In Which I Am Interviewed By Egypt Today Magazine

Yesterday, I was approached on Twitter by Egyptian journalist Randa El Tahawy, asking if I’d be interested in being interviewed about recent events concerning the Israeli/Egyptian relationship.

As you may be able to see in the inexplicably warped screenshot at left, while I was wary (Egypt Today has a cover story on Israel/Jew demonizing cartoonist Carlos Latuff, she once retweeted someone making the tired, false claim of the IDF “bombing indiscriminately” in Gaza, etc.), I accepted her offer.

Since I wasn’t the only person approached, and I don’t know how much (if any) of this will end up in the published piece (and if so, how it will be framed), I am posting the complete interview here.

This version is nearly identical to the one I emailed her last night, with the exception of a few typo fixes, and adding a word here and there that improved the language without changing the meaning (e.g. adding the word “cold” before the word “pragmatic” in the 2nd paragraph of question #5).

In order to honor her request for haste, I sent it without much time for reflection, and in hindsight, I would have made some changes. In particular, I would have taken some time to discuss the rampant perversion of the word “Zionist”, and the accompanying ZDS (Zionist Derangement Syndrome) currently plaguing much of the world.

NOTE: I don’t have time to add links now. I’ll do that later today.

Allrighty. Enough yammering. On to the interview:

1- Can you first tell us a bit about yourself, as a background for the interview

I am a dual American-Israeli citizen. After graduating from college, I served as a Lone Soldier in the IDF Armored Corps. I’ve worked for 2 Israel-related nonprofit organizations – AIPAC and the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Today, in addition to my regular job (not Israel-related), I teach Jewish children about Israel in a supplemental (twice weekly) Hebrew/Religious school. On the non-Israel front, I work in an entertainment-related industry, and I am also a musician. I play a wicked Darbuka. 8)

2- What do you think of the latest developments in Egypt especially regarding the Israeli embassy?

In allowing a mob to storm the Israeli embassy (and even the previous incident when ‘flagman’ removed the Israeli flag from the embassy building), the Egyptian government shirked its Vienna Convention obligation to protect Israel’s sovereign, diplomatic territory & property. I am disappointed in, but not surprised by the fact that here was an anti-Israel mob in the first place. I believe this is a result of the systemic, toxic, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement that has infected the Egyptian newspapers, airwaves & internet for decades under Mubarak’s watch (I suspect and assume that it was also at his direction, to ensure that while American billions flowed in as a peace dividend, Israel remained a greater enemy to the Egyptian people than his own repressive regime). For anyone who is seriously interested in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, ending the demonization and dehumanization of Israelis and Jews is Step One. Everything else is secondary.

3- What do you think is the general sentiment in Israel towards the growing tensions between both countries? How do you feel about it?

I am not currently in Israel, so this is more of an educated guess, but I would say they are hopeful to maintain the 30+ year peace, but deeply concerned about the possibility of having to worry anew about the security of their southern border.

4- How do you see the future of the relationship between Egypt and Israel?

Unfortunately, given my previous answer, I’m not optimistic, though still hopeful. Like most Israelis, I have no great love for Hosni Mubarak (and as I mentioned above, he had no great love for Israel, he only maintained the peace treaty as a cynical, strategic move to consolidate power). The only positive was that he didn’t start a new war with Israel. Like the vast majority of Israelis, I wish for the Egyptian people all of the personal freedoms they desire, and if that happens now that Mubarak is gone, then I will be happy. However, wishful thinking is no substitute for critical analysis, and most of the signs point to a probable outcome that is troubling. Egyptians deserve to be in charge of their own collective destiny, but if that destiny is yearning for and leading toward another major military confrontation with Israel, you can see why I and many Israelis might be concerned.

Israelis would love nothing more than to have a free Egyptian neighbor controlled by a democratic regime that wants to get along with Israel. But they’ve been severely burned by getting their hopes up time and time again, only to have them dashed by the likes of the 2000 pullout from Lebanon and the 2005 pullout from Gaza, each time having that hope for peace met by thousands of rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively. And just as Lebanon and Gaza share borders with Israel, so does Egypt. So until we see some more evidence that the realization of this peaceful, democratic vision is on the horizon, those fears are both justified and prudent. That said, I would dearly love to be proven wrong, and if I am, I will be thrilled to extend a hand in friendship to any and all of the Egyptian people.

5- Do you support normalization between both countries? Do you think in Israel people are open to have friendly ties with Egypt?

Absolutely. I am a strong supporter of normalization between Egypt & Israel. After I finished my IDF service, I spent a week in Dahab, Sinai, part of the territory Israel returned to Egypt as part of the Camp David Peace Accords. Although this oil-rich, scuba-tacular buffer zone was previously held by Israel, and although I had visited Israeli-controlled Sinai as a child, I had no problem spending my hard-earned Shekels (converted to Egyptian Pounds) in Egypt-controlled Sinai as a young man.

Many Israelis were truly inspired by the courage of Anwar Sadat (whose bravery was rewarded with an assassin’s bullet), especially when he visited Jerusalem. Israelis began to dream, envisioning a true, warm peace, complete with cultural exchanges, increased tourism, and the like. Unfortunately, Israelis didn’t see our deep yearning for a warm, friendly peace reflected back at us – just a cold, pragmatic yearning to get the Sinai back. I don’t blame individual Egyptians for this. It’s hard to see truth and reason through the aforementioned tidal wave of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish garbage being shoveled at them by the government-controlled media. This illustrates the problem of making peace between leaders, when it needs to be made between peoples.

