There is a talking point going around that claims Israel not only prefers peace with dictatorships but that Israel's peace with the UAE and Bahrain actually encourages authoritarianism and is some kind of plot to push for more dictatorships in the Middle East.
The argument stresses that if "the people" could choose in these countries they would vote against normalization.
This nonsensical, but seemingly inviting, argument is deeply flawed. It was the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East in the 1950s that led the drive against relations with Israel. Based variously on theocratic extremist views and also anti-Semitism, these countries sought to pretend Israel didn't exist, a classic irredentist nationalist drive. These dictatorships enflamed a generation and brainwashed people against Israel, even as these countries tended to normalize with other states that they didn't agree with (i.e despite the India-Pakistan conflict, no one suggested not recognizing India forever).
So, first of all it is primarily dictatorships that don't recognize Israel. Israel always had relations with democracies.
The argument that average citizens in the Middle East oppose Israel is flawed.
Second the argument that average citizens in the Middle East oppose Israel, and therefore Israel "needs" dictatorships is flawed. The public that was propagandized against Israel is sometimes hostile. However this is mostly a historical aberration. Israel had relationships with democracies like Turkey and Iranians would make peace with Israel if not for the regime. Kurds would also be open to Israel if not for Saddam and then Iran occupying Baghdad. Today the MAIN reason that Israel wasn't able to come to terms with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is Iran.
Why is Israel singled out for relations with authoritarian regimes?
Next, we need to ask about why Israel is singled out for being responsible for "authoritarianism" in the Middle East when every single other country in the world has relations with countries like Saudi Arabia. Only Israel is made to seem like it is a problem to have relations with the UAE. But when the US or France has relations with the UAE or when Switzerland embraces Iran, it's fine? This makes no sense. Israel shouldn't have to eschew relations with Bahrain while all of Europe has relations, as if only when Israel has relations it is due to "authoritarianism."
Lastly, most of the voices who condemn these deals all embrace authoritarian regimes in places like Gaza, Qatar, Ankara or Tehran. They just don't want Israel having relations with countries they don't like.
They need to explain who is really holding back relations between Israel and Lebanon and Syria and Iran and Iraq. It isn't Israel, it is the intolerance of the regime. Consider Malaysia. Why doesn't Malaysia have relations? Not because of Israel, but because of the intolerance and antisemitism of the regime.
Authoritarian regimes have led the drive against relations with Israel.
Make a map of the world. Israel has relations with the democracies, it is the dictatorships that for years disliked Israel. To twist it around and make Israel responsible for the authoritarians reverses reality.
And Israel is not at fault just because some of the public in far away places like Pakistan or even in nearby Egypt dislike Israel. Often that dislike is irrational, not because of weighing the merits.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.