Report: Mubarak suffered heart attack during corruption questioning


Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was taken to an intensive care unit after suffering a heart attack during questioning over corruption charges, AFP reported on Tuesday.

The 82-year-old former president was deposed Feb. 11 after 18 days of popular protests and has been under house arrest in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for the last two months.

He was reportedly undergoing questioning over the killing of protesters and embezzling of public funds, when he suffered heart pains and was taken to a Sharm El-Sheikh hospital.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Egypt resumes supplying gas to Israel


Egypt resumed supplying Israel with natural gas after a six-week interruption.

The gas flow resumed late Tuesday night after a fifth delay on Monday. The break in supply came after a gas line was sabotaged on Feb. 5 during the uprising in Egypt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

A leak was discovered shortly before the gas supply was set to resume Monday, the Ampal-American Israel Corp said in a statement.

Egypt supplies more than 40 percent of the gas that Israel needs to provide the country with electricity. The supplies had been expected to resume last month. It is not clear if Israel will now receive gas in the same quantities as previously.

The Israel Electric Company earlier this month received permission from Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry to use diesel and fuel oil to run power plants in the absence of the natural gas.

Some Israeli media have accused the Egyptian interim military government authorities of delaying the supply of gas to Israel for political reasons.

Egypt has suggested that it will not supply the usual amounts of gas when the pipeline is up and running again, according to reports, and wants to renegotiate better terms for its contract with Israel for supplying natural gas.

Israel allowing more troops in Sinai


Israel reportedly has agreed to allow more Egyptian troops into the Sinai, which under a 1979 peace treaty is to remain demilitarized.

About 700 troops reportedly have been moved into the Sinai in recent days, joining the 800 that were sent in at the end of January, also with Israel’s permission. The deployment is temporary, according to reports.

The troops are necessary to quell riots by Sinai Bedouin, and to protect a gas pipeline that serves Israel and Jordan that was attacked twice since the popular uprising in Egypt began.

Meanwhile, Egypt has delayed restarting the supply of gas to Israel following a Feb. 5 explosion in the pipeline. An investigation showed that the explosion was terror related.

The Egyptian Gas Company said Wednesday, the day before the gas was scheduled to begin flowing, that it would delay the flow until later in the month.

An Egyptian court order that had been ignored by deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also ordered a halt to the gas deliveries until the deal is reworked to allow Egypt to make more money. Egypt supplies Israel with about 20 percent of its natural gas needs.

About half of Israel’s electricity comes from natural gas from Egyptian and Israeli sources. Egypt began pumping gas to Israel in 2008 as part of a 15-year contract. Prior to six years ago, all of Israel’s electricity was generated by imported coal and oil, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Five myths, five lessons of the Egypt uprising


As the Middle East is engulfed in a series of often violent pro-democracy demonstrations and counter demonstrations, that have shattered the myth of stability in that region, there are a number of other myths which have been shattered as well, about which no one has said a word. These are the elephants in the room, and try as hard as some would to turn a blind eye to them, they are now more self-evident than ever. Borrowing from the Letterman Show, here is my own Top Five List, together with a few conclusions.

1. Israel is an apartheid state – Moslem Arabs are demonstrating all across the Middle East to rid themselves of autocratic dictatorships and replace them with true representative Democracies. From Algeria to Tunisia, from Egypt to Jordan, from Yemen to the Sudan, and seemingly all points in-between, the cause is the same. People want to live in freedom. They want to have their human rights respected. They want Democracy. There is seemingly only one place where Moslem Arabs have not taken to the streets against such regimes and in support of such ideals. That place is Israel (even though 20 % of Israel’s population is Arab). The lack of demonstrations stems from a simple fact:  Israeli Arabs already live in a Democracy. The rights they enjoy there make them the envy of the Middle East. They live in a nation of laws with one of the most vibrant Democracies in the world, complete with a notoriously loud and free press, an independent judiciary, and fair and free elections, and a military which is subordinate to the democratically elected civilian government. Simply put, what hundreds of millions of Moslem Arabs are clamoring for throughout the Middle East, Israeli Arabs already have.

2. Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians is the root cause of unrest and instability in the region – The crowds demonstrating in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, in Amman, the Sudan and in Yemen, and indeed those which are scheduled to take place both in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas run Gaza, have nothing to do with Israel. These demonstrations are aimed at the corruption of those governments, including those Palestinian entities which rule over the Palestinians themselves.

3. In the Middle East, Israel has become Goliath, threatening an impoverished and downtrodden Palestinian David – One of the edifying effects of this crisis has been the number of maps of the Middle East which have been shown on the nightly news programs. In those maps, one sees a veritable Islamic sea stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Hundreds upon hundreds of millions of Moslems in scores of countries and in their midst there is one tiny dot, so small that its name will not even fit within its borders on the map, which is why you see “Israel” posted in the Mediterranean alongside the tiny sliver of land which is the Jewish State. The very elements the West fears most, as being the possible replacement governments for the dictatorships on the brink of collapse, are those that would ally themselves with the most radical elements in the Palestinian camp. Who is David? Who is Goliath? Who’s kidding who?

