Archive for February, 2011

February 13, 2011

Exodus versus Revolution, Exodus as Revolution

by Gedalyah Reback

Reporters, analysts and even some progressive Rabbis have made literary-styled allusions to the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Hebrews’ Exodus in light of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I’ve personally found the comparisons either to be token or hollow. It is not necessarily because of the invokation of religious heritage on the revolutionary tidal wave hitting the Arab World. However, there is an importance distinction between the two events worth describing here. By defining that contrast, we can understand what comparisons are right to make.

THIS REVOLUTION BELONGS TO EGYPTIANS. The Exodus does not. From a national or an ethnic perspective, the Hebrews were able to leave the dominion of a foreign power. Even from a religious perspective, which arguably can be said to be in the merit of Muslim Egyptians, the demands Moses made of Pharoah were explicitly for the freedom of worship for the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. That is to say, the “Revolution” of the Hebrews projected a freedom of worship for the Hebrews through which Moses never directly stated to Pharoah the Hebrews would permanently abandon their enslavement in Egypt. Moses, Aaron and anyone else privy to the statements of God as written in scripture, knew that the statements to Pharoah were merely a front and that the liberation the Hebrews would experience was a freedom to worship in their own country.

While the implications of the above paragraph allude to greater issues of freedom of worship and even the freedom to be obligated to that worship, they constitute a completely different topic. For Egyptians, the oppression they face may only be akin to the economic depravity of the authoritarian Mubarak government. However, Egypt is their country, while Egypt was not the possession ofthe Hebrews. Economically, Egyptians (as well as Tunisians and other Arab peoples) live under the remnants of Arab nationalist socialism. Socialist policies, in this case as defined by Egypt’s 40-year-old constitution and reaffirmed by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Council (supreme court) on several occasions, limits and deprives economic rights. In this respect, with the constant adherence to arbitrary policies about business licenses, Arabs could be “enslaved” to their governments.

An Al-Jazeera-published editorial by Tikkun’s Michael Lerner makes the comparison. He expressed a Jewish identification plugged into Jewish experience with slavery in Egypt. But I have to say those words were not meant for the Jewish public, but the Arab public. They were not the wrong thing to say, but they were words of diplomacy and not words of ideology and assuredly not theology. Our Jewish theology takes pains to sever the connection with Egypt, despite the fact Jewish communities have periodically redeveloped there: the alternative temple in Alexandria, the centering of Rabbinical greats such as Maimonides or the Radvaz, and the extant community that fled in the 1940s. Maimonides himself identified himself as a sinner for “going back there” to Egypt, in contravention of the Biblical directive.

BUT THERE ARE diplomatic words worth reaffirming among ourselves. The words of the aforementioned editorial were window dressing, a facade and surface structure. The proverbial deep structure gives us Biblical versus to respect Egyptians (after a gap of several generations removed from the Exodus) precisely for their initial kindness to allow or ancestors to dwell in Egypt to escape regional famine (decades before being enslaved). Egyptians are not relegated to the category of “those whose welfare you shall not pursue:” the Moabites and Ammonites. They are permitted, in a liberal reading even invited, to join the “congregation” of God conceived in the Sinai Desert and implanted in our own country in Israel.

EGYPT’S REVOLUTION IS SIGNIFICANT FOR THEM. The significance to us of their revolution is very different; it is strategic, implicative and political. Their liberation is constituted by economic, democratic and expressive freedoms. It contrasts with our Exodus in that our freedom was religious, the right to own property and dwell freely on our own land. The socialism they will presumably roll back envests all financial power in the state and will consequently disseminate to individuals in Egypt. For us, as the Biblical verses state, the freedom to reclaim our own landed property was given to us as a matter of law forever, turning over from its renters to the original owners on a 50-year-cycle. Our freedoms were dictated by God and provided in the context of his religious worship. Egypt will have to decide how much of a role God will play as they redraw their consitution and reapply the mixed interests of liberal democrats and Islamists.

If we are going to identify with Egyptians in their revolution, it is yet to be defined beyond a possible Biblical permit to seek their welfare. We could come to define a list of mutual interests. They might constitute democracy, the balance of religious obligation with personal freedom, and the balance of communal interests with the desires of an individual (another priority for Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Council).

