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?