Let my people go

Over 3,000 years ago the Jewish people escaped oppression in Egypt.

Today the people of Egypt are escaping their own oppression.  They are crying out for freedom, desperate to get rid of their own “Pharaoh.”

As Jews who have “been there,” we rightfully should be cheering the Egyptian people on in their quest for freedom and democracy.

At the same time, we Israelis are nervous — very nervous.  While Mubarak is bad for the Egyptians, he was pretty good for the Jews.  Israel has not had to worry about security on the southern border for a long time.  Mubarak’s government has worked hard to broker peace with the Palestinians, and has supported Israel’s blockade of Gaza (regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea — and it’s probably not — he supported Israel’s position).

The Arab world presents an array of different kinds of governments, ranging from oppressive anti-Western Islamic regimes (Iran) to oppressive anti-Western secular regimes (Syria) to oppressive pro-Western Islamic regimes (Saudi Arabia) to oppressive (well, at least mildy oppressive) pro-Western secular regimes (Jordan).  What’s missing is a pro-Western, pro-Israel, democratic regime.  As we say in Hebrew, “ain d’var k’zeh,” no such thing.

What’s going to happen in Egypt?  

The revolt seems to have incredibly wide support: the crowds in Cairo include young, old, religious, secular, even at least one retired general.  Mubarak has clearly lost the support of his nation, if he ever had it.

My fear — and the fear of many Israelis — is that Egypt is heading towards becoming another Iran.  I lived in Iran during the Iranian Revolution of 1978 to 1979, so I am all too personally familiar with the experience of a widespread, mostly secular revolt “going Islamic.”  Click here to read about my evacuation from Iran in 1979.

My guess is the best “model” we can likely count on for Egypt is not an Arab country, but another Muslim country: Turkey.  Mostly pro-Western, not so “warm and cozy” with Israel, with a coalition of Islamic and secular parties.  I don’t think the feared Muslim Brotherhood has the votes (or the guns) to take over the government, but I do think most Egyptians probably see them as a legitimate party that should be allowed to participate in the government.

It’s definitely a nerve-wracking time to be a resident of the Middle East.  The Israeli government is burning the midnight oil trying to figure out what to make of this new world.

Netanyahu expressed our concerns succintly (as reported in Israel Today): ““Israel…supports the advance of liberal and democratic values in the Middle East. But if extremist forces are allowed to exploit democratic processes to come to power to advance anti-democratic goals – as has happened in Iran and elsewhere – the outcome will be bad for peace and bad for democracy.”

If anyone in Egypt is reading this — and I have at least one reader in Egypt, but he’s probably pretty busy right now — I would like them to know that Israel wants to be your friend, not your enemy.  We need more democracies in the Middle East.  We would like nothing better than to be a member of prosperous region with security, free trade, freedom of movement, etc., for all its citizens.  Amman is close enough I could drive there for lunch; Damascus is close enough I could drive there for dinner.  What the heck, I could ride my bicycle to Bethlehem for breakfast if I was allowed to go there.  May the day come soon when war and dictators are a thing of the past, and we have peace and prosperity for all.

As much as the dictator we know may be preferable to the democracy we don’t know, it would be wrong, for us of all people, to support an Egyptian dictator.

Reb Barry

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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.

2 thoughts on “Let my people go

  • February 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm
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    Dear Reb Barry,
    I’ve actually had the ‘Israel’ conversation with a friend around here, and she was asking me whether Israel featured at all in the rhetoric in Tahrir square this week. I told her that I had seen a banner ror two where Israel was mentioned, but it was basically calling Mubarak an “agent of the US and Israel”.
    I also saw two signs in Hebrew, which was quite interesting I must say..

    On the other hand, if there’s one thing the average (read: poor…) Egyptian is rather grateful to Mubz (my favourite nickname for the man) is that we didn’t have to wage a war in the past few decades. And that’s not something people are willing to do.

    So what will happen? Well no one is planning on engaging Israel militarily. That would be plain foolish. On the other hand, many are upset that the government is that cosy with Israel – or so is the perception here. So the rethinking of Egyptian-Israeli relations, on this side of the fence, will be limited. I know that disappoints you but in terms of popular relations, it won’t get any warmer for sure.. Politically, state relations will be roughly the same I think.

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  • February 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm
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    I’m sure warmer relations with our neighbors won’t happen until we reach peace with the Palestinians. Until that day, and may it come quickly, I’ll be content with a cold but solid relationship between the states…Mo-ha-med, good luck with what’s happening, keep posting to your blog in between, I appreciate the updates, and have told my FB friends to follow you…

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