knowledge about Israel stopped in 1973, she says, adding “the young Arab does not know much about Israel, which has changed and is no longer the same Israel of 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973. This is not because suddenly it has become friendly and kind; on the contrary, it is still clearly our enemy. But what has changed in it is that, like any other country, it has produced a new generation whose dreams and expectations are different from the dreams of its politicians like Netanyahu. Israeli young people have a vision that is far from military life, one that seeks a dignified life.”

No dispute with al-Hazani’s analysis is necessary. Her daring – and this is not the first time – in facing off against the rigid Arab understandings, in discerning faults in the way Arab countries relate to Israel, and in trying to find a glimmer of hope, in Israeli society specifically, sounds almost impertinent in the face of the steamroller of threats marketed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Less optimistic, but not yet despairing, Mohajerani wonders: “Has a different Zionism been born in Israel?” – the title of his article. This Iranian intellectual dissects Israel’s election results with the precision of a surgical scalpel. He explains to his readers that Netanyahu sustained a significant loss: “It seems to me that from now on, the right and the left in Israel must be redefined. These two blocs have come so close together they are almost identical, to the point where it may be said that Israeli politicians go from extreme to more extreme. This means that there is no more space for a peace process and a two-state solution.”

But then Mohajerani proposes an additional diagnosis. “Netanyahu focused on the question of Israel’s security more than any other prime minister and exaggerated the threats against it. He thus prepared fertile soil for the seeds of new extremism in Israel but after the elections we are faced with a new Netanyahu, who wants to be based on the economy and quality of life.”

In contrast, the writer explains, Naftali Bennett vehemently opposes a Palestinian state, while Yair Lapid’s position “is completely clear when he stated in an interview on Channel 7 that ‘I do not like to place the blame on Israel; I think that most of the blame is on the Palestinian side.’ If we distance ourselves from the events, we will find that Yair Lapid is even more extreme than [Avigdor] Lieberman,” Mohajerani concludes. Netanyahu suddenly becomes a ray of light.

Mohajerani and al-Hazani are not alone in the interest and broad knowledge they reveal about Israeli society and politics. This is in contrast to the utter ignorance typical of most Israeli politicians when it comes to Arab or Iranian politics. These two writers want to find a place of hope for dialogue, for a solution of peace and for proof that Israel, although it is a bitter enemy, could be a partner. They do not represent only themselves or their readers. They reflect a worldview shared by many circles in the Middle East. They are the address to which the new coalition now being formed should turn its gaze and its plans. But it seems that people who are afraid to sit with the “Zuabis” and people who view see in the Iranians only a nuclear bomb, will not allow al-Hazani and Mohajerani to bother them.

A man peeks out from behind an Iranian flag in Tehran.Credit: Reuters