Costa’s Question

This is Costa Black’s 38th week demonstrating on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv. Like many other activists he left everything to dedicate himself to the fight against the right-wing coup d’état. But Costa’s story is a little different. He came over to Israel at age 11 from Ukraine with his mother and sister experiencing no little social and economic hurdles. Costa unfurls huge posters in English that photograph well from a bird’s eye view. They feature an American flag next to the Israeli flag, that call President Biden not to meet with Bibi, and to support the protest. When Biden was previously asked if he would invite Bibi to the White House and answered with a categorical “no,” he gave hope and encouragement to Costa and his friends. Yet two weeks ago Biden met with Bibi and presented him with a gift – the prospect of a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia’s MBS. Could it be that Biden has thrown up his hands and thus, in one fell swoop, the judicial coup is off the agenda, and peace with Saudi Arabia brings Bibi back to life?

With sadness, Costa tweets an innocent question, which he says no one has yet answered: “What does Israel gain de facto from this agreement?” The political reporter Barak Ravid replied to this: “This tweet shows how politics sometimes clouds judgment and causes people in the liberal camp to lose all ability to examine life in a complex and straightforward manner.” Costa did not have time to recover from Ravid’s patronizing scolding before another tribal elder, Ben Caspit, joined him and added: “We are sorry that we were unable to explain to you, Costa. But it is simple: peace with the most important and wealthiest Muslim country in the world, which controls the holy cities and symbolizes Islam’s Holy of Holies is a historical event on a biblical scale that completes the circle of peace around Israel (as opposed to peace with the Palestinians, which is within Israel) and brings the rest of the Arab world into it. It is unlike anything and is more important than all of us together. Yes, even if it has something to do with Bibi.”

So, this is it Costa, you have been turned into a “power broker” whose understanding is vague, so you do not see that peace with Saudi Arabia is an event on a “biblical scale”. You demonstrated for 38 weeks, Costa, getting beaten, arrested, and managed to stop the coup d’état with your friends, but it turns out you must now return to your natural dimensions. How dare you compare the coup d’état with the “biblical” peace, even if it is “somehow” related to Bibi! The problem is that those elders of the tribe such as Ravid, Caspit and even the anti-Zionist elder, Gideon Levi, have already proven in the past that their great wisdom has left your generation, to eat their rotten fruit. This does not prevent them from teaching you a lesson in political wisdom – as people who support you, of course, some of whom even go out to demonstrate with you from time to time.

It’s no coincidence, Costa, that you find it difficult to believe them and accept their learned opinion, since you could have asked them the same question about the Abraham Accords as well. After all, you know very well that what we got out of the Abraham Accords is a fascist government that threatens the very existence of the state. The elders of the tribe try to convince you that “somehow” it has to do with Bibi, but the truth is it has to do not only with Bibi, but also with those who surround him: Trump, Putin and other lower-level dictators. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself is a friend of Putin, of Xi Jinping, and like Bibi, he also wishes for Trump’s return to the White House. They are made from the same dough and have no bounds. They are ready to do anything, literally anything, to hold onto power.

MBS is not looking for “biblical” peace. Like Bibi, Putin, and Trump, he is looking to transform his leper status following the murder and dismemberment of the body of critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey. The Americans also did not forget the Saudis’ 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, which was planned by Osama bin Laden and carried out with the participation of 15 Saudi citizens and with the Saudi regime turning a blind eye. It is no secret that Mohammed bin Salman worked with Bibi against President Obama and on behalf of Trump, who cancelled the nuclear agreement with Iran in accordance with the Israeli-Saudi demand. Before being elected president, Biden promised to turn MBS into a pariah and refused to meet with him. Yet the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine threw everything up in the air.

This is how MBS became the kingmaker. Not only does he coordinate oil production with Putin to maintain its high price and shows utter contempt at Western sanctions that set a low ceiling price for Russian oil, but he also helps Putin finance his criminal war in Ukraine. On the other hand, bin Salman pokes Biden in the eye by creating a strategic partnership with China, and renews diplomatic relations with Iran through Chinese mediation, steps that flashed a warning signal in the White House. While MBS is another bloodthirsty dictator, like most leaders of the Arab world, China is a world power that aspires to achieve global hegemony and has the means to fulfil its ambitions. Today China leads the Autocracy camp and is trying to push America out of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. This situation left Biden no choice, he must tie MBS’s hands, and Bibi can provide him with the rope to do so.

Here we will return to Costa’s question – “What does Israel gain de facto?” To answer, you should ask – what do the people of Saudi Arabia gain from the agreement? In Saudi Arabia, as in Israel, there is a difference between the regime and the people, and not everything that benefits the regime also benefits the people. The Saudi people live under a dictatorial regime based on Sharia law. Oppression of women, the LGBTQ community, and freedom of expression are offenses punishable by death. In Israel, too, we are fighting against oppression of women, the LGBTQ community and attempts to impose Jewish religious law on us. The difference between us and them is that here there is a will to hold on to these vested rights, while in Saudi Arabia the people have never had even one day of freedom and democracy. And those who demanded freedom in Saudi Arabia ended their lives like Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudi regime is not only oppressing its own people, but also spreading its Wahhabi and Messianic Islamic ideology throughout the Middle East. It was the Saudis who helped Abdel Fattah al-Sisi eliminate the Arab Spring. They also brought the jihadist militias into Syria to drown the civil resistance in blood, thereby aiding the Syrian regime’s massacre of the Syrian people with the aid of the Iranians and the Russians. Not many Israelis bothered to learn the details. The Saudi regime is no better than the Iranian regime. Like it, Saudi Arabia wants to arm itself with nuclear weapons to secure its rule, and like in Iran, its own people demanding freedom are its main enemy.

That’s why, together with you, Costa, we go out every week and shout “de-mo-cra-cy” and repeatedly state that we will not become Poland, Hungary or Iran. Does it make sense that we would be unwilling to compromise with illiberal “democratic” regimes, but are ready to make “biblical peace” with the bloodthirsty Saudi regime? Look what happened to Israel, which always prided itself on being the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Instead of us spreading democracy, dictatorship threatens to devour us.

The lesson is clear – it is impossible to maintain a long-term democracy in an environment infested with dictatorships. Our interest as democrats is to spread democracy to our neighbours so that our democracy will be sustainable. As for your question, Costa, what will come out of peace with Saudi Arabia in reality, I’ll leave it to you to answer. One thing I ask of you, don’t stop protesting for democracy, and don’t give in to all those sages and their advice.

About Yacov Ben Efrat