4. The West has a number of strategic allies and partners in the Middle East and can’t sacrifice their strategic interests with those partners because of an intransigent Israel – Looking at those same maps, it must now be abundantly clear that the West has only one reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel.

5. Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel and have gotten nothing to show for it – This is perhaps one of the most tragic myths. Though both of those governments have signed treaties with Israel that ended active hostilities, neither of those governments have taken the steps necessary to educate their people for peaceful coexistence with Israel. Indeed, the Egyptian government has fomented some of the most virulent anti-Semitism imaginable and literally hundreds of projects between Israel and its neighbors which could have provided tens of thousands of jobs and a new era of prosperity have been shelved in order to cultivate the image of an Israeli boogeyman in order to deflect the shortcomings of those very governments. The tragic truth is the key to prosperity for both Egypt and Jordan is a warm peace with Israel, full of cooperative regional ventures that could provide the life and livelihood for their citizens which are now being clamored for in the streets of Cairo and Amman.

So what are the conclusions one is to draw from the past month’s events?

1. A Peace agreement without educating the population toward peace and coexistence is only a piece of paper.

2. In a region without true Democracy there is no true stability. For Israel to survive in the neighborhood in which it lives there have to be concrete security arrangements that can stand the test of time. Because the peace treaty you sign with one regime today may be ground to dust by the one that takes its place tomorrow.

3. Consider all the arms that the United States has given to Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia. If the demonstrations now boiling over throughout the Middle East topple those governments, or if those governments ally themselves with expansionist Islamist aims, all those weapons can be turned not only against Israel, but against the US and her vital interests as well. For that reason Israel must maintain a qualitative edge in weaponry. That is not only a vital Israeli interest, it is a vital American interest.

4. Don’t blame Israel if it thinks that it can’t depend upon anyone but itself. That is the inescapable conclusion that must be drawn from the unseemly speed with which the United States has shown itself capable of throwing an erstwhile ally under the bus, to accommodate “the Arab street.” 

5. The policy of appeasement, accommodation, and engagement has utterly and completely failed. The US has sought to engage with Iran, while tolerating dictatorships with which it thought it could do business. That policy has sent a message of weakness on the one hand and venality on the other. The US must stand up for its own values with everyone. Of no less importance, however, is the fact that it can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to policies and incitements that would start with the destruction of Israel but end with the destruction of the West. Those policies to paraphrase Churchill, have been the equivalent of the vain hopes of being the last in the room to be eaten by the tiger.

Letter from Cairo: Mubarak’s plight, as Egyptians fight back


Egypt’s internal stability is on a razor’s edge 10 days after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators began to take to the streets to speak out against rising food prices, unemployment and political unrest.  

Major city squares in the Egyptian capital of 18 million people as well as in the nation’s other cities have turned into encampments for Egyptian armed forces and tanks, while the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has taken measures to ensure that the demonstrators cannot reach each other, including blocking social networking websites, such as Twitter and Facebook.

“Our protests will continue, regardless of what they do,” said Asmaa Abdel Aleem, one of the demonstrators. “The people had already started unleashing their anger and there is no stopping it,” she added in an interview.

Abdel Aleem and her friends, a group of cyberspace activists who first invited Egyptians to the protests on Jan. 25, which marks Police Day in Egypt, may not have anticipated the reaction to their invitation.

This reaction was nothing but huge. Around 90,000 people signed up to signal their readiness to participate, and on Police Day they were true to their promises, as most of them streamed onto the streets and the squares of this major U.S. ally, demanding reform. As time went by, the numbers of demonstrators grew larger, their demands more sophisticated in intensity.

Only then did the octogenarian Egyptian President, who has ruled this country for 30 years, start to send in his anti-riot troops and armored vehicles by the thousands to crush the demonstrators and silence them.

They killed five unarmed protestors and injured thousands, but the protestors show no signs of repentance. Their choice of Police Day as a starting point for their demonstrations was meant to express the people’s frustration with their country’s police, which has not prevented crime, but rather protected a burgeoning class of extra-rich traders and steel barons who have mixed with corrupt government officials and ruling party leaders in a symbiotic relationship that has only harmed the poor, indeed showed nothing but brutality to the poor and the disconnected.

The intensity of the protests seem to have taken Mubarak and the officials in his ruling party by surprise. The first day of rioting passed without any official reaction, but on the third day, the Secretary General of the Party Safwat al-Sherif, who is also the Chairman of the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament, sounded a conciliatory note by expressing respect for the protests.

“The people have demands and we respect these demands,” al-Sherif told media at the central Cairo premises of the party that holds uncontested majority in both houses of the Egyptian Parliament. “We had instructed the government to alleviate the suffering of the people even before the protests broke out,” he added.

Few on the streets, however, seemed to believe him. Egypt’s political parties and the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most vibrant opposition group in this country, announced that they would organize protests across the nation, defying Interior Ministry advice to the contrary. 

In the port town of Suez, the protests assumed a bloody nature, as protestors hurled police officers with stones, set armored vehicles on fire, and smashed the doors and the windows of government offices.

