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Points of View
The New Middle East
My Point of View, May, 2011
© Rabbi Jack Moline

It is the nature of bulletin articles that they are written weeks before they are published, so it is often difficult to project the circumstances two months forward. As I write these words, a variety of countries in the Middle East are in the throes of unrest as populations seek to overthrow the leadership which has remained ensconced and authoritarian for decades. The uncertainty of what kinds of governments will replace them is reflected in the anxiety that those of us who are devoted to the raucous democracy of Israel feel with every news report.

For more than a generation, the pro-Israel community has rightly argued that Israel is the regionís only democracy and Americaís only dependable ally. Today, that premise remains true; and it will be all the more important if the transitions in Egypt and elsewhere result in more extremist regimes. Yet, it is in the interest of the United States, and how much the more so of the people of Middle Eastern countries, to encourage the development of more democracies with governments more closely aligned with the values that we affirm: civil rights, human dignity, liberty and political integrity.

We should not be surprised to see our country investing in those outcomes. And if they are successful, the uniqueness of Israel as an outpost of those values will be diminished. Only by questioning the integrity of positive change (that is, by diminishing the perception of the surrounding Arab people as capable of progress) will this particular argument continue to hold sway. And while it may or may not contain kernels of historical truth, such denigration holds within it the affirmation and aspiration of inevitable failure and suffering of others. As Jews, we are both better and wiser than that.

Instead, we should be promoting the notion of Israel as a pivot point for improving the lives and societies of its neighbors. The world provides testimony to the positive influence of Israeli generosity and innovation in agriculture, environment, technology, security, medicine, the arts and, by example, human dignity. Not to say that Israel is without its challenges, but those challenges are met with willingness. In fact, the very fact that Israeli society remains a successful experiment in competing cultures and visions makes it especially important in this changing world.

What is also important and ought not to be overlooked in any conversation is the Jewishness of the nation. For close to two thousand years our people constructed an imaginary place of self-determination. We were the displaced and oppressed, granted freedom of expression as a favor rather than as a right. Suddenly given the task of creating a real-world version of our various fantasies, we have demonstrated to the world how much we got right and how able we are to make the adjustments to what we got wrong, all in the context of our heritage and its sacred and variegated history. Jewishness is integral to Israelís success, but it demonstrates to other established cultures and religions that the past is not the definition of the future.

Sixty three years is a blink on the cosmic clock, but forever and a day in current events. It is our blessing to live in a world in which this miracle unfolds, and it is our responsibility to do our part ó individually and collectively ó to ensure that it continues. Happy Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

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