I’m glued to our web site, where the home page features a UStream.com embedded live video of the furious crowds in Tahrir Square. Their chants are my soundtrack while writing this. Moments ago President Hosni Mubarak gave a much-anticipated speech to address the protesters who have been demanding his resignation for the past two weeks. Instead of offering it, the president acted like the king he is, and refused to budge.
Mubarak said only that he would delegate more authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, and urged the young people to ignore the satellite images “marring Egypt’s image” in the world and go home.
Among the many things he doesn’t understand are that those images are SAVING Egypt’s image. It no longer looks like just another Mideast kleptocracy. It looks like a vibrant country struggling toward democracy.
Okay, the Jewish disclaimer: Things could go horribly wrong. In the words of attorney Jon Drucker, the sane response might still be “cautious pessimism.” But the images and interviews, and most of the experts, make clear that inside the bloated body of a backward dictatorship is a skinny country of freedom- and democracy-loving people just dying—literally, in some cases—to get out.
More and more Jews seem to be shedding their overwhelming fears of an Islamic radical takeover and embracing the movement—which, by the way, looked inevitable from the beginning. Yesterday a group spearheaded by rabbis and activists launched a statement of support to show Jewish support for the protesters. Entiotled, “Jewish Letter of Support for Egypt.”
[Added: One organizer, attorney Michael Feldman e-mailed me: “The letter, though it uses petition software, is not a petition. It does not advocate any course of action, even including the need for Mubarak to go. Specifically, neither I nor many of the rabbis joining undertook this to jump on board the “Mubarak must go bandwagon.” The overall point is that whatever happens and whatever our political beliefs, we should show that we care and we respect.]
The statement reads:
We the undersigned are Jews living in Israel and the United States. We are rabbis and laypeople. We do not have ties to any government. We simply come together to speak as private citizens and as Jews to voice solidarity with the many Arab citizens involved in the recent uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere.
Too many voices of reason and moderation have long been frustrated or silenced by oppression, tyranny, and corruption. These proud voices have our empathy and our respect.
We harbor deep hopes for the Egyptian people and the many citizens rising against ruthless regimes around the world. Jews have struggled against oppression for millennia. It is true that we want Egypt and Israel to continue or even strengthen their peace and cooperation. But we also feel unity by witnessing the extraordinary events of recent days. When a people cries out for freedom and democracy, we see a reflection of our own heritage.
We cannot tell the Egyptian people or world leaders how to deal with the old regime or how to bring about change. But in the meantime, we pray. We pray for the healing of any man, woman, or child injured in the recent struggles in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere. We pray for the souls of the lives lost and for the comfort of their mourners. And we pray that peace comes not only to Egypt and to Israel, but to all of their neighbors.
May the children of Abraham, of Sarah and of Hagar, of Ishmael and of Isaac, be blessed with prosperity, light, joy, and friendship.
The signatories so far are:
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedeck: Orthodox Social Justice
Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Shirat HaNefesh Congregation
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s Studies, Temple Univeristy
Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Director of Spiritual Growth at the Hebrew Union College Los Angeles Campus
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Benjie Gruber, Kibbutz Yahel
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., Rector, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, American Jewish University
When the protests began two weeks ago I wrote that these were of a different magnitude and type than just your average street protest—the genie was out of the bottle. Every speech, every word, out of Mubarak’s mouth will only serve to fuel the protest and anger more, except for one word: “Goodbye.”