In Cairo, the talk is no longer of food, jobs or even bread—things the protestors were demanding on the early days of the demonstrations. It is now about the need to topple the Egyptian President, the former army commander who has for three decades suppressed the people and rendered the masses incapable of putting food on their tables, despite claims to the contrary by Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who heads the influential Policies Committee in the ruling party and his coterie of western-educated economists.

The people who voicing calls to bring Mubarak’s rule to an end are the same ones who scoffed at his claims a month ago that the economic reforms masterminded by his son were on their way to helping the poor.

“Tell them that the fruits of reform are on their way to them,” Mubarak said in an address to hundreds of his party members during the annual congress of the National Democratic Party in November.

But the fruits of these reforms seem to have stumbled along the way, giving enough reasons for hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to go out on the streets to say “enough”—and a loudly, at that. Having witnessed a fellow Arab people, the Tunisians, force to flee their president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled with iron and fire for 23 years, Egyptians are asking themselves about whether they can do the same.

Following the public uprising in Tunisia, which was sparked by the self-immolation of a vegetable seller who was offended by a police officer, several Egyptians set themselves in fire to signal their desperation with their poverty and joblessness. Despite this, at first no one in Egypt moved to emulate the Tunisians, making the regime and its guardians believe they were safe. Now, their sense of security has been shattered by the millions of Egyptians who have shown they are ready to die to help their country get rid of what they call “Mubarak’s legacy of fear and indignity”.

Although the protestors are a mere fraction of Egypt’s 80-million people, they have the sympathy of their compatriots, whose fear of Mubarak’s secret services and state security has prevented them from joining in the protests.

“These protestors are real heroes,” said a cabbie who was moving past Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which has become an epicenter for the demonstrators in Cairo. “I hope they can force the dictator out of the country, as the brave Tunisians did,” he added.

Searching for a scapegoat, Mubarak dismissed his cabinet and—under pressure from the revolutionaries—appointed a vice-president and announced that he would not run for a sixth six-year term in office next September.

Few on the streets believe him. A few months ago, sardonic ruling party leaders had been saying that the elderly president was their candidate for the next presidential elections.

In the face of this and despite Mubarak’s claims, the demonstrators continue to insist that Mubarak must leave, not only the presidency, but also Egypt. He appealed to the demonstrators that he wants to die in his country. They, however, have such hatred for him and his legacy that they do not want him to die here.

On Wednesday, Mubarak sent thousands of thugs and former convicts to disperse the demonstrators’ gathering. The thugs killed five anti-Mubarak protestors and injured hundreds more, using all sorts of weapons—from stones, clubs, sticks and guns, to knives. They also destroyed whatever remaining sympathy the old president had when he – totally broken and defeated – had made his announcement that he would not seek more time in office just before.  

Now, Mubarak is depending on the thousands of army officers and soldiers deployed on the streets of the capital and other cities to keep the order and protect him against the anger of the demonstrators after his police force failed him by leaving their positions and turning tail on 28 January.

But many in this country still ask about how long the military will be loyal to the president, while their own people are suffering in pain. as the man craves nothing but staying in office “until the last breath” as he once declared in Parliament.

Al-Qotb (“The Writer”) is a pseudonym for The Jewish Journal’s Egyptian correspondent.

Hit Biblical Jackpot at Timna’s Mines


When you ascend the rose red pillars towering over the Arava desert, you hardly expect to look down upon the biblical Mishkan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find replicated at Israel’s picturesque Timna Park just outside Eilat.

Stretching across the desert near the Jordanian border and about 18 miles north of the Gulf of Eilat, Timna once played host to ancient Egyptians, Midianites and Amalekites. Today it welcomes visitors seeking to explore this unique nature reserve.

Timna Park is home to fascinating geological and archaeological finds such as the “mushroom” rock, stone arches and “King Solomon’s Pillars.” It also boasts the world’s oldest copper mines, ruins of work camps, workshops for copper smelting, mining shafts, smelting furnaces and even an Egyptian miners’ temple. In modern times, the now-defunct Israeli Timna Mining Co. operated there.

At the park’s main entrance, you can watch an audio-visual presentation in English. From there it’s a short drive toward the striking sandstone pillars, which are named after King Solomon — although no evidence confirms he ever ran the copper mines here. A Christian group in Germany developed the life-size model of the Mishkan that now stands at the base of the pillars and donated it to the park. Admission to the tent requires a nominal fee in addition to your park admission). If you’re interested in gaining a sense of the dimensions of the ancient tabernacle, it’s well worth it, though you’ll likely find it a bit kitschy.

Following biblical prescripts in Exodus, Chapters 25-30, a sacrificial altar is located in the foreground, complete with a ramp and a decorative minaret. A few feet away is a massive copper-colored washstand where the Kohanim, or high priests, washed before preparing offerings.

The nearby ohel moed, or tent of meeting, also follows biblical designs. Gold-painted cherubim decorate a series of panels that are woven from sky blue, dark red and crimson threads.