The depth of paranoia in regards to Israel & Jews is deeply troublesome, with the Sharm-el Sheikh Zionist Shark phenomenon as an appropriate, though pathetically hilarious, example. Perhaps the “Facebook generation”, with the increased access to a free exchange of ideas will change that, but it hasn’t yet. In fact, one of the most worrying aspects of the Egyptian revolution for me is that even the most democratic-leaning, westernized, technologically-savvy groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and liberal blogger Sandmonkey are in favor of abrogating the peace treaty with Israel.

In addition, estimates put Egypt’s current internet penetration only at approx. 20%, and change doesn’t happen overnight. As an example, despite some Egyptian success at the outset of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (e.g. crossing the Suez Canal), by all objective measures, Israel won that war decisively, once the reserves were called up. They had surrounded the Egyptian Third Army and were 101 km from Cairo when a Soviet-backed, UN-imposed ceasefire went into effect to prevent an even greater Egyptian defeat. And yet, Egypt sees it as a great victory, and Israel sees it as a great failure. For Israel, political, intelligence and military failures resulted in many Israelis being killed or wounded, which was too high a price to pay for the eventual victory. But far from being a proof of the prevailing Egyptian view, it is a testament to the free access to information & the freedom to criticize the government in Israel, and the lack of similar freedoms in Egypt. I hope and pray that those same freedoms come to Egypt, both for Egypt’s sake, and for Israel’s, because only then will a true warm peace even be thinkable.

6- Why do you think all these developments are happening between both countries?

This is a good question and probably better answered by someone who is a true expert in these matters (Prof. Barry Rubin, for example). I am just an amateur, but I will say that it is painfully ironic that the mob-led siege on the Israeli embassy had begun as a call for faster reforms from the Egyptian leadership. As a result of the decades of incitement and scapegoating Israel for Egypt’s own economic, political & social problems, it seems like any rally or demonstration is capable of devolving into an anti-Israel mob at a moment’s notice. Even more troubling is that these incidents can take on an anti-Jewish form as well. For example, in the midst of the Tahrir Square celebrations, as CBS reporter Lara Logan was suffering through her horrific rape at the anonymous hands of a crowd that should have been celebrating, they were chanting “Jew! Jew!” as they assaulted her. This is truly chilling, both as a strong believer in equal rights for women, and as a Jew.

7- How do you see the relationship between Egypt and Israel before the January 25th revolution? and after?

I’ve mentioned my thoughts on the Egypt/Israel relationship before the January 25th revolution, as engineered by Mubarak, so I won’t rehash them here.

I also mentioned some thoughts on the post-January 25th future, but I will expand on this issue. As we saw with the 2006 election of Hamas in Gaza, and their subsequent violent seizure of complete power from Fatah the following year, a single election does not a democracy make (just as having a democracy also doesn’t automatically equal western values). To be “ready” for democracy, you need democratic institutions, tolerance for not just your own voice to be heard, but also those you don’t agree with, acceptance of minorities (for example attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt increased after the revolution) freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, etc. These institutions don’t get built, and these values don’t get instilled overnight. As understandably impatient as Egyptians are to be free, if this process isn’t handled correctly, the upcoming vote could be the last one they have for a very long time (one man…one vote…one time). I am not so arrogant and presumptuous as to tell the Egyptian people what to do, but since the results will likely have a direct effect on Israel, I will be watching with great interest, rooting for the Egyptian people to be truly free, and also to live in peace with Israel.

As far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, I have heard some Egyptians say that the MB is too small to be a real threat to take over, and I’d love for that to be true. But is there a pro-democracy organization in Egypt with the popularity, organization, infrastructure and communication ability to rival the MB’s? Does the pro-democracy group have a charismatic, well-known leader? El-Baradei’s constituency seems to be mainly European political elites, while MB cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile to Tahrir Square, where he exhorted an enthusiastic crowd of 2 million Egyptians to liberate Jerusalem. Ironically, one of the heroes of Tahrir Square, Wael Ghonim, was barred from the stage at that event.

8- How do you feel about the growing tension on the Sinai border? Do you think it can be a threat to Israel and to peace between both countries?

As I mentioned above, I am troubled by the border tension, and yes, it is a threat to Israel and to overall stability on the border between Israel & Egypt, and in the region as a whole. The threat isn’t existential, as Israel has shown the ability to defend itself very effectively. Israelis are not thirsting for war, and none of us takes a moment’s pleasure at the thought of killing Egyptians (or any Arabs or Muslims, for that matter). Israel can defend its border from Egyptian forces again. We just hope we won’t have to. We want to experience a true, warm peace with our neighbors.

During the 1973 War, Yehoram Gaon sang a famous song called “Hamilchama Ha’achronah” (The Last War), where a father makes a promise to his daughter that the 1973 war will be the very last. I dream of the day Israeli and Egyptian (and Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian) fathers can make and keep that same promise to their daughters, but no matter how strongly I may will it, today it is still just a dream.

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7 Responses to In Which I Am Interviewed By Egypt Today Magazine

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