United by liberty and freedom

It is not a stretch to say that the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, who created a revolution by demanding liberty and freedom, had more in common with the government of Israel than with any other Arab government in the Middle East. 

No, I am not stretching to see the possibility of a “purple nation” approach everywhere in the world. But it is a simple, indisputable fact that what the demonstrators in Tunisia and Tahrir Square demanded are the values that have governed Israel since its founding over 60 years ago — freedom of the press and assembly, guarantees of due process and the rule of law, civil rights, human rights, women’s rights and, most important, equal protection under the law for all Israeli citizens — including the more than 1 million Palestinian Arabs who have the same rights as Jewish citizens. 

The first messages communicated out of Israel (as well as from the U.S. Jewish community and pro-Israel groups around the world) were negative toward the freedom demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Israeli senior officials and the average Israeli were understandably fearful that if Mubarak were overthrown and the Tahrir Square demonstrators successful, Israel security would be imperiled. This left the strong and unfortunate impression among the pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt that Israel preferred the tyranny of Mubarak to freedom and human rights for Egyptians.  

There was both genuine and rational fear among Israelis and pro-Israel groups in America, certainly justified by almost every respected poll, that a democratically elected government in Egypt would be anti-Israel, would repudiate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and, most dangerous of all, would open up the borders of southern Gaza to arms and rockets to be used by Hamas in terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. 

But I submit these polls are misleading. Public sentiment can be changed with facts, and more effective communication — especially when there is a powerful new message that can reframe the entire perspective of the Arab street: democracy and hope for a better life in the future. 

But two things must be done immediately — one by Israel, the other by President Obama. 

First, Israel needs an intense and effective strategy to communicate the facts about Israeli democratic values and especially equal protection under the law, including for Arab Israeli citizens. Best of all would be to find credible, secular Arab democrats who are willing to carry this message — on Al Jazeera, on the Internet, the social media, text messages and all other methods shown to be so effective in recent weeks to reach the average citizen of Arab nations. 

Israel can encourage this shift in public opinion by repeating its existing policy again and again, publicly: a two-state solution and continued economic assistance for the Palestinian Authority, as well as for emerging democracy movements and governments in the Middle East and Iran. 

Second, President Obama has an opportunity to use his bully pulpit as president, and as the most influential international leader in the Middle East, to emphasize at every opportunity the common values shared by the Arab and Iranian demonstrators and the people and government of Israel, as well as the American people. 

Now, I am not naïve. I know that anti-Israel hatred has been deeply embedded into Arab culture over decades and decades — used by Arab autocrats and dictators to divert attention from the poverty, joblessness and hopelessness bred by their corrupt, anti-democratic regimes. 

But this may be a rare moment where the magnetic appeal of freedom and liberty is so powerful that it can overcome this hatred. 

Thanks to the courageous young people in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, there may be a great opportunity to communicate a truly “purple” message — to use the shared values of democracy and individual liberty as the trumping message that unites Israelis and Arabs and brings peace, at last, to the Middle East and between Israel and the Palestinians.

Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  He is the author of the book Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.