Unlike the original, this modern version of the Mishkan boasts a small generator to provide climate control for two plastic mannequins. One is dressed as a Kohen in his priestly attire and the other as his Levite assistant. There are also gold-painted models of the menorah, incense altar, bread and various utensils as described in the Torah. A cloth partition separates the main chamber from the smaller Holy of Holies, where a gold-painted model of the ark is decorated with two cherubim facing each other.

We were led through the exhibit by a Christian volunteer from the Southern United States, which made our experience a bit surreal.

Later we climbed the stairs cut into the massive pillars and took in the spectacular view of the tabernacle, the surrounding mountains and the huge desert plain. As we followed an easy footpath, we noticed Egyptian carvings in the flat walled surface of the mountain. And as we continued down another staircase, we arrived at the Miners Sanctuary of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining. Founded during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I (1318-1304 B.C.E.), this pagan temple served members of Egyptian mining expeditions and their local co-workers.

From there we drove a small distance to the “mushroom” rock. A combination of erosive forces of water and wind created this unusual pillar with a huge boulder resting atop it. The surrounding area is filled with ruins of copper mines, as well as small kernels of naturally occurring minerals. Sifting through the dirt, it’s easy to find real pieces of copper that have become oxidized with a pretty green patina.

Archaeologists who excavated Timna from 1959 to 1990 discovered that mining continued there from the late Neolithic period through the Middle Ages. Its heyday occurred during the reign of the pharaohs of the 14th-12th centuries B.C.E.

As the Egyptians lost control of the region in the middle of the 12th century B.C.E., they abandoned the Timna mines and the Hathor temple. Midianites remained there briefly, removing Egyptian imagery from the sanctuary in order to make it their own. Archaeologists discovered beautifully decorated Midianite pottery, metal jewelry and a copper snake with a gilded head reminiscent of the serpent described in Numbers 21:9.

Scholars believe the evidence of Timna’s sophisticated Midianite culture lends credence to the biblical narrative of the meeting of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, a high priest of Midian as mentioned in Exodus 18.

These are just a few of Timna’s highlights. Swimmers will want to visit the lovely man-made lake. The visitors’ center attracts guests of all ages.

And hikers will enjoy the abundant trails, camping privileges and expansive tranquility.

Timna Park is usually open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and until 5 p.m. in winter. Even in spring, temperatures can be quite extreme, so remember to time your visit to avoid the blistering midday sun.

You’ll appreciate having a car to explore this massive park, although it’s not necessary for travelers in strong physical condition.

Guided tours are available. Camping is permitted by prior arrangement only. When you enter the park, you can rent a personal audio guide, fill souvenir bottles with colored sand and watch an audio-visual demonstration of ancient copper production.

For more information and to reserve a campsite visit timna-park.co.il. The writer’s trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

 

Passion of Pesach


In my junior year at UC Berkeley, I brought an Egyptian
co-resident from International House named Khalid to Purim services.

This was my gesture toward international understanding and
cultural appreciation between Muslim and Jew. What a disaster!

As my co-religionists carryied on every time they heard the
name of the dreaded Haman, Khalid leafed through the Shabbat prayerbook.

When he got to the “Mi Kamocha” blessing and the celebration
of Egyptian soldiers drowning at the bottom of the sea, he turned pale. He
turned to me and said, “After all the progress made at Camp David, how can you
still have such anti-Egyptian propaganda in your prayerbooks?”

I explained to him that the prayerbook, compiled 1,200 years
ago, was referring to ancient Egyptians during the time of Pharaoh and that
Jews are very grateful to modern Egyptians for the Camp David peace accord. For
Jews, after all, the third blessing of the “Shema” is about God’s redemption
from slavery, not ancient Egyptian cruelty.

I had never looked at the “Mi Kamocha” the way Khalid did,
and I am not sure if I completely put his mind at ease. After viewing “The
Passion of the Christ,” which felt like a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride, I
wonder if my reaction to the film mirrored Khalid’s reaction to the “Mi Kamocha.”
I wonder if our Christian neighbors are playing my role in the Khalid story:
“Those were ancient Jews, we have nothing against modern Jews.”

What Christians really think of us takes on greater
importance as we enter what they call “Holy Week”: the period that spans Palm
Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. During this time, Christians focus on Jesus’
triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper (the seder), the betrayal,
Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and resurrection.

Christians are supposed to go through their own spiritual
transformation as they ponder the last days of Jesus’ life, meditate on his
ultimate sacrifice for humanity’s sins and the hopeful message of his
resurrection. The more Christians can actually experience these events, the
more spiritually meaningful is the message.

The story of Jesus’ last hours has been used by some
European Christian leaders to murder Jews, most notably by Adolf Hitler. Yet
for the modern Christian who is mostly ignorant of the relationship between the
Passion story and wholesale pogroms against Jews, the story of Jesus’ suffering
is profoundly spiritual and moving.

During the same time period as Holy Week, Jews prepare for
the equally spiritually transformative holiday of Pesach. I wonder if there are
spiritual lessons Jews can take from their Christian neighbors. For many Jews
Pesach is a perfunctory, meaningless, highly abridged reading of the haggadah,
followed by a huge meal with traditional unleavened culinary favorites of the
season. Of course the primary mitzvah of the experience is for us to see
ourselves as if we had been personally freed from slavery.