MODERN ISRAEL AND MODERN EGYPT (and for that matter modern Iran) may be seen in a wider, even if schitzophrenic, attempt to implement democratic principles in religious governance and religious principles in democratic governance. Israel has obviously taken a very different approach than Iran, whereas Israelis only see civil religious rule and on a limited scale, while Iranians experience a harshly interpreted version of religious law applied across their legal spectrum.

Egyptians face choices in jetisoning Western priorities in law and following the direction of Iran. Or they could follow the Israeli arrangement that allows civil theocratic intervention. Or finally, they could conceive a newer advanced concept of Islamic or religious constitutionalism (which could have consequences for how Religious Zionists conceive the possibility of expanding religious influence on Israeli law).

BUT THESE ARE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MODERN AGE and do not at all come out ofphantom parallels between the Exodus on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. There are a lot of interests that come up for both countries from this intellectual exercise, though it should be obvious the ancient liberation of the Hebrews was something apart from the recent liberation of Egyptians. But the message to Arabs in Al-Jazeera was right to be sent, not for its content but for the fact it shows valuable support for their endeavors. Its statements about contemporary politics (and specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) cannot truly speak for all Jews, but it is much better than nothing. there is an opportunity here to create a true dialog between Israelis and Egyptians not present during the rule of Mubarak. May a free press flourish there that lets us communicate with the Egyptian street once impossible, and let our identification with Egypt become real and also mutual.

February 13, 2011

Exodus versus Revolution, Exodus as Revolution

by Gedalyah Reback

Reporters, analysts and even some progressive Rabbis have made literary-styled allusions to the Pharoahs of Egypt and the Hebrews’ Exodus in light of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I’ve personally found the comparisons either to be token or hollow. It is not necessarily because of the invokation of religious heritage on the revolutionary tidal wave hitting the Arab World. However, there is an importance distinction between the two events worth describing here. By defining that contrast, we can understand what comparisons are right to make.

THIS REVOLUTION BELONGS TO EGYPTIANS. The Exodus does not. From a national or an ethnic perspective, the Hebrews were able to leave the dominion of a foreign power. Even from a religious perspective, which arguably can be said to be in the merit of Muslim Egyptians, the demands Moses made of Pharoah were explicitly for the freedom of worship for the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. That is to say, the “Revolution” of the Hebrews projected a freedom of worship for the Hebrews through which Moses never directly stated to Pharoah the Hebrews would permanently abandon their enslavement in Egypt. Moses, Aaron and anyone else privy to the statements of God as written in scripture, knew that the statements to Pharoah were merely a front and that the liberation the Hebrews would experience was a freedom to worship in their own country.

While the implications of the above paragraph allude to greater issues of freedom of worship and even the freedom to be obligated to that worship, they constitute a completely different topic. For Egyptians, the oppression they face may only be akin to the economic depravity of the authoritarian Mubarak government. However, Egypt is their country, while Egypt was not the possession ofthe Hebrews. Economically, Egyptians (as well as Tunisians and other Arab peoples) live under the remnants of Arab nationalist socialism. Socialist policies, in this case as defined by Egypt’s 40-year-old constitution and reaffirmed by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Council (supreme court) on several occasions, limits and deprives economic rights. In this respect, with the constant adherence to arbitrary policies about business licenses, Arabs could be “enslaved” to their governments.

An Al-Jazeera-published editorial by Tikkun’s Michael Lerner makes the comparison. He expressed a Jewish identification plugged into Jewish experience with slavery in Egypt. But I have to say those words were not meant for the Jewish public, but the Arab public. They were not the wrong thing to say, but they were words of diplomacy and not words of ideology and assuredly not theology. Our Jewish theology takes pains to sever the connection with Egypt, despite the fact Jewish communities have periodically redeveloped there: the alternative temple in Alexandria, the centering of Rabbinical greats such as Maimonides or the Radvaz, and the extant community that fled in the 1940s. Maimonides himself identified himself as a sinner for “going back there” to Egypt, in contravention of the Biblical directive.

BUT THERE ARE diplomatic words worth reaffirming among ourselves. The words of the aforementioned editorial were window dressing, a facade and surface structure. The proverbial deep structure gives us Biblical versus to respect Egyptians (after a gap of several generations removed from the Exodus) precisely for their initial kindness to allow or ancestors to dwell in Egypt to escape regional famine (decades before being enslaved). Egyptians are not relegated to the category of “those whose welfare you shall not pursue:” the Moabites and Ammonites. They are permitted, in a liberal reading even invited, to join the “congregation” of God conceived in the Sinai Desert and implanted in our own country in Israel.

