Last week, the Israeli Foreign Ministry hosted a delegation of Arab journalists who live in Europe in a very interesting initiative meant to break the negative Israel stereotypes within the Arab world. The four journalists were of Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian descent, respectively. They write from Europe for a variety of Arabic-language news outlets, including Asharq Al-Awsat,Sky News, BBC Arabic,Deutsche Welle Arabic, and Kitabat.
The initiative was part of a wider Foreign Ministry campaign seeking to inform the Arab world about Israel. It includes an Arabic-language Facebook page, which already has more than 750,000 followers and where the videos posted have garnered over 1 million views.
G.M., an Iraqi journalist living in exile in Germany (the journalists had asked that their identities not be revealed, as they feared not only for their jobs, but also for their lives if it became known that they had visited Israel) had the following to say: “The visit to Israel was exciting and unique. It is a shame that most people in the Arab world are still filled with blind hatred and prejudice toward Israel.”
Another journalist said, “Our exposure to Israel is welcomed. We can argue about things, including the Palestinian issue, but we must not fall into the trap of hatred and incitement. This visit to Israel changed the way we think about all of you.”
“The visit afforded us with a deep understanding of the state of Israel,” another journalist said. “We saw official representatives, spoke with ordinary Israelis on the street and learned things we did not know before. We also learned about the social, cultural, ethnic, and religious structure of Israel and how it is a pluralistic state. This trip undoubtedly will allow us to convey a different image of Israel to our readers. Would that this could lead to reconciliation between the nations.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon concluded, “Of all the delegations the Foreign Ministry has hosted, the Arab journalist delegation is the most important. From our point of view, dialogue with the Arab world is a top priority. We hope that more delegations will arrive soon.”
This is, of course, great news and if these Arab journalists now decide to report more objectively and truthfully on Israel, after this paradigm shifting trip to Israel. But what is deeply disconcerting is of course the fact that these four journalists were so afraid that they asked to remain anonymous. They feared not only for their jobs, but also for their lives. These journalists live in Europe, at least one of them lives in exile in Germany, and still they fear for their lives if it becomes known that they have visited Israel. That should tell you something.
While this fear is understandable, it leads nowhere. One day, the Arab world will run out of excuses to not deal with the reality of Israel. Unless more and more Arabs, journalists as well as others, who have learned the truth about Israel, stand up with courage and speak that truth, especially if they are living in European democracies, these trips will be pointless. They should not only do it for Israel’s sake. They should do it for their own sake.
As has been pointed out countless times, but always to deaf ears, Israel’s battles against terrorism are the West’s battles against terrorism, even though the West frequently refuses to admit this crucial truth. However, the battle against terrorism — and the totalitarian and murderous forces that the terrorist groups represent — should be even more important to Arabs in the Middle East. It is they — both Christians and Muslims — who are primarily paying the price of this terrorism, for now, because they are its main victims. As long as these terrorist groups and their state sponsors are legitimized throughout the Middle East by always referring to Israel as the ultimate cause for the disastrous quagmire throughout the region, and as long as blaming Israel remains the answer to every demand to somehow “fix” the region, the Arab world will be forever doomed.
In order to achieve freedom, you need to be able to distinguish between freedom and that which is not freedom. When you are an Arab in the Middle East striving for freedom, and fighting against terrorism, you need to be able to say — loudly, publicly and with conviction — that the only place in the entire Middle East that is currently free is Israel. One of the journalists said that he hoped this visit could lead to “reconciliation between the nations.” The first step would be to stop fearing being associated with Israel. At some point, if Arabs want freedom in their respective nations, they will have to stop fearing the consequences and stand up for that freedom. One first step in that direction is to stop shunning Israel.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.