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A Letter to the People of Egypt

February 12, 2011

 

Dear Egyptian People,

 

Salam. We are inspired by the courage and determination of the young people who have led this revolution and impressed by the unity of purpose and harmony shown by diverse segments of the population. We rejoice and celebrate with you in what you have achieved, and genuinely share your joy, hopes and dreams for a better future.

 

Our two peoples have known each other a very long time, longer than most peoples. Our intertwined history goes back several thousand years. Our patriarch Abraham, the very first Jew sojourned in Egypt, as did his son, Isaac. Abraham’s great grandson Joseph rose to a position of prominence and served as an important adviser to the Pharaoh. There was the matter of a certain public building project, the pyramids and a subsequent confrontation between our leader, Moses and the Pharaoh, culminating in ten plagues which led to our liberation and hasty departure. Then, as now, freedom from an oppressive leader was a powerful, undefeatable driving force.

 

Beyond the Biblical period, one of the first communities in the Diaspora from the seventh century BCE was in Elephantine, Egypt and throughout the centuries Jews lived in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, contributing to and enriching Egyptian life and civilization. Our most famous resident, Moses Maimonides, who sought and found refuge in your country when he escaped Muslim fanatics who had overrun Spain, served as physician to the king and the royal court while serving as the leader of the Jewish community.

 

Although almost no Jews live in Egypt today, we are neighbors, living in close physical proximity today as well, in that Israel shares its longest border with Egypt.

 

As a result it is fair to say that while the rest of the world watches what is taking place with fascination, we do so not as detached spectators or unaffected bystanders for much more is at stake for us than others.

 

If you have sensed mixed signals from our community, it is not because we are not thrilled by your being liberated from the cruel rule of a dictator who ruled with an iron fist for three decades, and not because we loved him so much, but because we are concerned about what the future will bring.

 

Make no mistake about it, we know that President Hosni Mubarak was not a saint. We are not blind. We know that he was not a very faithful friend. Far from it. His only visit to Israel in the past 20 years was for a few hours, to attend the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. He tolerated and even encouraged hideous anti-Semitic literature and propaganda. Preposterous conspiratorial theories about Jews planning the 9-11 attacks, and poisoning the hearts and minds of Egyptian children were spread. Television shows which portrayed Jews in the worst possible way and which perpetuated the blood libel charge taught you to fear and hate Jews and Israelis. This should come as no surprise, for he repressed truth as well as his own people. Like all dictators he did not allow any opposition or expression of dissatisfaction with his harsh regime.

 

So why would there be any support or sympathy for such a leader? And why would we have any concerns or misgivings about getting rid of such a terrible person?

 

Because despite all of these flaws we appreciate that he kept the peace treaty negotiated by his predecessor, Anwar Sadat and the nation of Israel. He opposed the rabidly fanatic Hamas terrorists who seek the destruction of Israel and did not allow weapons of mass destruction to reach their hands. He cooperated with the United States in its efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and to combat terrorism. These are not insignificant things which can be easily ignored.

 

Perhaps our justified feeling of isolation amidst a sea of hostility makes us blind to the faults of those willing to say they will not go to war against us. Perhaps it is the contrast between the peace, albeit a cold one that he maintained, and the memory of Anwar Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Adbul Nasser, shouting in bellicose tones to massive crowds that he whipped into a frenzy promising to “push the Jews into the sea.” Our anxiety may stem from concerns about the yet to be determined role of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite attempts by some to whitewash their positions, its official policy and goals are to impose sharia law, abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and restore, by violence if necessary, Islam to its position of prominence and world domination. Let’s put it this way: the Muslim Brotherhood’s charter is nothing like the mission or charter of the brotherhood of most synagogues.

 

We worry not just because of our own self interests. We worry for you, and what will happen to your nascent movement for democracy should one tyrannical regime merely be replaced by another totalitarian form of government. History has shown that revolutions’ outcomes are far from certain. The freedoms you fought for and so rightly long for and deserve could disappear.

We hope and pray that the ending will be Eastern Europe, 1989, and not Iran, 1978.

 

Unfortunately, the path chosen by Anwar Sadat, one of recognition and of deeper ties with Israel was not embraced and did not progress to the next stage under Mubarak. The hoped for tourism in both directions never occurred. Israeli academics are banned from Egyptian conferences. Recently a prominent popular Egyptian author refused to allow his book to be translated into Hebrew and banned its publication in Israel. The number one song in Egypt a few years ago was the popular hit, “I hate Israel.”

 

Israel does not seek territory, and is not a threat to you. It willingly did what no other nation that was victorious in war and that had captured land has ever done. For the only time in history a nation relinquished land acquired in a war of self defense, a sacrifice that meant an already small country became 1/3 of its previous size as it gave away 2/3 of its territory. It did so in the hope that a new direction would begin, one of peace and cooperation. So while peace and cooperation would have been nice and good for both of us, we have made do with just one, with peace.

 

The peace that has held for the past thirty years has been good not just for Israel. It has been almost a generation since our sons faced each other in war, and this is good for you as well as for us.

 

If the fear-mongers prevail and those who call for nullifying the treaty with Israel seize power, after Israel gave up tangibles for something ephemeral and intangible, a promise on a piece of paper which can be abrogated, you must know that it will make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to ever again agree to any kind of territorial compromise with any other Arab ruler or nation.

 

For democracy to be successful it requires adhering to principles such as free speech and a free press, freedom to organize, a stable economy that offers opportunity for all, a rejection of corruption as an integral part of the system, independent political parties, an open and pluralistic educational system, respect and guaranteed rights for minorities, and abiding by agreements and upholding treaties negotiated with neighbors. It is much more than just voting, as anti-democratic forces can achieve power and squash and destroy the very system they used to gain power. Free elections are what brought Hamas to power in Gaza, and Adolph Hitler in Germany.

 

This is a hopeful moment for all the world whose eyes are on you. We extend our hand in peace and friendship and hope you will continue to inspire us by following the brave path of freedom and the vision of Anwar Sadat who turned away from war and destruction when he and his partner, Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin proclaimed, “no more war, salam, shalom, peace.”

 

B’shalom, with friendship and best wishes,

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy,

Rabbinical Assembly

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Also published on Medium.

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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.