Everyone has an Egypt

A good leader is an asset, and there may be appreciated help along the way, but no one else can do it for you.

A tourist takes a photo of the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo (photo credit: REUTERS)
A tourist takes a photo of the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Passover, themes of freedom and responsibility capture minds and hearts. We prepare to ask and accept difficult questions about individual and collective identity and though some may have no obvious answer, respond by learning and recounting the tale of a historic transition from slavery to liberty, reflecting on the significance and relevance of this journey for each one of those seated at the table, to which all are welcomed.
Identifying so deeply with this paradigm of the journey from slavery to freedom, just days before his assassination Martin Luther King delivered a historic speech: “If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?’ I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there... Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’” That is the collective experience which we are obligated to inculcate into our children. But beyond the collective, there are significant implications. If collectively Egypt represents the physical enslavement of a nation by another, individually it represents an acceptance of personal responsibility to liberate ourselves from that which has a hold on us, be it work, technology, another individual.
This requires deep and meaningful reflection, to identify that which is worth struggling for and that which chains us and prevents us from doing so. This requires personal honesty and accountability which cannot be attained if we are consumed with blame of others.
External challenges keeping us from freedom are easier to identify. Internal hurdles are much more difficult, not only because they may be well hidden, but because they demand that we take responsibility for our own actions. It is this taking of personal responsibility that has shaped and guided modern Jewish history and consciousness. It is a national and personal commitment to take our fate into our own hands, collectively and individually. That does not mean there are and have been no mistakes along the way, but that has been the sought-after balance of freedom and responsibility.
In the United Nations, though the tide may be turning, this notion of freedom and responsibility has not been a guiding principle. The international commitment to the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine has amounted to nothing but words; the UN has, on a monthly basis, singled out Israel among the nations, while human rights violators run amok. The balance of power and economic considerations have enabled despots to ruthlessly murder hundreds of thousands of even their own citizens.
Years of blaming Israel as the external force has taken its toll internally as well.
Perhaps the most debilitating result is that Palestinians have no sense of collective or individual responsibility for their situation. The problem with this narrative is that Israel is not biblical Egypt.
There is no slavery in the democratic State of Israel, where an Arab serves as a Supreme Court judge; where Arabs have equal representation in parliament; where Arab children can aspire to study at any university in the country.
The thing enslaving the Arab Israeli population is this very narrative, which much of their leadership has often self-servingly iterated; the hatred that is inculcated in UN funded schoolbooks; the terrorist acts that are legitimized and glorified; the acceptance of the world community that there is no Palestinian responsibility for the current situation.
When the father of a terrorist that boarded a Jerusalem bus, murdering three civilians, one of whom was an American educator and peace activist, is invited to speak at the UN having elevated his son to hero status, that is the “Egypt” that Palestinians need to free themselves of.
When on the eve of Passover yet another incredible young life comes to a tragic end by a terrorist car-ramming, to the silence of world leadership and applause of Palestinian leadership, it is not the journey to freedom. When abdication of all personal and collective responsibility is justified, turning competent people into disempowered victims, there can be no exodus.
As we know from our personal struggles toward freedom, along with taking responsibility comes the comprehension that only you can make the necessary changes. A good leader is an asset, and there may be appreciated help along the way, but no one else can do it for you. Everyone has an Egypt.
The author is a PhD candidate in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researching the topic of free speech. She is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at IDC Herzliya and a board member of Tzav Pius.