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Bo 5768 — Don't be Pharoah…

Pharaoh First of all, you can check out my latest posting on the "Persistence of Vision: Israel at Sixty" blog here .   I comment about my thoughts relating to President George Bush’s visit to Jerusalem.

I really truly love Israel and love living here.  So I find it somewhat frustrating that when I look at a parsha, what comes up for me are issues that are critical of Israel, not necessarily supportive.  But I’m not going to duck it, when what comes up for me isn’t pretty, I’m still going to share it.

This week’s Torah portion, Bo, contains the dramatic conclusion of the story of the ten plagues.  Pharaoh’s heart keeps being hardened, and things just keep getting worse for the Egyptian people with on plague after another.  Not until the death of the first born does Pharaoh relent and let the Jews leave.

Reading this week’s parsha, I can’t help but be drawn into a comparison with the situation here in Israel. 
Now there are some Palestinians who have claimed that the Israelis are like the Nazis.  When they make that comparison, in a way it doesn’t bother me, because it is simply so over the top it is out of touch with reality.  There are no death camps that we march the Palestinians into.  No one is trying to wipe them out as a race.

The comparison that would sting me a lot more would be if they said "don’t be like Pharaoh!"  The Israelis clearly are oppressing the Palestinians.  Their life is pretty miserable.  Their economy is in tatters, if they want to visit their cousin who lives two towns over they have to pass through Israeli checkpoints, they don’t even know if they’ll be able to get through checkpoints on any given day, and time there is a Jewish holiday or some other reason for security concerns they might find themselves under curfew, if they live too close to Jerusalem they can’t get a building permit to add to their homes, many farmers are blocked from their fields by the security barrier, the list goes on and on.

Yes, the oppression is a lot worse because of terrorism.  Israel did not impose all of these oppressive realities simply to be mean.  But even if the cause of the oppression is the stupid and hateful acts of terrorists, everyone suffers — just as in Egypt there might have been a few Jews who tried to rebel against Pharaoh, all the Jews suffered none the less.

And in the Egypt story, it’s not just the oppressed people who suffer, it’s also the oppressor.  The people of Egypt suffered through ten plagues because of Pharaoh’s stubborness.  Today all the Jewish people (well, at least those of us living in Israel) are suffering because of the "plague" resulting from the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.

It’s time for us to stop stubbornly insisting on keeping the Palestinian people in our midst.  It’s time for us to let them go — let them go their own way, with their own country.  The longer we are ruling over a people other than our own, the more damage is done to Israel’s reputation in the world, the more damage is done to identification with Israel by young Jews abroad, and the more damage is done to support for a Zionist ideal by an increasingly alienated sector of secular Israelis.

I’m not naive; I know it won’t be easy, and I know it takes two to tango.  I truly hope Bush, Olmert, and Abbas have success in their endeavor to make peace.

In the meanwhile, Israel should do what needs to be done for self-defense, but we also need to avoid "being Pharaoh," being unnecessarily or gratuitously oppressive to other people.

Haven’t both sides lost enough sons to the tenth plague?

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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