Like many of you, I stopped watching Breakfast after Paul Henry left* but an alert reader sent me this interview with John Key on the show yesterday. It’s the one where he makes weak excuses for not Mondayising public holidays but, before that he says something truly amazing: he thinks Mubarak should stay in power in Egypt because he recognises Israel.
Corin Dann: Have we got any concerns about getting people out?
John Key: Well, certainly in terms of New Zealanders that might travel to Egypt, our advice is: don’t go. you should certainly eliminate all non-essential travel. It’s a serious situation in Egypt. As we’ve seen, a number of people have lost their lives already. And, worryingly actually, is that Egypt has been one of the few Arab nations, that has recognised Israel, in fact the only one. And has been very peaceful with Israel. So, the concern is what that might mean for the wider position in the Middle East. So, a real worry. We think there are 282 New Zealanders in Egypt. They’re the ones registered with Foreign Affairs and, again, at this stage we’ve got no advice on whether any of them have been injured but we monitor these situations closely.
Huh? I mean leaving aside the fact that he didn’t answer the damn question and his odd use of money trader speak (‘position’), why is Key banging on about the consequences for Egypt-Israel relations? I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere else as a concern, and why should it be, it’s far too early. Dann tries asking the question again:
Dann: You’re not looking at any evacuation of them, then?
Key: Not at this point. But we would obviously provide support if it was required.
Dann: I’ll just take you back to that issue of the support for Israel. Egpyt has been a very strong ally for the West, which makes this a very difficult situation for the likes of the US, which, I know, has not called for Mubarak to go yet [in fact, Hilary Clinton was already calling for an “orderly transition” and free and fair elections]. Where does New Zealand sit on that?
Key: The New Zealand Government wants a peaceful outcome to this. In the end, whoever governs your country is a matter for the citizens. And in the case of Mubarak he’s been there for a long time, 30-odd years. We respect the fact that he has done his very best to lead a country which has recognised Israel and, therefore, has wanted to make sure the position in Middle East has been a peaceful one. It’s not easy, it’s very complex, and there’s a lot of emotion.
Hmm. So, after having, by the by, undermined to the entire rationale behind us being in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, which he supported, Key again cites Mubarak’s recognition of Israel. Extraordinarily, not only from a factual perspective but also from the realpolitick that he is likely to soon have to be dealing with the people who overthrow him, Key says that Mubarak has done “his very best”. Then, the jaw-dropper:
Dann: Are you calling for him to go?
Is recognition of Israel all that matters to Key? Can you be a repressive dictator but as long as you are pally with Tel Aviv you’re OK in Key’s books? Key is, remember, well out of line with the the US and UK here, who know Mubarak is sunk.
Dann: I guess the concern is the Muslim Brotherhood. The potential for an Islamist movement to come in and fill that vacuum. Is that the concern?
Key: Well, the concern is that there are some nations that simply do not recognise Israel. And, taken to the extreme, in Iran Ahmadinejad has said he basically wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. So, it’s a very serious situation. Egypt’s provided stability and leadership and calmness. Obviously, the hope always being that that position would spread across the Middle East, that it would be possible to broker a two-state solution, with recognition of Palestine as well but this certainly looks like it’s taking things, potentially, in the wrong direction.
So, Key is against a popular uprising against a dictator because it might – might – result in a more Islamist political group coming to power and that might – might – have negative ramifications for the relationship with Israel? He would rather see in power the man whose Police has murdered 100 protesters in the last few days alone.
I just don’t get Key’s obsession with Israel here. Surely, it’s not his own Jewish roots. But he just doesn’t seem to give a damn about the Egyptian people themselves, only how they relate to Israel. I wonder who he has been talking with to form this view – presumably some American far right-wingers, no-one else is so reflexively pro-Israel and paranoid about Muslims.
I would have hoped we had a Prime Minister who supported democracy and the overthrow of dictators first and foremost. It seems we don’t.
* just joking! I never watched.