Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rabbi Michael Lerner on Jewish Support for Egypt's Uprising

There's a terrific piece making the rounds today from Rabbi Michael Lerner (of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun Magazine) on Jewish support for the movement for democracy in Egypt. Lerner's frank commentary on the willingness of Israel and the United States to bargain with Egypt's repressive regime nicely frames the arguments being made by many conservatives right now (e.g. work with "the devil we know" in exchange for securing Israel's borders) but Lerner takes this argument a step further and ties support for the Egyptian people directly to the historical experience of Jewish oppression. From Lerner's article:
Israel has allied itself with repressive regimes in Egypt and used that alliance to ensure that the borders with Gaza would remain closed while Israel attempted to economically deprive the Hamas regime there by denying needed food supplies and equipment to rebuild after Israel's devastating attack in December 2008 and January 2009. If the Egyptian people take over, they are far more likely to side with Hamas than with the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Yet it is impossible for Jews to forget our heritage as victims of another Egyptian tyrant - the Pharaoh whose reliance on brute force was overthrown when the Israelite slaves managed to escape from Egypt some 3,000 years ago. That story of freedom retold each year at our Passover "Seder" celebration, and read in synagogues in the past month, has often predisposed the majority of Jews to side with those struggling for freedom around the world.

To watch hundreds of thousands of Egyptians able to throw off the chains of oppression and the legacy of a totalitarian regime that consistently jailed, tortured or murdered its opponents so overtly that most people were cowed into silence, is to remember that the spark of God continues to flourish no matter how long oppressive regimes manage to keep themselves in power, and that ultimately the yearning for freedom and democracy cannot be totally stamped out no matter how cruel and sophisticated the elites of wealth, power and military might appear to be.
Lerner's observations stand in fairly stark contrast to the narrative coalescing in conservative circles within the US, which are scrambling to paint Egypt's truly populist movement for democracy (and ps, I thought conservatives loved this stuff. Maybe if the Egyptian protesters wore more tri-cornered hats?) as already co-opted by communists and Islamists, despite all evidence to the contrary. As the future of Egypt hangs in the balance, we hope along with Rabbi Lerner that the brave souls on the streets of Cairo know that they have the support of faiths communities the world over as they continue in their struggle for democracy.

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