Israelis, and Jews worldwide, have mixed feelings about the Egyptian revolution. From a tribal perspective – and, sadly, that's the dominant perspective among Jews with whom I associate – there is the fear of the impact of the revolution on Israel. Would the new Egyptian regime, assuming one comes into being, keep the peace with Israel? Would the Muslim Brotherhood gain the upper hand? Would the border with Gaza stay sealed? Is this good for Hamas? Is it good for Israel?
From a moral perspective, however – and, fortunately, that's the dominant perspective among the e-crowd, Jewish and non-Jewish, with whom I associate – supporting the Egyptian revolution is a no-brainer. On the one hand we have a regime that has only become more authoritarian in recent years, and, on the other, non-violent protesters from all walks of life who are struggling to be free. How can any decent human being not be thrilled by the prospect of this liberation? And how can Jews, who themselves came into being as nation in the furnace of Egyptian bondage, not identify with the Egyptian struggle for freedom?
In fact, I would argue that the ambivalence that some Jews are feeling can itself be turned into an argument against a Jewish state. For if the price to pay for a Jewish state is acquiescing in tyranny and injustice for reasons of realpolitik – as Israel did with apartheid South Africa – then arguably that price is too high, especially if you feel, as I do, that there are alternatives to a Jewish state for the survival and thriving of the Jewish people and its heritage.
Of course, I understand the counterargument – that the world is full of messy compromises and strange bedfellows, and that one's national security is paramount. I understand the necessity of the United States' alliance with Stalin during World War II. And it would be foolish not to support Israel's peace treaty with Egypt. But, to quote Avishai Margalit, there are compromises, and there are rotten compromises. An alliance in which Israel supplies nuclear knowledge and armaments to a rogue state that oppresses its people like South Africa is a rotten compromise. Not to support the Egyptian revolution for fear that it may turn out bad for Israel (and what that means is subject to debate) is shortsighted politically and unjustifiable morally. And both are cardinal sins for Jews.
Some Jews and Israelis who support the Egyptian revolution are still apprehensive. After all, there is that perennial bogeyman, Islamism, which may rear its head. Isn't it preferable for Israelis to have as neighbor an authoritarian regime that supports, or at least does not actively oppose its interests, then a regime where Islamic movements like Hizbollah and Hamas are represented? With monarchs and tyrants one can come to terms. But what if the Arab public is opposed to the existence of Israel? Why should Israelis support democratization of their enemies?
To which I reply: the Jews should have thought of that before they established the state of Israel. If they could not establish a state that would be able to live in peace with its Arab neighbors, but decided to press on with an "Iron Wall" mentality, then they are reaping what they sowed. But the premise itself is flawed. Were Israel to make peace with the Palestinian – within the framework of one state, two states, or a federation, in which the Palestinians had freedom and self-determination along with the Israelis, and the refugees would be given the choice to return or not, the vast majority of Arabs would be willing to accept that – not perhaps, as the most desirable outcome, but as something that could be tolerated for the foreseeable future. Just as I would not ban religious Jewish political parties in Israel from participating democratically, although they are territorial maximalists, so neither would I exclude religious Muslim parties, even though, as an orthodox Jew, I am personally unhappy with religious political parties and have never voted for one. (For insight into the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood, see Helena Cobban's 2007 interview in Foreign Policy here.)
The revolution in Egypt is already a victory for that growing force in society, "civil society." The protesters have been called the generation of Facebook and Twitter. But let's not forget that they are primarily the generation of human rights discourse. Yizhak Laor is dead wrong when he writes that the Left in Egypt "has drowned in European subsidies to tens of separate NGOS for human rights, whose siginficance has not been one of change but rather of a disciplined preservation of the status quo." This may be the view of a Tel-Aviv armchair revolutionary, but someone who knows Egypt a lot better than Laor and me has told me that "the indigenous Egyptian human rights NGOs and the international HR NGO's have all made in invaluable contribution;" In particular, the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights and the Cairo-based Arab Organization of Human Rights, have defended political prisoners and helped create a discourse of human rights that is at the center of the Egyptian revolution. Of course, that revolution is greater than any particular organization.
Indeed, Civil Society, rather than the Muslim Brotherhood or the opposition parties, is the motivating force behind the Egyptian revolution, at least for now. And that bodes ill for repressive governments, including the governments of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. After all, Hamas and the PA tried to suppress protests in favor of the revolutionaries; Israel continues to harass human rights NGOs. It is the civil society movement that is shaking the ground on which authoritarian governments stand.