EGYPT’S REVOLUTION IS SIGNIFICANT FOR THEM. The significance to us of their revolution is very different; it is strategic, implicative and political. Their liberation is constituted by economic, democratic and expressive freedoms. It contrasts with our Exodus in that our freedom was religious, the right to own property and dwell freely on our own land. The socialism they will presumably roll back envests all financial power in the state and will consequently disseminate to individuals in Egypt. For us, as the Biblical verses state, the freedom to reclaim our own landed property was given to us as a matter of law forever, turning over from its renters to the original owners on a 50-year-cycle. Our freedoms were dictated by God and provided in the context of his religious worship. Egypt will have to decide how much of a role God will play as they redraw their consitution and reapply the mixed interests of liberal democrats and Islamists.

If we are going to identify with Egyptians in their revolution, it is yet to be defined beyond a possible Biblical permit to seek their welfare. We could come to define a list of mutual interests. They might constitute democracy, the balance of religious obligation with personal freedom, and the balance of communal interests with the desires of an individual (another priority for Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Council).

MODERN ISRAEL AND MODERN EGYPT (and for that matter modern Iran) may be seen in a wider, even if schitzophrenic, attempt to implement democratic principles in religious governance and religious principles in democratic governance. Israel has obviously taken a very different approach than Iran, whereas Israelis only see civil religious rule and on a limited scale, while Iranians experience a harshly interpreted version of religious law applied across their legal spectrum.

Egyptians face choices in jetisoning Western priorities in law and following the direction of Iran. Or they could follow the Israeli arrangement that allows civil theocratic intervention. Or finally, they could conceive a newer advanced concept of Islamic or religious constitutionalism (which could have consequences for how Religious Zionists conceive the possibility of expanding religious influence on Israeli law).

BUT THESE ARE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MODERN AGE and do not at all come out ofphantom parallels between the Exodus on the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. There are a lot of interests that come up for both countries from this intellectual exercise, though it should be obvious the ancient liberation of the Hebrews was something apart from the recent liberation of Egyptians. But the message to Arabs in Al-Jazeera was right to be sent, not for its content but for the fact it shows valuable support for their endeavors. Its statements about contemporary politics (and specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) cannot truly speak for all Jews, but it is much better than nothing. there is an opportunity here to create a true dialog between Israelis and Egyptians not present during the rule of Mubarak. May a free press flourish there that lets us communicate with the Egyptian street once impossible, and let our identification with Egypt become real and also mutual.

February 11, 2011

Israel’s Best Policy Option: Democracy in Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh the week of the uprising, and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. The united States, after a stumbling start, has positioned itself as the biggest supporter of the demonstrators in the world. The administration does want to be associated with Mubarak as Jimmy Carter was associated with the Shah. Israel has diverted sharply from this position, and been much more extreme its flip-flopping. Israel’s anxiety about the Islamic Brotherhood is guiding its policy, a position that hinged its practicality on the realistic possibility Mubarak would hold on to power.

The Israeli approach, at this point, is far more precarious than that of the Obama Administration. Buffered initially by calls from other Middle Eastern powers like Saudi Arabic to urge a cautious transition in Egypt, the direction of Saudi Arabia’s response to the American stance reduces Israel’s options. Saudi Arabia is now opting for a diplomatic opening with Iran, showing a glaring divide between the US and Saudi Arabia. Any flaring hope Saudi Arabia and Israel would be on the same page has, again, been dowsed.

At this point, the Netanyahu government has to do damage control for its reckless statements early in the process. Initially smart enough to order ministers to keep quiet, it was Bibi himself that dropped the verbiage that angered Egyptians and made Israel out to be a supporter of authoritarianism. Without a sharp and unequivocal turn in Israeli foreign policy, it could find itself isolated from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (even if all three countries turn out to be rivals).

As the US aims to move in the opposite direction of its 1979 reaction to Iran’s revolution, so too should Israel consider a counter-intuitive approach. As Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked in Iran after a long exile in Iraq and France, the former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was sending congratulatory messages to the revolutionary leader. He followed up his diplomacy consistently, and offered his congratulations again when a referendum passed the new constitution of the Islamic Republic.

