The problem in the new Arab Spring

Saying the problem is Israel, not just the Jews, is no longer good enough.

Protesters fill Egypt's Tahrir Square Cairo 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Protesters fill Egypt's Tahrir Square Cairo 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
This year’s Four Questions are history. But there’s a classic question as old as Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh: “Is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?”
When it comes to the peoples’ revolts in the Arab world, despite early hopes, there is scant optimism that the unfolding dramas in Cairo, Tripoli and Damascus will lead to rapprochement with Israel. In fact, at least one brave pro-freedom voice who Skyped and Facebooked reassuring messages to Israelis from Tahrir Square today finds himself where he was at the outset of the revolution – back in jail.
Setting up Israel as the boogeyman helped many a dictator maintain control. But hatred of Israel has morphed into hatred for Jews, Judaism and Jewish history. Officially-sanctioned Holocaust denial is leveraged by the Tehran regime to score points in the Arab world. Al- Qaida didn’t have much to say about Jews before 9/11, but Jew-hatred is now a staple of its propaganda. Sheik Qaradawi, spiritual godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood who spoke to two million Egyptians in Tahrir Square, wrote fatwas validating female Palestinian suicide bombers, and still hopes to kill a Jew before he dies. Hamas’ founding charter invokes the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery to justify its genocidal goal.
Against this backdrop, how should we respond to a recent Al Hayat article, entitled, “Israel, Not the Jews, is the Problem”? In it, Jihad Khazen, a respected Arab journalist, declares that Jews are “neither better nor worse than other groups... they include the good and the bad.”
Before we embrace such a ‘moderate,’ it’s fair to ask what Khazen thinks about those who murdered five members of the Fogel in Itamar. Those killers and their families did not think or act the way Khazen writes. They had been fed such a rich diet of Jew-hatred that they don’t view Jews – any Jews – as anything more than vermin. And what to say about the 30% of PA residents who declared their support for the murderers in a poll by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research?
It appears that many disagree with Khazen, and do indeed believe the problem is the Jews, period.
Still, the commonality of mankind mandates we not give up hope. As Khazen penned his essay, the Arab world was changing forever. We remain riveted by the unfolding drama of courageous people struggling to free themselves from oppression, unsure what their future holds. Our hearts go out to those facing the possibility that their courage might yield no more than the trading of one oppressive system for another – this one dictated by a narrow theology that tolerates no dissent.
Whose vision will prevail? The young bloggers reaching out to Jews, including Israelis? Or Sheik Qaradawi’s vision of a future without Jews?
Back in March Khazen wrote, “Israel, not the Jews, is the problem then. It is a state established atop Palestinian lands.”
He wrote with a commitment to the Palestinians’ future, with pain over what has befallen them. Khazen is among those who will not give up the Palestinian dream. After all, time does not erode the bond between a people and its patrimony! So to him and other “moderates” we ask: Why are your minds and hearts so tightly shut? Can you really believe Jews have no stake in the land you claim as solely Palestinian? Was it indeed all stolen, all created by Western imperialist guilt following the Holocaust? Do you really believe that today’s Jews have no connection to those of the Bible, who lived and died yearning for Return to Zion? Do you really believe your own lie that there never was a Solomon’s Temple? Even your smug academic elites, who relish your hatred, don’t believe your narrative. As the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it: “people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.”
What is your vision of the “new” Arab Spring? One that helps Palestinians forge a new narrative that respects their neighbors, or dooms them to become fossilized in their old hatreds? We Zionists are prepared to meet you in Cairo, London or Jerusalem.
We pledge to listen carefully and show you respect. We ask only that you begin to show us the same.
The only things to be lost are crippling stereotypes.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interreligious Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.