The matzah, maror, charoset and shank bone are all supposed
to transport us back to our past, to a time of peril and Divine redemption. But
I do not think any of us, even the most devout who read the entire haggadah in
Hebrew/Aramaic, really experience the “passion” that the holiday demands. We
try to make the seder cute. We try to be innovative so the kids will stay
interested. But we never really get to the sense of life and death, of the real
dread of Egyptian slavery and the miraculous Divine redemption, which all the
foods and text try to recapture for us.

What we really need to do is get Mel Gibson to make a new
movie, “The Passion of the Pesach.” Our parents had Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten
Commandments” and DreamWorks brought our children “The Prince of Egypt.” But
neither film is the real passion that Gibson understands in the Christian
story.

It is hard for Jews to relate to the Jesus Passion story and
what it means for Christians. In part, Jews are used to relating to stories in
the collective, while the Jesus story happens to an individual, with
ramifications for all humanity. Jews are born with a visceral rejection of Divinely
sanctioned human sacrifice because of the binding of Isaac story told every
Rosh Hashanah. God tells Abraham not to harm the boy. Instead, a ram replaces
Isaac, and the shofar (the ram’s horn) becomes an enduring symbol of the New
Year. We are taught that God sanctioned animal sacrifices to atone for human
sin, and after the Temple was destroyed, tefillah (prayer), teshuvah
(repentance) and tzedakah (bringing justice through giving of time and money)
were the three ways to achieve Divine salvation.

Yet, for all our fear of an anti-Semitic backlash from Mel
Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” there is a wake-up call for us to
rediscover the passion of our own Passover story. As we once again face the
challenge of making our seders and Passover experiences meaningful, we would
achieve much to make “passion” the leitmotif and goal of this holy season of
transformation from slavery to freedom.

Chag Sameach. Â

Michael Beals is rabbi of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester.

Egypt Displays Split Personality on Israel


Israeli leaders were heartened in late December, when Egypt’s
foreign minister announced that he would come to Jerusalem for talks on
promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

At the same time, however, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
was moving in Cairo to galvanize international pressure on Israel to dismantle
the nuclear weapons it is presumed to possess.Â

These seemingly contradictory thrusts in Egyptian policy
highlight the deep ambivalence that has characterized Egypt’s attitude to Israel
since the two countries made peace in 1979.Â

On the one hand, Egypt has been keen to encourage other Arab
countries and the Palestinians to follow its lead in making peace with Israel —
partly to prove that it was right in pioneering accommodation with the Jewish
State, partly to reinforce its position as a major power broker in the Middle
East and partly to satisfy Washington.Â

Some believe that Egypt still is undecided about whether it
really wants peace with Israel. Others believe Egypt simply sees Israel as a
major rival for regional hegemony. In either case, while seeking a wider,
regional rapprochement, Egypt also strives to weaken Israel and keep it
isolated.Â

Egypt therefore makes peace overtures but keeps Israel at
arm’s length. It fashions a model of “cold peace” — some might call it a war
everywhere but on the battlefield — and implies that other Arab countries
should adopt it. It carries out war games in which Israel is the named enemy,
presses every possible button to pressure Israel to dismantle its presumed
nuclear stockpile and often leads the diplomatic charge against Israel in
international forums.Â

For more than 20 years, this ambivalent policy has not
changed. Nor, from Egypt’s perspective, should it, since the policy has paid
rich dividends.Â

First and foremost, it paved the way for Egypt to build
close relations with the United States, including a huge annual aid package
that Egypt has used both to advance domestic goals and to undertake a massive
military reconstruction effort over the past two decades. It also has put Egypt
in a position to help other Arabs, such as the Palestinians or Syrians, forge
negotiations with Israel. Egypt has been trying to play the “honest broker”
over the past year, searching for ways to stop Israeli-Palestinian violence.Â

Since the Palestinian intifada was launched in September
2000, Egypt has worried about violent repercussions at home. Radical Islamic
groups in Egypt could harness anti-Israeli feeling to attack the Mubarak regime
for not doing more to help the Palestinians, conceivably sparking violence
directed at the regime, itself.Â

Last June, Egypt was able to get Palestinian terrorist
groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a temporary truce with
Israel. But the truce quickly collapsed after a rash of targeted killings of
terrorist leaders and a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.Â

Now the Egyptians are trying again, holding meetings in
Cairo on a new cease-fire and sending Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar
Suleiman, for talks in the Palestinian territories, so far without concrete
results.

