Ending Demonization of Jews Must Be Part of Egypt's Democratic Aspirations

Egypt's future will not be secured only through free and open elections but by a new civil society that will be powerful enough to safeguard religious minorities.
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Let's face it. The people's revolt in the streets of Egypt caught everyone by surprise and so-called experts and pundits are still scrambling to contextualize it and prophesy about the nation's future. But the 18-day drama proved that revolutions are messy -- even ones birthed on Google and sustained by Facebook and Twitter. Ask CNN's Anderson Cooper or FOX News' Gregg Palkot, who were among the journalists attacked in Tahrir Square. Now comes belated word of the brutal mob sexual assault on Lara Logan, a veteran correspondent covering for CBS' 60 Minutes during the jubilant celebration over Hosni Mubarak's ouster. The network had apparently made a decision not to go public about the incident and released details only after it was clear that other media would break the story. It was painful listening to CBS's description of the horrors the mother of two suffered after she was separated from her crew and assaulted. Thank G-d she was finally rescued and we pray for her full recovery. But it is a shame that CBS omitted one important detail from their release: The 200 member mob was screaming "Jew, Jew" during their vicious attack. Logan is not Jewish. Why is this important? Because the issue isn't just the hate of one frenzied mob, but a society's mindset. For in today's Egypt, a nation searching for its 21st century identity, there is no more vile a curse that you can hurl at someone than to call him or her a Jew. A dangerous exaggeration? I don't think so: A 2010 Pew Poll confirmed that 95 percent of Egyptians hold negative views about Jews. That fact may help explain why simultaneously there were anti-Mubarak protesters holding posters with President Mubarak's face covered by the reviled Star of David, even as pro-Mubarak forces depicted western media as spies for Israel and protesters as agents of "outside forces." And who might those sinister forces be? A few years back, official Egyptian state television ran a 41-part series during Ramadan titled "Horseman without A Horse" based on the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the vicious Czarist-era conspiratorial screed swallowed whole by large swaths of Arabs and Muslims "proving" that Jews lurk behind every evil in the world. Officially sanctioned anti-Semitism, the popular negative stereotypes ingrained in books, combined with the hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, make the Jew Egypt's poster child for all things hated or feared. Of course, there are other voices that need to be heard and whose messages need to be nurtured. I am thinking of Abed (pseudonym), a young activist with whom I have exchanged e-mails and who was held and tortured by authorities for three of those 18 tumultuous days. He repeatedly emphasized that for the young people on the street, this revolution is not against or even about Jews or Israel. He urged Israelis and other Jews to speak out on behalf of people like himself who put their lives on the line for a democratic and peaceful future. Of course, he is right and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and virtually every other Jewish organization has done so. As Simon Wiesenthal often said: "Where democracy is strong, it is good for Jews and where it is weak, it is bad for the Jews". But Egypt's future will not be secured only through free and open elections but by a new civil society that will be powerful enough to safeguard religious minorities and begin to deconstruct the culture of anti-Jewish hate. President Obama is right when he says we should back democracy-building in Egypt, but our financial aid and diplomatic support should be bestowed only upon those elements committed to combating, not leveraging, anti-Semitism. The media, which played a pivotal role in the people's revolution, must now lead the way in exposing, not avoiding the pervasive anti-Jewish culture of hate and religious intolerance. Failure to do so will doom hopes for a democratic Egypt and help pave the way for an ultimate Muslim Brotherhood takeover.

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