Opinion: Illusions and Delusions About the Turmoil in Egypt

Why do so many Jews insist on their divine right to refuse to learn from history? How can a 1930s Stalinist ideology or even a 1960s liberal-socialist-feminist ideology exert such a death-grip over otherwise educated people?

Egyptian soldiers
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Egyptian soldiers

My old friends, Progressive Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow have both written and posted pieces today in order to praise the protesters in the streets of Cairo. Both imagine they are pro-democracy advocates, perhaps like those in Tehran. Both  are very much in a Passover state of mind.

Lerner views the Cairo protesters as similar to the ancient Hebrew slaves of old who rebelled against Pharaoh. The fact that the Hebrews wanted to leave Egypt, not overthrow Pharaoh and stay on under some new Pharaoh does not seem to register with him, nor does he note that technically, the Jews did not overthrow Pharaoh at all, G-d alone did that when Pharaoh pursued the Jews across the Reed Sea.

But forgive me for quibbling with a scholar whose message has a purpose, namely, to “share the news” with the Egyptians that they have “strong support from many in the Jewish world.”

Indeed, alas, they do. And guess what? The people in the streets are probably mainly Islamists and pro-Islamists who hate both Israel and America as well as Jews. Many of the effigies of Mubarak they hanged in Tahrir Square had a face scrawled with Stars of David. The Egyptians are loudly accusing Mubarak of being a “Zionist”—the worst epithet they can use against anyone. They are also writing on bridges and walls: “Traitor, go to Israel,” and “This is the end of all Jews.” In addition, they are blaming America and the “Zionist Lobby” for having supported Mubarak. (They are oddly quiet about the much larger Saudi Lobby which not only supported Mubarak but which also funded most of the Muslim Brotherhood views that they, the people, now hold.

According to a June 2010 Pew opinion survey, here are some of the views from the Cairo Arab Street:

Fifty nine percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics….Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves…84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion…When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Dear Brother Michael: In your ecstatic delirium (Brother Arthur shares this state of consciousness with you) I do not see any evidence that you understand who, exactly, is really in the street. Further, would it interest you to know that, according to Egyptian Sam Tadros, all the known opposition, secular, pro-democracy organizations in Egypt have “no more than 5000 members each”; these pro-democracy parties all lack a military striking force, an economic base, political power, influential meeting halls, and a birth-to-cradle ideology. Only the Muslim Brotherhood has all that and, although they were outlawed, they commanded 20 percent of the seats in Parliament and probably most mosques.

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There are at least a thousand mosques in Cairo alone. And, before their parliamentary strength was gutted by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood had more than twelve times as many members of parliament compared to the next largest opposition faction.

Brother Michael: In your passionate Advisory titled “Why Jews Around the World are Praying for The Victory of the Egyptian Uprising” I urge you to consider these above facts. Although you briefly concede that the “worriers have a point,” what you have instead focused upon is criticizing a “small number of right-wing voices from Israel that lament the change” and criticizing Israel for having allied itself with “repressive regimes in Egypt” for the sake of “economically depriving the Hamas regime of food supplies and equipment to rebuild after Israel’s devastating attack in December 2008 and January 2009.”

Brother: What are you smoking out there in Berkeley? How can you write this without also writing about Hamas’ stated intention to genocidally exterminate Jews and Israel or Hamas’ tyrannical uber-Pharaoh-like reign of tyranny over their own people? How can you blame Israel for Mubarak’s consistent “jailing and torturing of its opponents” (which I also certainly condemn) without blaming Hamas for exactly the same kinds of torture and murder of its opponents?

How can you remain silent about the female genital mutilation which is practiced on 96 percent of Egyptian women or on the honor murders, forced veiling, arranged marriage, polygamy, etc. that characterizes Islamic gender apartheid in the disputed territories and in Egypt—as practiced by the very people you are busy idealizing, when in fact it was Mubarak who, unsuccessfully, banned and actually tried to eliminate some of these barbaric practices.

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How can you demand a “generous, loving, caring” Global Marshall Plan, as introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison, for the Palestinians first among peoples? And for the mainly Muslim Middle East? When it comes to caring and sharing, how dare you forget South Sudan or Congo?

How can you still retain your illusions/delusions about who Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood really are, namely, totalitarian theocratic fundamentalists, practitioners of both religious and gender apartheid, and barbaric misogynists who wish to rule the world in a new Caliphate? Really, how can you overlook and not even mention the mistreatment of women in Egypt, Gaza, and on the West Bank, not to mention in Iran—which is the state entity calling many of the shots in the Arab world?

Well, President Obama managed to deliver a State of the Union message without focusing on women. I guess he is your role model.

As to Arthur of the flowing white beard, the Heschel-lookalike beret, the kindly face: What is wrong with you? You wrote so beautifully in your book G-d-Wrestling—and yet now you are imagining that the Egyptian protesters are “revolutionaries” whom you compare to those ancient Hebrews “who dared to smear blood on their doorposts and come forth from these wombs of rebirth to break the birthing waters of the Red Sea.”

Brother Arthur: I have always appreciated all your female and feminine analogies. but really, have you looked at the photos and the street scenes in Egypt? What do you see? Do you see an orderly line of people exiting Egypt? Or do you see what I see: mainly angry men screaming out against Mubarak as a “Zionist” and angry, anti-American-slogan- spouting women in full and in very severe hijab and niqab? Is this your idea of “rebirth” and “revolution?” And what has this got to do with “Gandhi’s anti-British campaign in India, the fifteen million unemployed Americans, the droughts, the failure of the wheat crop, the heating of our planet, the shoveling and shriveling of blood and limbs, of shattered minds and souls of Americans and Iraqis and Afghans into the trash heaps of illegitimate and unwinnable wars”?

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You just can’t help yourself…does it make you feel good, powerful, to list it all and lump everything together—does this better allow you to refuse to see that they are coming to kill the Jews, your people, G-d’s people, again?

Both you and Michael call for spiritual interfaith community. Fine. Ask the Egyptian Muslims to stop torturing and persecuting the Egyptian Copts. Ask for a safe return for all the Jews who fled Egypt in 1956 because Nasser declared them “enemies of the state.” Why not ask that a new synagogue or church or Hindu or Buddhist temple be built in Saudi Arabia? Why not raise this at your next interfaith meeting?

How can you two be so foolish, so irresponsible?

I have some ideas about why you are holding fast to your world views, but that will require a separate piece. Until then, please consider what I’m saying. Respondez-vous, s’il vous plait.

(Sent to INN by the author. http://www.newsrealblog.com/2011/02/02/illusions-and-delusions-about-the-turmoil-in-egypt-what-is-wrong-with-rabbis-michael-lerner-and-arthur-waskow/ )


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