05 February 2011

We Are With You

Last night at services I spoke about the coming together of ancient and contemporary narratives, most significantly related to the moments when we read words from the prayerbook about the Exodus from Egypt while Egyptians themselves put their lives on the line to throw off a repressive regime that, paradoxically, has allied itself with Israel's democracy.

Can we pray the words and mean them?  Can we recite a liturgical mantra about God heeding the cry of the oppressed, inspiring us and moving us to freedom back then, in a distant past, and therefore see ourselves as part of a greater narrative of freedom for all people? 

Is the Exodus particular or universal?

These are the religious questions we ought to be asking ourselves at this pivotal moment in history when not only Egyptians but Arabs throughout the region are clamoring for the right to control their own destiny.  And for Israelis in particular and Jews in general, there is both an ancient truth and a contemporary reality that will continue to speak to us as we navigate our way through this.

The ancient truth:  the Jewish people's Exodus from Egypt speaks to the right of human beings to exist in freedom, worshiping a God of their choosing, in command of their own destiny in their own land.

The contemporary reality:  what will the dissolution of regimes that supported a cold peace with Israel mean when democratically elected governments seek to dismantle those peace agreements? 

We ought to support the struggle for freedom--a universal truth; but be ever-vigilant in protecting our self-interest. 

The Times reports on the Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization in San Francisco which supports the Egyptian uprising, but is also an organizing force behind the ill-conceived boycott and divestment movement against Israel, taking a position that many people correctly argue is actually meant to de-legitimate Israel.  Alana Newhouse recently exposed some of this idiotic thinking in writing about the Boycott Israel movement's targeting of the La MaMa theater for hosting an Israeli dance week benefit.

The grandiose narrative of revolution, ever-attractive, has to be tempered by realistic expectations, fragile alliances, and the slow, hard work of building real democratic movements.  A whole heap of chaos lies ahead. 

We woke up this morning to blown up natural gas lines in the Sinai, from which Israel receives 40% of its natural gas; and conflicting reports about assassination attempts on Omar Suleiman.  There is a long, long way to go.

As whole nations in the Middle East stand on the verge of being re-made, Israel is exposed for its own inability to make a lasting peace with Palestinians, a fact (whomever is to blame) that will add another potentially destabilizing element to events as they unfold.

I believe, from my pulpit in Brooklyn, that in moving forward we Jews must embrace the desire for freedom being expressed throughout the Arab world and the greatest reason for our making that argument is found in the shared truths of our own ancient and contemporary narratives.  More than three thousand years ago we liberated ourselves from a Biblical oppression in the land of Egypt and we continue to tell that story in our daily prayers to this day.  And less than 70 years ago, we dedicated ourselves to building a modern state as a free people in its own land--a beautiful and sometimes maddeningly imperfect democracy but a democracy, nonetheless. 

Our message to our Egyptian neighbors ought to be:  We are with you.  And you are with us.  Let's build democracy together, you in your land, we in ours.


Amanda said...

I agree with you, but I wish it were that simple (I guess it could be, but it sure isn't)

Andy Bachman said...

Amanda--If America and Israel are to maintain any claim of exceptionalism, then the diplomacy ought to be both aspirational and pragmatic.

Amanda said...

And your wish most certainly is aspirational and I guess pragmatic, but shouldn't diplomacy also be realizable?

BTW, my goal is not to be a nay sayer, I want peace as much as the next guy, I'm just, unfortunately, not very optimistic.