Tag Archives: protest

Let My People Vote!

By Steven Philp

Egypt may lack a president, but it is not bereft of direction. Meeting two primary demands of pro-democracy protestors, Egyptian military leaders have dissolved the parliament, suspended the constitution and set a schedule for drafting a new one ahead of September elections. As the Washington Post details, this is one of the first steps towards civilian rule following the resignation of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The ruling council has communicated that these changes will remain in effect for six months until presidential and parliamentary elections can occur. In the meantime a committee is being formed to amend the constitution, and provide a vehicle for popular referendum to approve these changes.

What is remarkable about these changes is their genesis within the citizens of Egypt. As noted by columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman, one of the mantras of the protestors sums it up: “The people made the regime step down.” This revolution occurred without the explicit endorsement of major world powers, the United States included. Rather support was not offered until after the conclusion of the protests, marked by the cessation of the Mubarak regime. Friedman notes that if – “and this is a big if” – the transition to democracy can successfully occur, it will resonate throughout the Middle East. This is not a model of government imported from the West – like the distinctly American institutions established in Iraq and Afghanistan – but one “conceived, gestated, and born in Tahrir Square.” Contingent on the success of the constitutional committee, it is one that will be shaped by the will of the people. This is a democracy that can be emulated throughout the Arab world, one that has refused the banner of the West while also rebuking the call of Islamists. When Iran issued a declaration compelling the protesters to label their movement an “Islamic revolution” it was the Muslim Brotherhood itself who resisted, noting that their focus is pan-Egyptian – which includes Christians and Muslims.

Although finding its origin in popular revolution the success of the nascent democracy should not rest on the people alone, but is the responsibility of the wider international community. It is in the best interest of the Egyptian people and foreign parties alike that this transition occurs. Several countries – including Israel – have issued statements of support for the pro-democracy movement. According to Haaretz, Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope for Egypt; speaking at the resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Peres offered his support to the budding democracy saying, “We bless the Egyptian people in anticipation that its desires for freedom and hope be met.” This comes only a week after Peres had offered an impassioned defense of Mubarak, on the grounds that his regime had been characterized by stability between Israel and Egypt. Although the transition to democracy is tenuous, the potential of improved relations between the two nations is tangible; yet it is important to note that the foundation for this relationship will be built now, necessitating immediate Israeli and Jewish support of the new regime.

This commitment to democracy will be tested further as the Egyptian revolution resonates across the Arab world. Already protests have begun to occur in Bahrain, Iran, Tunisia and the neighboring Palestinian Territories. According to the New York Times, officials in the Palestinian Authority responded to the toppling of the Mubarak regime by announcing presidential and parliamentary elections by September. The following day, the cabinet was dissolved until it could be appointed by democratic process. The Palestinian people have not participated in an election since 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the parliament. Following civil unrest in June 2007, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip while the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organization asserted authority over the West Bank. Currently, Hamas has rejected the call for a national election. This is an important moment for Israel, and the larger Jewish community. Rather than withholding our support – as we did with Egypt until the revolution succeeded – it would behoove us to stand with the P.L.O. on the side of freedom. Letting the people speak may lead to surprising results, including the emergence of a true democracy – one that emulates the Egyptian revolution, refusing Western models while also shedding the burden of the Islamist ethos.

A Revolution By Any Other Name

By Niv Elis

For the Czech Republic it was Velvet.  For Serbia, it was a Bulldozer.  For Iran, it was distinctly Islamic.  But nobody has yet settled on what the freshly minted Egyptian Revolution will be called.  Will it be floral, like Tunisia’s Jasmine, Kyrgyzstan’s Tulips, Georgia’s Roses and Portugal’s Carnations?  Will it be woody, like Croatia’s Log and Lebanon’s Cedar Revolutions?  Perhaps it will be colorful like Ukraine’s Orange and Iran’s failed Green one, or maybe, like the bloodless overthrows in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the revolution will be a Singing one.

Some have bandied about Papyrus as a descriptor for the Egyptian popular uprising.  Other suggestions might include the Pyramid revolution, the Mummy revolution, the Tahrir (liberation) Revolution, the Facebook Revolution or, in a tribute to the Bangles hit, simply “Revolt Like an Egyptian.”  Ultimately, the only thing that will matter to Egyptians is whether the newly empowered military will bring about a democratic change for the country that has so long suffered dictatorship.

What are your suggestions?

For Israel, Tough Choices on Egypt

By Steven Philp

On Saturday Israeli President Shimon Peres offered a defense of beleaguered Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, on the grounds that his rule has been characterized by three decades of stability between their respective nations. According to Haaretz, Israeli officials are concerned that if Mubarak is forced to step down the 1979 peace deal between their respective nations could be compromised. Peres seemed particularly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that their participation in the opposition movement casts doubt over continuing peace with Israel. Addressing members of the European Parliament, Peres lauded Mubarak for maintaining accord with Israel, stating, “His contribution to peace, as far as I’m concerned, will never be forgotten.”