This approach seemed to have been beyond awkward. Syria was then ruled, as it is today, by the Baath party. The Baath is a secular, Arab nationalist party influenced by the socialist doctrines propagated by the Soviet Union. It had the same ideological position as the Iraqi Baath party of Saddam Hussein. In 1980, Hussein invaded Iran, fearing a stabilized religious regime would encourage Iraq’s own Shiite population to revolt (in response to Iraq’s invasion, it made that a cornerstone of Iranian strategy when Iran invaded Iraq in 1982).

However, the Syrian approach was motivated more by its regional isolation and strategic pessimism than by its ideological positions. As of 1979, Syria was for various reasons isolated in the Arab world. Egypt under Anwar Sadat was concluding a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were consolidating a strategic alliance supported by the United States. Iraq had cut off its oil pipeline to Syria.

Israel circumstantially faces a similar sort of isolation. For whatever reasons this may be happening, its isolation from Turkey, the still dormant relationship with Iran and the weak relationship with the Egyptian people as of now signal an even heavier dependence on the United States than ever before. Even more acute, the frozen relationship with the Palestinians and lack of exit strategy from its occupying position in the West Bank leave the country needing a new outlook on its surroundings, policies and outreach to its neighbors.

It will take more than a cosmetic change to lift the country’s position in the region permanently. Israel can secure its treaty with Egypt and more by supporting the revolution to the utmost. Concerning Israel’s relationship with the United States, it makes the need more acute. Supporting civil rights will go much further for Israeli security than aligning with the tyrannical forces of Hosni Mubarak or his Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has no reason to rebuff reinforcing its ties to Israel, and that’s a line that ought to accompany a vocal support from Jerusalem for a democratic Egypt. Israel has the ability to protect a new Egyptian government from Saudi and Iranian intelligence. It can address the country’s burgeoning water crisis by offering desalinization technology in abundance. Israel also has rising ties with African states along the Nile, positioning itself as a mediator between those countries and Egypt.

There are other opportunities as well. From the side of how Egypt’s policies might change, Israel should see this as a chance to foster an array of parties, including long precluded minorities, that would diversify Egypt’s political outlook. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly has a monopoly on Egyptian political philosophy. In fact, Coptic Egyptians may provide an avenue to rekindle relationships between Israel and the Middle East’s embattled Christian populations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Most importantly, near and long term, a successful Egyptian revolution will increase pressure on Iran. The demonstrations in 2009 are still fresh in the minds of young Iranians, who are watching with envy the fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. As I write this, Iranian opposition figures are very publicly trying to start a new round of demonstrations in Iran. A democratic flowering there would alleviate the strategic adversity Israelis face in the Middle East, no matter what government would seem to take power in Tehran.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution.

Israel can enable the ideological option in a way Syria could not with 1979 Iran. Considering that ideologically-guided policy would be defined by supporting democracy, it avoids the arbitrariness of dictators. The fears of democracy in Israel are more attributable to near-term developments, not long-term. For whatever difficulties Israel might see with the Palestinians, denying Arab aspirations for civil rights is neither pragmatic nor moral. A different approach, even just to stir up debate in the Middle East about relations with Israel, is beneficial to the Jewish state.

February 11, 2011

Israel’s Best Policy Option: Democracy in Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh the week of the uprising, and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. The united States, after a stumbling start, has positioned itself as the biggest supporter of the demonstrators in the world. The administration does want to be associated with Mubarak as Jimmy Carter was associated with the Shah. Israel has diverted sharply from this position, and been much more extreme its flip-flopping. Israel’s anxiety about the Islamic Brotherhood is guiding its policy, a position that hinged its practicality on the realistic possibility Mubarak would hold on to power.

The Israeli approach, at this point, is far more precarious than that of the Obama Administration. Buffered initially by calls from other Middle Eastern powers like Saudi Arabic to urge a cautious transition in Egypt, the direction of Saudi Arabia’s response to the American stance reduces Israel’s options. Saudi Arabia is now opting for a diplomatic opening with Iran, showing a glaring divide between the US and Saudi Arabia. Any flaring hope Saudi Arabia and Israel would be on the same page has, again, been dowsed.