Syrian President Bashar Assad also is seeking Egyptian aid
in paving the way for a renewal of peace talks with Israel. After Saddam
Hussein’s fall in Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar al-Quaddafi’s agreement to open
his weapons programs to international inspection, Assad fears he could be next
in line for special treatment by a U.S. government that has shown little
tolerance for Arab sponsors of terrorism.Â

Assad announced through the pages of The New York Times that
he wants to start a new negotiating process with Israel, and in late December,
he flew to Egypt to ask for Mubarak’s aid.Â

Israel has been skeptical of Assad’s intentions — most
officials believe Assad merely is trying to duck U.S. pressure — but says it is
exploring Assad’s statement. Still, Israel is demanding strong Syrian action
against terrorist groups in Damascus and Lebanon before any talks can begin.Â

While playing the “honest broker,” however, Egypt also has
been leading diplomatic moves against Israel in various international forums.Â

Egypt was active in getting the security fence issue
referred to the International Court at The Hague and, following Libya’s
startling commitment on weapons of mass destruction, Egypt worked closely with
Syria to force a Security Council debate on ridding the Middle East of all
weapons of mass destruction — a debate that is bound to focus primarily on
Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal.Â

For years, the campaign against Israel’s nuclear capability
has been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy. In 1995, Egypt threatened to
scuttle international reaffirmation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by
persuading Third World countries not to sign unless Israel did.

Five years later, Egypt repeated the same gambit. In both
cases, however, strong U.S. pressure forced the Egyptians to back down.Â

There is a huge disparity between Egypt’s self-image and the
reality on the ground: The truth is that Egypt no longer seems to have the
clout of a great regional player.Â

For example, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
visited the Al Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in late December,
Palestinian radicals bombarded him with shoes, a display of contempt. And on
that same trip, Egypt heeded Israel’s demand that Maher not meet with
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel seeks to sideline.
Earlier, Palestinian terrorist groups disdainfully rejected Egyptian advice to
accept a cease-fire with Israel.Â

The duality of Egyptian policy leads to suspicion and
anxiety on the Israeli side. One of Egypt’s sharpest Israeli critics is Yuval
Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who
asked why Egypt needs such a huge, modern army when it has no apparent
enemies.Â

Steinitz noted that Egypt has used huge amounts of U.S.
money to transform its army into one of the strongest forces in the Middle
East, that it has many of the same weapon systems as Israel and that it even
has U.S. instructors to teach the Egyptians how to use the weapons. Of all the
Arab armies, Steinitz said, Egypt’s is the one Israel has to take most
seriously in the future.Â

Perhaps the case that best highlights the ambivalence of
Egyptian policy is the abortive Camp David summit with the Palestinians in July
2000. Fearing that their regional influence would be diluted, the Egyptians
blocked the resumption of multilateral peace talks with Israel on regional
cooperation in the runup to Camp David.Â

Then, as the Camp David summit was about to collapse,
Mubarak turned down a request from President Bill Clinton to do him a personal
favor and pressure Arafat to sign an agreement with Israel that would postpone
disputes over sovereignty of Jerusalem’s holy sites.Â

At the time, U.S. and Israeli officials found Egypt’s
spoiler role unbearable. Yet when fighting erupted two months after the collapse
of Camp David, Egypt played a major role in containing the violence and
preventing a full-scale regional war.Â

Though he pulled Egypt’s ambassador from Israel — a
violation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — Mubarak declared early on that
Egypt “wouldn’t fight to the last Egyptian” for the Palestinian cause. More
than anything else, analysts believe, Mubarak’s levelheaded attitude prevented
the spread of violence across the entire region.

Though Egypt continues to fire diplomatic broadsides at
Israel and refuses to return its ambassador, trumpets its friendship with the
United States while ignoring U.S. calls to democratize and plays the regional
superpower without regional respect, the bottom line is that most feel that
Egypt’s pragmatism remains a powerful, pro-Western force for regional
stability.

However, that stability rests, in large degree, on the
person of Mubarak, a 75-year-old whose health has raised concern recently.
Mubarak had to interrupt a televised speech last month when he suddenly fell
ill.

After 22 years in power, Mubarak has not chosen a successor,
and analysts worry that if Mubarak dies suddenly — he came to power after Anwar
Sadat was assassinated — Egypt will fall into disarray. That could give
Islamists, Mubarak’s most powerful domestic opponents, an opportunity to seize
power and upset the regional stability Mubarak has been so keen to maintain. Â

Moses: A Life


If Jonathan Kirsch’s purpose in writing “Moses: A Life,” was to offer the reader a mightily researched, comprehensive chronicle of midrashic, scholarly, secular, Christian and even some Muslim commentaries about Moses and the events immediately surrounding his life as told in the Bible, he has succeeded. Anyone seeking explanations for a given period or event related to Moses need simply look to this well-organized volume. Even the most learned will find previously unfamiliar material explained in a clear, intelligent and accessible fashion. While not everything he has collected is exciting, there is a tremendous amount of fascinating material for anyone interested in Moses and his family as well as some wonderful insights.

Kirsch beautifully demonstrates the notion that “Moses worked a revolution in the history of human faith when he rejected the funerary cult that so fascinated the ancient Egyptians.” He rightly points out — based on the insights of Gerhard von Rad — that “through Moses the Torah creates a theology that had nothing at all to say about an afterlife and that ‘this was a great achievement.'”

I think Kirsch, correctly and even bravely, takes the ancient rabbis and modern preachers to task for their “long and continuing tradition of emasculating the real Moses and turning one of the Bible’s most potent and powerful men into something of a wimp.” He attributes this softening of Moses’ image to rabbinical authorities after the failed rebellion against Roman occupation adopting a survival strategy that would serve Jews well for 2,000 years. This survival strategy was simply “to go along and to get along,” thereby making the Moses depicted in the Bible “awkward and inconvenient.”