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei attempted to assuage these fears in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, stating that the peace established by the Camp David Accords – signed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – is “rock solid,” even as the desire to see the emergence of a Palestinian state is vocalized by anti-government protestors. Yet these wishes, he assured “have nothing to do with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel… which has been concluded.” It is his assumption that his nation will continue to respect the agreement. According to Haaretz, the Muslim Brotherhood – of which Peres expressed concern – has recently alluded to a tacit acceptance of the Camp David Accords, a possible reversal from their long-held opposition to peace with Israel.

Perhaps Peres’ fears will not be met. Yet – looking to his speech for members of the European Parliament – we are left to wonder if the maintenance of the Camp David Accords is reason enough for Israelis, or the wider Jewish community, to throw our hat in with Hosni Mubarak. Are we not similarly called by our heritage to oppose the tyranny of his authoritarian rule, which extends uncontested from his appointment to presidency on October 14, 1981 to the first demonstrations several weeks ago? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the Jewish hope for democracy in a speech made before the Knesset last Wednesday, saying, “All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.”

We walk a dangerous line when the security of Israel takes primacy over the Jewish value of human dignity. It is understandable that Israeli officials will support foreign leaders who honor stability in that region and peace with the Jewish state. Yet at what cost do we continue our allegiance? By speaking on behalf of Mubarak, Peres aligns his administration with an authoritarian leader who has stifled the voice of his people for three decades. Even as Netanyahu champions democracy, a resistance to the transition of power in Egypt belies this hope. For Jews living in the Diaspora, we can be torn between those politicians that support Israel and those who more accurately represent our ethical framework. It is troublesome when our identification with the Jewish community is more contingent on the former than the latter. In a perfect world they are not exclusive of one another. But as illustrated above, at times these issues will come in to conflict. The question is then to which Jewish value do we ascribe: allegiance to Israel, or human dignity? And does it matter if the dignity in question belongs to those outside the Jewish community?

The Limits of Political Protest

By Doni Kandel

In 21st century American culture, political correctness has become a mainstay of the national discourse.  While the idea of political correctness is honorable, the practical implications of its virtue are tainted by political interests and subjectivity.   While the battle over what is considered politically correct continues to be waged, one specific usage of terminology should be established as strictly taboo. This is the blatant and unconscionable usage of Nazi and Hitler comparisons. While this phenomenon is prevalent in many societies, Israel included, there has been a dramatic and troubling rise in its usage in the modern American political dialogue.

While the 1st amendment protects the free speech of all people, and taking issue with what every single citizen says in the privacy of their own homes is futile, the alarming rise in Nazi and Hitler desensitization on a national political level should not be tolerated and must be combated.

The constant linking of political parties, movements, and policies to Nazi practices is an insult to every soul tortured and slaughtered in the camps. There is no comparison to the heinous actions of the Hitler regime, yet it is shamelessly used to get a rise out of people whenever the political climate darkens. It is egregious for anyone to compare President Obama’s healthcare bill to Nazi policy in a political forum, as it was by a woman who attended a townhall meeting with Barney Frank, who discredited the rhetoric with aplomb). This woman, and others like her, must be reminded that her unfortunate word choice may hold water at a Klan meeting, but certainly not a townhall meeting. Similarly, while one may vehemently oppose the policies of a particular Israeli government, in no rational reality does Zionism equal Nazism. This is exactly the type of unsubstantial delegitimization Israel’s enemies have attempted to achieve in the international community, with worrisome results.

More disconcerting than a pedestrian Obama objector or a pro-Palestinian protestor playing the Nazi match game is the utilization of this tactic by American academia. Noam Chomsky, lauded hero of the American Left and a Jew himself, dared to compare the right-wing media in America to Nazi Germany. Chomsky has a responsibility as a public figure whose opinions shape countless others, to be far more judicious with his words. Using such appalling rhetoric to emphasize a point is wrong no matter how passionately he may believe in his argument. He effectively transforms himself from well respected intellectual to a radical nut who seeks to equate Nazism with any person or group they might disagree with.

Avid internet forum debaters may be familiar with the term Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law is an internet decree that states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1,” and when this occurs, “the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically ‘lost’ whatever debate was in progress.” The American political lexicon needs to adopt Godwin’s Law. It must be regularly recognized that the use of Hitler and Nazi terms in relation to anything else is an inexcusable method of debate. While there is a social stigma in regard to the usage of Nazi lingo, it needs to be acted upon. A ban on this type of language, while effective (as Germany itself has demonstrated), would violate the Constitution.  However, the most effective way to stand up to a politician or pundit is with a checkbook and at the polls. Public figures who irresponsibly engage in Nazi and Hitler comparisons, or even abstain from denouncing them, must be shown that their constituency will not stand for it. Letter must be written, funds must be withheld, and votes must be cast elsewhere.

My Grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, had made a habit of going to sleep with the radio on full blast, always listening with one ear for the news of an approaching tragedy. Sleeping just one floor above her, I was blessed to instead fall asleep to the sounds of a sitcom on my television and a smile of ignorance on my face. In today’s world we are lucky enough to not have to know anything close to the misery our ancestors suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. The difference between my grandmother’s bed-time habits and my own illustrate the absurdity of comparing today’s political situations to the Holocaust.