At this point, the Netanyahu government has to do damage control for its reckless statements early in the process. Initially smart enough to order ministers to keep quiet, it was Bibi himself that dropped the verbiage that angered Egyptians and made Israel out to be a supporter of authoritarianism. Without a sharp and unequivocal turn in Israeli foreign policy, it could find itself isolated from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (even if all three countries turn out to be rivals).

As the US aims to move in the opposite direction of its 1979 reaction to Iran’s revolution, so too should Israel consider a counter-intuitive approach. As Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked in Iran after a long exile in Iraq and France, the former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was sending congratulatory messages to the revolutionary leader. He followed up his diplomacy consistently, and offered his congratulations again when a referendum passed the new constitution of the Islamic Republic.

This approach seemed to have been beyond awkward. Syria was then ruled, as it is today, by the Baath party. The Baath is a secular, Arab nationalist party influenced by the socialist doctrines propagated by the Soviet Union. It had the same ideological position as the Iraqi Baath party of Saddam Hussein. In 1980, Hussein invaded Iran, fearing a stabilized religious regime would encourage Iraq’s own Shiite population to revolt (in response to Iraq’s invasion, it made that a cornerstone of Iranian strategy when Iran invaded Iraq in 1982).

However, the Syrian approach was motivated more by its regional isolation and strategic pessimism than by its ideological positions. As of 1979, Syria was for various reasons isolated in the Arab world. Egypt under Anwar Sadat was concluding a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were consolidating a strategic alliance supported by the United States. Iraq had cut off its oil pipeline to Syria.

Israel circumstantially faces a similar sort of isolation. For whatever reasons this may be happening, its isolation from Turkey, the still dormant relationship with Iran and the weak relationship with the Egyptian people as of now signal an even heavier dependence on the United States than ever before. Even more acute, the frozen relationship with the Palestinians and lack of exit strategy from its occupying position in the West Bank leave the country needing a new outlook on its surroundings, policies and outreach to its neighbors.

It will take more than a cosmetic change to lift the country’s position in the region permanently. Israel can secure its treaty with Egypt and more by supporting the revolution to the utmost. Concerning Israel’s relationship with the United States, it makes the need more acute. Supporting civil rights will go much further for Israeli security than aligning with the tyrannical forces of Hosni Mubarak or his Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has no reason to rebuff reinforcing its ties to Israel, and that’s a line that ought to accompany a vocal support from Jerusalem for a democratic Egypt. Israel has the ability to protect a new Egyptian government from Saudi and Iranian intelligence. It can address the country’s burgeoning water crisis by offering desalinization technology in abundance. Israel also has rising ties with African states along the Nile, positioning itself as a mediator between those countries and Egypt.

There are other opportunities as well. From the side of how Egypt’s policies might change, Israel should see this as a chance to foster an array of parties, including long precluded minorities, that would diversify Egypt’s political outlook. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly has a monopoly on Egyptian political philosophy. In fact, Coptic Egyptians may provide an avenue to rekindle relationships between Israel and the Middle East’s embattled Christian populations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Most importantly, near and long term, a successful Egyptian revolution will increase pressure on Iran. The demonstrations in 2009 are still fresh in the minds of young Iranians, who are watching with envy the fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. As I write this, Iranian opposition figures are very publicly trying to start a new round of demonstrations in Iran. A democratic flowering there would alleviate the strategic adversity Israelis face in the Middle East, no matter what government would seem to take power in Tehran.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution.

Israel can enable the ideological option in a way Syria could not with 1979 Iran. Considering that ideologically-guided policy would be defined by supporting democracy, it avoids the arbitrariness of dictators. The fears of democracy in Israel are more attributable to near-term developments, not long-term. For whatever difficulties Israel might see with the Palestinians, denying Arab aspirations for civil rights is neither pragmatic nor moral. A different approach, even just to stir up debate in the Middle East about relations with Israel, is beneficial to the Jewish state.

February 9, 2011

An Israeli-Lebanese Peace Treaty

by Gedalyah Reback

The basic outline of an Israeli-Lebanese treaty has never been drawn. But its tenets would be simple – much simpler than an Israeli-Syrian treaty and by far easier to implement than an Israeli-Palestinian treaty.

