Democratic Egypt Tests a Divided Israel

Shaul Magid is the Jay and Jeannie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. His next book, Jews and Judaism in Post-Ethnic America: Becoming an American Religion, will be published by the Indiana U. Press.

He has just published on the Religion Dispatches website a very interesting article on the implications for Israel of the thrive for democracy in Egypt.

Here are just a few significant excerpts:

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.

Obama’s “Cairo Speech” disturbed many in Israel and its supporters for numerous reasons. Chief among them was that his call for a democratic shift in the Middle East represented a position Israel had to support even as it knew, for at least two reasons, that it would not necessarily be “good for the Jews.” First, if another true democracy did emerge in the Arab Middle East, Israel’s exceptionalist claim would essentially disappear. And second, given the anti-Israel and Islamist sentiment in the Arab street, Israel knows that an Arab democracy could produce a government even more antagonistic than an autocratic one.

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.

But of all countries, Israel knows that radical, even terrorist, organizations can be transformed. Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man; the Palestinian Authority (formerly the PLO) has become a dependable security force working with Israel in the West Bank; and Israel itself elected two Prime Ministers, Menahem Begin and Yizhak Shamir, who were terrorists earlier in their lives. Both governed according to their nationalist ideals but did not advocate or tolerate terrorists in their government. It should be noted that even some Likud members (Begin and Shamir’s party) voted to effectively ban Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, which arguably advocated and participated in terrorism, from participating in the Knesset.

I think this is more than enough to stimulate your interest.

The whole text could be read HERE.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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