Kirsch strengthens the point in his analysis of one marvelous midrash: Moses saves the life of a dove by feeding a marauding hawk with “a bloody hunk of his own flesh.” When he is at his best in this book, Kirsch arrives at the ironic insight that the Moses of the Bible “would not have recognized himself in the shimmering icon of the Good Shepherd that was fashioned by the teachers and preachers who came much later.”

Kirsch does not spoonfeed the reader these analyses. To back them up he supplies copious amounts of midrashic narrative and other source material — the man has done serious time in the stacks. If there is a problem with the book, it lies in the fact that it is perhaps too much of a collection and not enough of an analysis. Kirsch has assembled enough material here to answer some important questions. But most readers will want more. I would have preferred Kirsch to have arranged the commentaries thematically rather than chronologically, and that he had spent less time discussing how our image of Moses has changed, and more as to why.

Because Kirsch does it so well here and there, I would be interested in reading more as to what the “imagined” Moses reveals about our ancestors’ values and about our own. What ideological, theological and political purposes were served by transforming and transmuting Moses from man to myth? What’s happening to his image today and why?

In his study of Thomas Edison, Wyn Wachhorst has suggested that, “As a form of myth, the culture hero functions to resolve mechanically contradictory cultural values into a single paradoxical reality.” This seems to be the case with Moses. The legend and lore surrounding him are an attempt to resolve tensions within and to reveal a unique truth about the Jewish people. That truth is hiding just beneath the surface of Kirsch’s book, aching to be discovered.


One Man’s

Moses-mania

If you find yourself squirming while reading parts of the provocative and fascinating “Moses: A Life,” that’s exactly what author Jonathan Kirsch hopes you’ll do. “You will not find this a comfortable book,” says the author.

The Moses of popular imagination stern leader, upright moral icon, president of the NRA gives way to much more shaded character in Kirsch’s book a man capable of great barbarity as well as breathtaking kindness.

In his Century City office, Kirsch, who is also a nationally respected copyright lawyer he represents The Journal on a pro bono basis eagerly defends the more complex portrait of Moses that emerges in his work. “The idea that a leader should be perfect is not a Jewish idea,” he says. “It is a Greco-Roman idea.” The Moses of the Bible and rabbinic literature is alternately cruel and angelic, saintly and bloodthirsty. When his soldiers return to say they have killed the men of an enemy nation, for instance, Moses berates them for sparing the lives of the women and children.

No, the man was not bipolar. As Kirsch discovered, the Moses character was the “puppet of various biblical authors,” each with his or her own agenda. In the two years Kirsch spent researching the book, it was not the “flesh and blood” historical Moses he heard speaking to him, but the voices of these disparate authors.

Kirsch has carved out a welcome niche in publishing by focusing on the Bible’s lesser known stories. A college history major, he entered journalism (Newsweek and the late New West), then law, before beginning a third career as popular biblical exegete. His first book, “The Harlot by the Side of the Road,” explored the Holy Book’s R and NC-17-rated stories, bringing to light not only the meaning of the texts, but the reasons for their suppression. The book was a best-seller. “One book led organically to the next,” he explains. “The life story of Moses is filled with these so-called forbidden texts, which are among the most illuminating and challenging.”

What the reader will take away, Kirsch hopes, is that the Moses story presents “urgent moral lessons to be learned. How do you deal with someone who’s different? How do you treat the stranger?”

For Kirsch, the Mosaic “bottom line” is found in his parting speech to the people of Israel: “I have set before you the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life.” Kirsch clearly revels in those last words. “‘Therefore choose,'” he repeats. “Moses gives us clear choices. There are no clear answers.” — Rob Eshman, Managing Editor


The Human Element of Diplomacy


The all-night sessions, heated confrontations and threats of walkouts that marked the recent Wye Accord negotiations had their parallel 20 years ago, when the Camp David Agreement lay the groundwork for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Back then, as now, the personalities and human interaction among the three pricipals — the leaders of the United States, Israel and the Arab side — were as important as the issues and political strategies highlighted in the news.

This lesson was brought home at a remarkable meeting last month, when many of the leading participants in the Camp David negotiations gathered for a 20th-anniversary retrospective at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

At hand were two of the then-key players, former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil.

Prominent Jordanian and Egyptian peace advocates also participated, as did such Israeli veterans of Camp David as Simcha Dinitz, Elyakim Rubinstein and Meir Rosenne.

The president of Ben-Gurion University, Avishay Braverman, said that he had extended an invitation to Carter, but the former president was not able to attend.

The case for human relationships as the ultimate force in diplomacy was put forward in an address by Harold Saunders, who, in 1978, served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

In diplomacy, and especially peace-making, “we must widen the angle of our lens from the traditional focus on government and institutions to include human beings outside government,” Saunders said. “Many of today’s deep-rooted conflicts are beyond the reach of government. [Negotiations are] not just about concrete issues; they are about human relationships…. These conflicts are not ready for formal mediation, because people do not negotiate about identity, fear, historic grievances or acceptance.”

