I doubt many Egyptians in Tahrir Square think that they are striking a blow for Jewish freedom. They are. Just maybe the Egyptian revolution will be the blow that breaks the our camel’s back. Or rather our new found empire’s back, which isn’t good for anyone, including us Jews.
You see for decades now we Jews have been stuck in the empire rut, thinking that only power will save us. This is true especially in Israel but many American Jews have the same view. Since we’ve been without power for so long it’s understandable that we would feast on such a notion. Now we’re clinging to power for dear life. On a life raft in a stormy sea.
Sometimes life’s like that. You’re in an emergency. All hands on deck. Cast your fear to the wind and hope for the best.
When the state of emergency becomes the normal state of affairs, however, there aren’t enough life rafts in the world to save your skin.
Israel is a mini-empire joined at the hip with the American empire. The same hip that Mubarak is joined to. Jordan, too. The list is long.
The truth is that many Jews don’t like being joined at the hip of any empire. You see, empires tend to be more alike than different. Egypt and Israel are more alike than Jews would like to admit. Maybe more than Egyptians would like to admit.
All of us like to think we’re special. Each empire’s boast its specialness. Shall we go through the roster of those “special” empire’s that are now grouped under the same banner by historians from every land?
Credit where credit is due. At least Egyptians are taking on the powers that be. It seems to me that this is what the occupants of Tahrir Square are saying to the world: Enough of empire!
As Egypt struggles what are Jews saying to the world? Empire Jews are saying one thing to the protestors – “We’re going to throw a lifeline to our friend Mubarak.”
Jews of Conscience are saying something else those in Tahrir Square – “You are a lifeline to the world – and to us!”
You see if Israel can only survive if its neighbors are poor and with dictators galore, it also has to be armed to the teeth. Does anyone believe that Jews around the world can escape the same fate? We are armed to the teeth, we need dictators everywhere, whenever we move toward others we are accused of being traitors. Is it any wonder that many Jews don’t feel free to express their aversion to the oppression outside and the oppression within?
What interesting company we keep now. So different than years past. Then we knew what every dictator was up to. We fought them all with our pen and movements for justice, even our prayers. Often we died at their hand. We constantly remember those who died and those who fought against our oppressors. Today Jews should remember those in Tahrir Square.
Resistance for the sake of justice isn’t a one-off thing. Resisting one place is resisting everywhere. Across time and geography. Culture and religion.
So you gallant Egyptians! May the freedom you struggle for inspire us to seek our own.
If the arc of the universe bends toward justice, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, it can’t be that dictatorship and empire have the last word. No way. Not in Egyptian history. Not in Jewish history.
Jews of the world, we, too, need our own revolution to bring us back – and forward – to the day when Egyptians and Jews can celebrate a common victory. But clearly the road to that victory runs through a shared Jerusalem, which means Palestinians and Palestine.
Perhaps one day there will be a Tahrir Square in Jerusalem where Palestinians and Jews sit and struggle together. Under the same sun. Against the same empires. Even those that think that they carry Palestine in their back pocket as if they own their people.
Tahrir Square, Jerusalem. Imagine that address.
Marc Ellis is a Jewish liberation theologian