There are truly no qualms between the two countries. Before the war in 2006, only convoluted claims to territory Israel acquired from Syria (in the Golan Heights) by Hizbullah prevented a political connection between the two countries. But of course, this was only regarding disputes between the two states. The role Syria plays on Lebanese policy would prevent any Lebanese treaty coming to fruition before one between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Truthfully, the ascent of Hizbullah into the cabinet would put it into a precarious position. If the West allows Hizbullah to have significant influence on the government, public overtures by Israel would complicate the party’s ability to manage the coalition it would lead. Lebanese society may be frustrated by 2006 and its past experiences with Israel, but the animosity is not virulent in each community. Christians have historic alliances with the Israelis, and initially supported the Israeli operations in July 2006 (before they undid Lebanese infrastructure).

A treaty would alleviate much of the pressure on Lebanon coming from its eastern neighbor and defang any reason for Hizbullah to maintain its weapons arsenal. A sustained, honest and public appeal to the Lebanese people from credible Israeli leadership would divide the Lebanese electorate on questions of reconciling with the Israelis, coming to term with the past, arranging compensation for unnecessary infrastructure destruction or deaths, and coming to some mutual understanding about the Shebaa Farms (the territory under dispute).

Such a question would have the potential to break the coalition Hizbullah has managed to foster and swing the Lebanese center, or its oscillating minority groups, back into the pro-Western political camp. The support of the United States, France and even Turkey would make such a treaty iron-clad and potentially could reopen Beirut to the international investment it enjoyed before the civil war (beginning in 1975).

Lebanon may now have grievances over infrastructure damage from the 2006 war or how to delineate the maritime border between the two countries when it comes to drilling for offshore gas. These are issues that are, in the realistic sense, cheap. They can be dealt with easily. The effect a peace treaty would have on the Lebanese economy would be astounding.

There is no reason why the mere attempt to trip up Hizbullah should not be implemented. No matter how many times Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are referenced, or the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar are brought up, each time a treaty is suggested Lebanese will grow warmer to the idea. Hizbullah need not be opposed solely by the gun, but also by the pen.

February 8, 2011

An Israeli-Lebanese Peace Treaty

by Gedalyah Reback

The basic outline of an Israeli-Lebanese treaty has never been drawn. But its tenets would be simple – much simpler than an Israeli-Syrian treaty and by far easier to implement than an Israeli-Palestinian treaty.

There are truly no qualms between the two countries. Before the war in 2006, only convoluted claims to territory Israel acquired from Syria (in the Golan Heights) by Hizbullah prevented a political connection between the two countries. But of course, this was only regarding disputes between the two states. The role Syria plays on Lebanese policy would prevent any Lebanese treaty coming to fruition before one between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Truthfully, the ascent of Hizbullah into the cabinet would put it into a precarious position. If the West allows Hizbullah to have significant influence on the government, public overtures by Israel would complicate the party’s ability to manage the coalition it would lead. Lebanese society may be frustrated by 2006 and its past experiences with Israel, but the animosity is not virulent in each community. Christians have historic alliances with the Israelis, and initially supported the Israeli operations in July 2006 (before they undid Lebanese infrastructure).

A treaty would alleviate much of the pressure on Lebanon coming from its eastern neighbor and defang any reason for Hizbullah to maintain its weapons arsenal. A sustained, honest and public appeal to the Lebanese people from credible Israeli leadership would divide the Lebanese electorate on questions of reconciling with the Israelis, coming to term with the past, arranging compensation for unnecessary infrastructure destruction or deaths, and coming to some mutual understanding about the Shebaa Farms (the territory under dispute).

Such a question would have the potential to break the coalition Hizbullah has managed to foster and swing the Lebanese center, or its oscillating minority groups, back into the pro-Western political camp. The support of the United States, France and even Turkey would make such a treaty iron-clad and potentially could reopen Beirut to the international investment it enjoyed before the civil war (beginning in 1975).

Lebanon may now have grievances over infrastructure damage from the 2006 war or how to delineate the maritime border between the two countries when it comes to drilling for offshore gas. These are issues that are, in the realistic sense, cheap. They can be dealt with easily. The effect a peace treaty would have on the Lebanese economy would be astounding.

There is no reason why the mere attempt to trip up Hizbullah should not be implemented. No matter how many times Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are referenced, or the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar are brought up, each time a treaty is suggested Lebanese will grow warmer to the idea. Hizbullah need not be opposed solely by the gun, but also by the pen.

