Watching unrest in Egypt, US Jews voice many concerns, some hopes
American Jews' concerns center on the fear that a new regime in Egypt would not honor the peace with Israel. But other voices call for the community to embrace the cause of Egyptian freedom.
Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor
The dramatic events in Egypt have elicited an outpouring of concerned commentary from the American Jewish community amid fears that successors to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could be more sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism and may not honor the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
But although many of the six million American Jews are burning up the phone lines to relatives and government officials in the region ‚Äď and some key Jewish groups have urged their members to push the White House and Congress to be more vocal in preempting the inclusion of Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt‚Äôs political dialogue ‚Äď there is no formal, unified response, say leading Jewish academics and rabbis.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always a bit dicey to talk about a monolithic, Jewish American response,‚ÄĚ says Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles. ‚ÄúLike most Americans we are taking a wait-and-see response while voicing concern about any kind of Islamic assertion of power in the region.‚ÄĚ
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, sounded a similar theme.
‚ÄúLike all Americans, AIPAC is concerned about how Egypt‚Äôs future will affect American interests in the region,‚ÄĚ says Jennifer Cannata, AIPAC press secretary, via email. ‚ÄúAIPAC hopes that any political transition in Egypt will lead to a pro-American, pro-Western and democratic government that is committed to maintaining Egypt‚Äôs peace treaty with Israel.‚ÄĚ
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), one of the oldest pro-Israel organization in the US says American Jews and Israeli leaders are strongly expressing the same fears, both publicly and privately, about the possible rise of Islamists to power in Egypt and what instability in the region would mean for Israel.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve never seen so many Israeli leaders and others express such deep fears and concerns that extremists will move into power,‚ÄĚ Mr. Klein says, adding that his group is urging its members to lobby both House and Senate members to do whatever possible to stop any Islamic group from taking over in Egypt.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre deeply concerned that [President] Obama and Hillary Clinton have not done or said enough to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood‚Äôs ideology and platform,‚ÄĚ he says. He notes that the group‚Äôs August 2007 platform says women and non-Muslims should not hold important political posts in Egyptian government, calls for jihad (holy war), and states that the clergy must approve all government decisions. He is expressly wary of what democracy could mean in Egypt.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt feel they should be rushing into elections because it‚Äôs likely they would get the same results that Hamas got in Gaza,‚ÄĚ Klein says. ‚ÄúThey won fair and square but is that good for the world and the region? We must say, no.‚ÄĚ
A 'missed opportunity'
That‚Äôs why the ZOA has not been in solidarity with comments from author and television personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach that the Egyptian crisis has been a ‚Äúmissed opportunity‚ÄĚ for American Jews to be more vocal about the spread of democracy in the region.
‚ÄúWe should take this moment to stand in brotherhood with our Arab brothers in their desire for freedom,‚ÄĚ Boteach says.
Some US Jewish groups are going out of their way to promote inter-religious dialogue and tolerance and see this as an historic moment to achieve progress on that front.
‚ÄúWe are very happy because we know that Mubarak has been awfully repressive in torturing people who disagree,‚ÄĚ says management consultant Simma Lieberman, member of Kehilla community synagogue, a progressive synagogue in Piedmont, California. Her congregation sponsors dinners once a year between Christian churches and a mosque in Oakland. ‚ÄúWe see this as an even better chance for peace in the Middle East,‚ÄĚ she says.
‚ÄúAmericans are too easily fooled by their love of loaded words,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúThe Muslim Brotherhood does not mean the same thing when they use the word democracy. There is no such thing as a fundamentalist, Islamic democracy. It‚Äôs an oxymoron.‚ÄĚ
Need to 'overcome our fears'
There is a growing sense among many Jewish Americans, however, that the current movement in Egypt is different, says Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of jewishjournal.com, the largest Jewish news web site outside Israel.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think that freedom is the ‚Äėf‚Äô word. We have to overcome our fears and embrace this,‚ÄĚ he says.
Contrary to what many experts are saying, he says this is a different situation than either Gaza or Iran. Egypt is different, he says.
‚ÄúWhen you know how strong Egyptians are and how oppressed they have been, you can‚Äôt help but feel this is moment for hope and that we should embrace this.‚ÄĚ