The human equation was important to Carter, who, before the Camp David summit was convened, told the CIA that he wanted to be “steeped in the personalities of Begin and Sadat” and asked for exhaustive personality profiles of the two leaders, said Saunders.

The task fell to psychiatrist Jerrold Post, who found that Sadat’s and Begin’s personalities could hardly have been further apart, making their ultimate accord even more astonishing.

Sadat was a “big picture” man who detested details and felt he was destined to play a transcendent role in history. By contrast, Begin’s mind focused on exacting details, legal precision and nuances of language. In addition, he was marked by the searing impact of the Holocaust, and he instinctively recoiled from what he felt as pressure exerted by a superior force.

How the two leaders were perceived, especially by their domestic enemies, bears considerable resemblance to the current situation in the Middle East, Post said in an interview with The Jewish Journal during the conference.

When Sadat came to Jerusalem in November 1977, he “was seen by the radical Arab world as a traitor,” Post said. “Begin was expected to cement the Greater Israel, and when, instead, he compromised, many of his followers felt that he had betrayed them.

“Now, 20 years later, Arab rejectionists rail at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a traitor. On the other side, many who voted for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the Oslo agreement now feel that they have been betrayed.”

Despite the collegial and civil tone of the conference, current regional animosities occasionally broke through. Israeli tempers frayed when Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif recited a list of grievances against the Netanyahu government.

And when Abu Sharif later proclaimed that Palestinians and Israelis should walk hand in hand for peace, former Begin aide Yehiel Kadishai called out: “Say it in Arabic to your people, not here in English.”

No startling historical secrets were uncovered by the participants, but the purpose and success of the conference lay elsewhere, said its organizer, Dr. Dror Ze’evi, head of BGU’s Chaim Herzog Center.

“While we got some good historical material for later analysis, the main achievement of the conference was the fact that it happened,” Ze’evi said. “It’s a success when in a time of tension, senior Jordanian, Palestinian and Egyptian diplomats and scholars sit down with Israelis to talk seriously and quietly about their past conflicts and current problems.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Teens Charged with Vandalism

In a surprising twist, two Jewish teens were arrested Jan. 4 in Calabasas on charges of hate-crime vandalism and felony vandalism following the discovery of a swastika painted on the wall of a local elementary school.

School security guards at Chaparral Elementary discovered over New Year’s weekend the graffiti, which included the swastika and a “white power” slogan, and they called school principal Mary Sistrunk.

“The graffiti was all over the school, but it was mostly initials,” said Sistrunk, adding that such attacks at the school were rare. “Fortunately, we were able to get it cleaned up before the students got here.”

The suspects, both from the Calabasas area, also attacked cars in the surrounding neighborhood in what Det. John Manwell of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department called a one-night rampage.

“I talked to the kids, and another one who was not involved in the crime but knew the suspects, and I don’t believe there was any real racist or anti-Semitic motivation. They just did it for pure shock value,” said Manwell. “Still, it’s very upsetting. Hopefully, [their arrest] will send out a message that this sort of thing is not going to be tolerated.” — Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor

911 from 9 to 5

Remember those affecting billboards that promoted the Jewish Federation as “The Other 911?”

The ad campaign claimed that for Jews in need, the Federation was the place to call for help.

That’s true — but it depends on when you call. These days, when you try the Federation’s main number (323-761-8000) after 5 p.m. and before 9 a.m., you’ll get a recording that says the office is closed. There is no number to call in case of emergency — you’re being evicted from a nursing home, say, or you need a rabbi for a deathbed visit, or a family crisis demands the instant and usually expert help of Jewish Family Service.

The Federation’s recorded message offers only two numbers to call for immediate assistance: Security for the building that houses the Federation itself, and the Federation’s press relations and publicity department.

The Federation is now looking at ways to help those who call after hours, but has not yet reached a decision, said Federation executive vice president John Fishel. In the meantime, for any non-press-related emergencies, you’ll need to call, um, 911. — Robert Eshman, Managing Editor

The Literary Scene

The fact that Jews are people of the book has been borne out by the growing attendance at The Literary Scene, a 5-year-old discussion group sponsored by the Women’s Department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The bimonthly meetings, which take place on Monday mornings, between September and June, used to be held at Federation headquarters. But so many eager readers now participate that, as of the new year, the group will be meeting in a spacious hall at Temple Beth Am.

The Literary Scene features books by Jewish authors, as well as works that touch on Jewish topics. Recent selections, which have engendered heated debate, include Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” and Susan Isaacs’ “Lilly White.”

The discussion on Jan. 11 will focus on “Out of Egypt,” a family memoir by Andre Aciman, a Harvard professor who grew up within the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Participants are able to purchase all books in advance, at discount prices. A $3 charge for each session helps defray the cost of coffee and bagels. Recent meetings have attracted some 60 attendees from all age groups and with widely varying perspectives. To RSVP or arrange for book discounts, call the Women’s Department at (310) 689-3686. — Beverly Gray, Education Editor