The Egypt Revolution & The Jewish Revolution It Produced

February 04, 2011 10:30 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

Philanthropist George Soros, chairman of the Open Society Foundation which supports democracy and human rights in 70 countries, is optimistic about the future of Egyptian democracy. And he thinks that shifting opinion in the American Jewish community is helping. After all, if the powerful and unrepresentative "pro-Israel" lobby successfully influenced U.S. opinion against the Egyptian revolution, it is possible that the U.S. would not lend its enthusiastic support to it.

But, in a Washington Post column yesterday, Soros writes that the lobby isn't what it used to be, even if the Netanyahu government is as predictable as tomorrow's sunrise.

In reality, Israel has as much to gain from the spread of democracy in the Middle East as the United States has. But Israel is unlikely to recognize its own best interests because the change is too sudden and carries too many risks. And some U.S. supporters of Israel are more rigid and ideological than Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Obama is not beholden to the religious right, which has carried on a veritable vendetta against him. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] is no longer monolithic or the sole representative of the Jewish community.

That became ever more obvious today when the New York Times ran a feature on Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which has been successfully organizing support in the Jewish community for the Egyptian revolution.

 "We are deeply inspired by their push for democracy and freedom," said Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, based in Oakland.

Ms. Surasky said she hoped a new political order in Egypt would help speed the end of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, which her group opposes. The group's views differ markedly from statements about the Egyptian protests coming from the Israeli government and many other Jewish-American organizations, which caution that the demonstrations in Cairo could ultimately threaten Israel.

The very fact that a new organization like JVP would capture the New York Times' attention is significant in itself.  For many decades, the Times has covered the Jewish community as if only the Old Guard organizations (AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the fringe Zionist Organization Of America) mattered.

But then came J Street, which attracted tens of thousands of supporters with its opposition to the occupation and support for the two-state solution. J Street is, essentially, the political counterpart to Americans For Peace Now which provides the intellectual heft that supports all the Jewish peace organizations. Then, in the last few weeks, Jewish Funds for Justice burst into public attention with its letter signed by 400 rabbis urging Fox News to dump Glenn Beck (his anti-Semitism is getting out of hand). And, of course, there is Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, the pioneer, who has been out there for decades  pushing for change in the community and whose efforts have been widely noted in the Arab world as well as at home.

And now the Times is featuring JVP's support for the Egyptian people, which is strikingly different from anything the older organizations are saying. In fact, the Times article on JVP quotes one "traditionalist" who succinctly enunciated the "mainstream" organization's line.

"Nobody defends Mubarak," said John Rothmann, a talk show host for KGO radio in San Francisco and the former President of the Zionist Organization of America in San Francisco.

Mr. Rothmann added, however, that it was important to remember that Mr. Mubarak had maintained peace between Egypt and Israel for nearly three decades.

"He may be a barbarian, but he's our barbarian," Mr. Rothmann continued. "You need to have an alternative, and we have never been able to create one."

Who has "never been able to create one"? The Zionist Organization of America? Talk about chutzpah. 

As for Mubarak being "our barbarian," who is the "our" Rothmann is talking about? Certainly not the evolving American Jewish community.