Faced with yet another Muslim revolution and all the uncertainties and dangers that this entails, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged “maximum responsibility, restraint, and sagacity.” If it quickly abandoned Mubarak, Israel risked filling the stereotypical role of the opportunistic Jew who will quickly abandon its allies. If Israel supported Mubarak, it risked becoming the enemy in a revolt that has generally sidelined Israeli issues. Restraint and sagacity were clearly the correct policy choice.
Except, that is, if you ask Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Fresh from personally attacking one of our generation’s most brilliant teachers, England’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Boteach is chastising Israel in the international media for not “publicly championing freedom” to the Egyptians. I do not know where he has been, but freedom and human dignity are exactly what Israel has been publicly championing since its pioneering days of the early 1900s, as can be seen from Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the speeches of Shimon Peres, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, and others. Israeli pleas for universal human dignity are among the most inspiring ever conveyed by political leaders.
Sagacity, however, requires knowing when to speak and when to remain silent. Common sense will tell you that speaking the obvious to someone in the midst of an emotionally charged crisis, especially when he does not seek or need your advice, will more often produce the opposite result. It is clear that Boteach has little understanding of the deep animosity that the Egyptian “street” holds for the Jewish people and Israel, as well as for Coptic Christians. Any Arab steps toward democracy and human liberty are surely welcome, but Boteach must not forget that the French, Russian, and Iranian Revolutions did not end happily. Neither did the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, or any other Arab revolution.
This revolution may indeed be different, but Egyptians have not yet produced a John Locke, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Federalist Papers, or a culture in which dignity for minorities, women, and gays is promoted. It is only a few weeks since Egyptian passions were directed toward the murder of many worshippers at a Coptic Church.
Israel should quietly make itself available to help. It should, however, continue to act wisely and offer advice and support on a very judicious basis. Many other countries can more constructively fill the role of “advice-giver” at this very delicate time in Arab history.