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Illusions and Delusions About the Turmoil in Egypt: What is Wrong with Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow?

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Posted on February 2 2011 9:23 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Why do so many Jews insist on their divine right to refuse to learn from history? How can a 1930s Stalinist ideology or even a 1960s liberal-socialist-feminist ideology exert such a death-grip over otherwise educated people?

My old friends, Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow have both written and posted pieces today in order to praise the protesters in the streets of Cairo. Both imagine they are pro-democracy advocates, perhaps like those in Tehran. Both rabbis are very much in a Passover state of mind.

Rabbi Lerner views the Cairo protesters as similar to the ancient Hebrew slaves of old who rebelled against Pharaoh. The fact that the Hebrews wanted to leave Egypt, not overthrow Pharaoh and stay on under some new Pharaoh does not seem to register with Rabbi Michael, nor does he note that technically, the Jews did not overthrow Pharaoh at all, God alone did that when Pharaoh pursued the Jews across the Reed Sea.

But forgive me for quibbling with a learned Rabbi whose message has a purpose, namely, to “share the news” with the Egyptians that they have “strong support from many in the Jewish world.”

Indeed, alas, they do. And guess what? The people in the streets are probably mainly Islamists and pro-Islamists who hate both Israel and America as well as Jews. Many of the effigies of Mubarak they hanged in Tahrir Square had a face scrawled with Stars of David. The Egyptians are loudly accusing Mubarak of being a “Zionist”—the worst epithet they can use against anyone. They are also writing on bridges and walls: “Traitor, go to Israel,” and “This is the end of all Jews.” In addition, they are blaming America and the “Zionist Lobby” for having supported Mubarak. (They are oddly quiet about the much larger Saudi Lobby which not only supported Mubarak but which also funded most of the Muslim Brotherhood views that they, the people, now hold.

As I pointed out in my piece yesterday, according to a June 2010 Pew opinion survey, here are some of the views from the Cairo Arab Street:

Fifty nine percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics….Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves…84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion…When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Dear Brother Michael: In your ecstatic delirium (Brother Arthur shares this state of consciousness with you) I do not see any evidence that you understand who, exactly, is really in the street. Further, would it interest you to know that, according to Egyptian Sam Tadros, all the known opposition, secular, pro-democracy organizations in Egypt have “no more than 5000 members each”; these pro-democracy parties all lack a military striking force, an economic base, political power, influential meeting halls, and a birth-to-cradle ideology. Only the Muslim Brotherhood has all that and, although they were outlawed, they commanded 20 percent of the seats in Parliament and probably most mosques.

There are at least a thousand mosques in Cairo alone. And, before their parliamentary strength was gutted by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood had more than twelve times as many members of parliament compared to the next largest opposition faction.

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