February 8, 2011

Overestimating the Brotherhood’s Appeal

by Gedalyah Reback

The Muslim Brotherhood has been in rampant decline for several decades. Egypt was once its epicenter, but we now encounter an aging and inhibited international movement. In a piece in Foreign Policy several months ago, the international organization, centered in Egypt, was described as “sluggish and unresponsive.” It has done little to reverberate across the region, particularly because it has focused so much attention on Egypt.


Mohamed Morsi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood

Articles like ” The Accommodationists Speak” (International Journal of Middle East Studies (1995), 27: 321-339) see the movement as trying to work within the system to engineer Islamist change to the Egyptian government. In actuality, it is a lack of power that has kept the movement from being more assertive, if not acquiescing completely to the will of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

One example of how this has played out in a rather dimwitted way for the Brotherhood was its folly two weeks ago to publicly announce it wouldn’t participate in the protests against Mubarak’s police state because it would occur the same day as a national holiday for the police. Egyptian cynics would point to this as a prime example of the Brotherhood’s problems in an electoral system. Its credibility may need several election cycles to recover.

What it has on its side is it might be the best organized political party besides Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). But its lack of total appeal across the Egyptian sociopolitical spectrum could mark the point where not only democracy takes hold in the Middle East, but a movement against the political party structure.

The NDP ran and won every election the state organized, but hardly gained absolute majorities in parliament. The way it organized them was not by making coalitions with other parties, but by inviting the slew of independent candidates in Parliament into the party ex post facto (The Mubarak Leadership and Future of Democracy in Egypt by Alaa Al-Din Arafat). Many of these independents had been affiliated with the NDP beforehand, but may not have successfully gotten onto the party’s electoral lists. As a result, the NDP served in the same way of a coalition would in parliamentary democracies in other countries. The difference here was that the party still functioned like a party in the Soviet sense of the world, or in the same way the Baathist party governed Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

This history of “semi-democratic” rule in Egypt will likely challenge the Muslim Brotherhood as it attempts to foster an electoral base to win the first cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections in a new Egypt. In the same way NDP candidates commonly ran independent to disassociate itself with the party or to circumvent the party’s selection process, Egyptians could see independent candidacy as a viable option to avoid having to either run as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, or to have to vote for it.

February 8, 2011

Realingment in the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

Speaking from a perspective just before Shabbat here, with a week’s worth of headlines rattling around my brain, my instincts tell me this country, Israel, will simply need to continue punching above its own weight in the Middle East.


Along the Israeli-Egyptian Border.

No matter who takes over Egypt, things promise to get more difficult. But that can be limited. Everything gets better before it gets worse, but it does not have to stay that way. The truth is, Egyptians under a democratic regime would loathe the idea of going to war and would oppose an Islamic Brotherhood attempt to send the country into a collision course with Israel. Additionally, the party has to recover credibility it lost to years of being co-opted by the Mubarak regime.

Even so, Israel will have to prepare for the worst case scenario – the Muslim Brotherhood wielding absolute power, repealing the treaty between the two countries and arming Hamas. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player in Cairo, and will have to deal with an emergent movement of opposition parties over the next few months. Iran’s proclamations Egypt is heading down the path of Islamic revolution is more rhetorical than actual. Besides, whatever gains made by the Muslim Brotherhood would be more than offset by new protests in Tehran itself, which seem to be inevitable.

Over the next few months, the Israeli government is going to have to redesign its foreign policy approach. Firstly, it should praise the revolution in Egypt, even if this causes fallout with Mubarak. In the same way Mubarak knows Israel cannot do a thing about anti-Semitic propaganda in state media, Mubarak has no choice for his own sake but to continue a strong embargo on Hamas and block arms shipments.

Over the next few years, the democratization of the Middle East, be it slow or quick, should be the cornerstone of an ideological foreign policy. It has to be. Without such support, Israel will not be able to shake an additional association with authoritarian regimes throughout the region. Simultaneously, democracy enables Israel to more easily lobby different constituencies in various countries seeking support for, at the least, treaties, and at the most, alliances. Minority groups in North Africa like the Berbers or Coptic Christians, the Kurds, Maronites and Druze of the Fertile Crescent, provide stark and realistic possible allies.

