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On That Day (a poem about moshiach for Big Tent Poetry)

Two essays on Egypt and Israel

By way of small follow-up to last week's post On Egypt, Protest, and Liberation, I wanted to share excerpts from a couple of essays I've recently read which speak to the question of how the seismic shifting of power in Egypt may impact Israel.

The first one is Democratic Egypt Tests a Divided Israel by Shaul Magid, published in Religion Dispatches. Magid writes:

Most of us are watching the historic events in Egypt with awe, hoping its citizens will nonviolently replace a repressive and dictatorial regime with a democracy. But those of us with ties to Israel tend to see a more complicated picture, with Israel tracking the unfolding events and viewing a potentially democratic Egypt simultaneously as a victory for freedom and a political liability.

The mainstream Israeli left, perhaps best represented by Haaretz, supports the uprising for democracy and removal of Hosni Mubarak as a positive shift in Middle East politics... The commitment to democracy of the Israeli religious far-right, frequently associated with the settler movement, exists only insofar as it doesn’t threaten the goal of Jewish hegemony in Greater Israel. Its theological ideology focuses more on territory than politics. The position of the government (right, but not far-right), represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is committed to democracy in principle but concerned about what democracy in Egypt might yield.

Magid notes that the revolution in Egypt is sparking the question of what would happen if the nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt sparked massive nonviolent acts of civil disobedience on the part of the Palestinians (and their Israeli supporters) in the West Bank? It's a powerful question, and no one knows the answer. But I agree with Magid when he writes that "We cannot support democratic change contingent on what democracy will bring; even if it may not serve our interests in the short run, it’s still the best alternative human beings have come up with."

And the second one is What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising by Peter Beinart, published in The Daily Beast. Beinart writes:

We’re almost two weeks into the revolution in Egypt and the American media keeps asking the question that my extended family asks during all world events: Is it good for Israel? Ask a Jewish question, get a Jewish answer, by which I mean, another question: What’s good for Israel?

Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely.... [Still,] Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters...

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman.

It may be, Beinart writes, that a new Egyptian government might articulate some of the Egyptian people's anger at Israel's decisions vis-a-vis Gaza. But, he argues, "More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel's policies from hatred of Israel's very existence."

Two smart essays by two smart writers; I commend them both to you.

While I'm on the subject of Israel, the folks at Rabbis for Human Rights recently alerted me to a troubling possibility on the horizon. Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party are seeking to change how human rights organizations operate in Israel, effectively crippling such organizations with beaurocracy. You can read about it, and if you're so inclined can send an email expressing your response, here at the RHR website.

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