Most importantly, Israel will have to engage Egypt intimately and assertively. Congratulating Egyptians publicly for whatever achievements they obtain is a priority. Offers to protect a moderate and democratic government from the Saudis or Iranians should be made. Offers to mediate between Egypt and lower African countries (with whom Israel is growing closer to) give plenty of reason to maintain a balanced relationship.

A free media in Egypt may be the most important development. Even under Mubarak, as mentioned above, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda have been common. It was not so much out of undercutting the Israelis that such things were printed in Egyptian papers, but to feebly distract Egyptians from the slew of domestic issues they faced and displace any resentment they had toward the Mubarak regime.

Such simplistic thinking did not do justice to Egyptian wits, nor does this meager paragraph do justice to this topic. But Israel and Egypt are far from getting a definitive divorce. There is plenty of reason to think the relationship can actually be improved as so long as the Israeli government makes a persistent effort.


Tahrir Square on Friday, February 4, 2011 – “Day of Departure”

Any vocal support from Jerusalem now can go a long way in tripping up any Iranian designs to take advantage of the situation, poor more fuel on the fire and push the protest movement across the Iranian border.

February 8, 2011

Realignment in the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

Speaking from a perspective just before Shabbat here, with a week’s worth of headlines rattling around my brain, my instincts tell me this country, Israel, will simply need to continue punching above its own weight in the Middle East.


Along the Israeli-Egyptian Border.

No matter who takes over Egypt, things promise to get more difficult. But that can be limited. Everything gets better before it gets worse, but it does not have to stay that way. The truth is, Egyptians under a democratic regime would loathe the idea of going to war and would oppose an Islamic Brotherhood attempt to send the country into a collision course with Israel. Additionally, the party has to recover credibility it lost to years of being co-opted by the Mubarak regime.

Even so, Israel will have to prepare for the worst case scenario – the Muslim Brotherhood wielding absolute power, repealing the treaty between the two countries and arming Hamas. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player in Cairo, and will have to deal with an emergent movement of opposition parties over the next few months. Iran’s proclamations Egypt is heading down the path of Islamic revolution is more rhetorical than actual. Besides, whatever gains made by the Muslim Brotherhood would be more than offset by new protests in Tehran itself, which seem to be inevitable.

Over the next few months, the Israeli government is going to have to redesign its foreign policy approach. Firstly, it should praise the revolution in Egypt, even if this causes fallout with Mubarak. In the same way Mubarak knows Israel cannot do a thing about anti-Semitic propaganda in state media, Mubarak has no choice for his own sake but to continue a strong embargo on Hamas and block arms shipments.

Over the next few years, the democratization of the Middle East, be it slow or quick, should be the cornerstone of an ideological foreign policy. It has to be. Without such support, Israel will not be able to shake an additional association with authoritarian regimes throughout the region. Simultaneously, democracy enables Israel to more easily lobby different constituencies in various countries seeking support for, at the least, treaties, and at the most, alliances. Minority groups in North Africa like the Berbers or Coptic Christians, the Kurds, Maronites and Druze of the Fertile Crescent, provide stark and realistic possible allies.

Most importantly, Israel will have to engage Egypt intimately and assertively. Congratulating Egyptians publicly for whatever achievements they obtain is a priority. Offers to protect a moderate and democratic government from the Saudis or Iranians should be made. Offers to mediate between Egypt and lower African countries (with whom Israel is growing closer to) give plenty of reason to maintain a balanced relationship.

A free media in Egypt may be the most important development. Even under Mubarak, as mentioned above, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda have been common. It was not so much out of undercutting the Israelis that such things were printed in Egyptian papers, but to feebly distract Egyptians from the slew of domestic issues they faced and displace any resentment they had toward the Mubarak regime.

Such simplistic thinking did not do justice to Egyptian wits, nor does this meager paragraph do justice to this topic. But Israel and Egypt are far from getting a definitive divorce. There is plenty of reason to think the relationship can actually be improved as so long as the Israeli government makes a persistent effort.


Tahrir Square on Friday, February 4, 2011 – “Day of Departure”

Any vocal support from Jerusalem now can go a long way in tripping up any Iranian designs to take advantage of the situation, poor more fuel on the fire and push the protest movement across the Iranian border.

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