Photo Credit:
Left to Right - Dr Joseph Ringel, Dr Aly ElSamman, Rabbi Yaakov Nagen, Dr Omer Salem, Rebecca Abrahamson, Bridgitte lSamman, March 2016, Cairo

“It could be dangerous Rebecca! You have your family and grandchildren to worry about, don’t even think of it.”

She was right; it could be dangerous, going to Egypt now, and not as a tourist but with the purpose to engage in dialogue, crossing lines that have become walls, attempting to breach fortresses that should not ever have been erected in the first place.

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It could be even more dangerous not to go. Our ultimate goals – Israeli and Egyptian intellectual exchange on the many levels that exist in both societies, and dialogue that includes religion and an honest recognition of and respect for the other.

Dr Omer Salem of Yale and AlAzhar Universities was the catalyst. I have been referred to as “ultra-orthodox peace activist”, and traveled as a journalist, along with Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen of the Otniel Yeshiva, Israel, and Fullbright scholar Dr Joseph Ringel of Haifa University. A student of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, Rabbi of Tekoa and peace activist, Rabbi Nagen is active in Israeli – Palestinian conciliation.[1]

Dr. Salem has been tirelessly advocating for conciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and sees rapprochement on a theological level as key, which he discusses in his new book, “The Missing Peace.” The contact which we sought – and successfully achieved, is taboo right now. Only four and a half years ago the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt was airlifted from the embassy in Cairo in response to rioting. Although the embassy reopened in September 2015, Egyptian Parliamentarian Tawkif Okasha was removed from his position merely for hosting the Israeli ambassador in his home, March 2 2016. But Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty going back thirty-seven years, no war for forty-three, it’s time we turn this very cold peace into something real.

Dr Aly el-Samman:Normalization and Mutual Respect

Dr Aly el-Samman, former advisor to Anwar Sadat and active in interfaith work, is doing something about it. Hosting us in his home, this octogenarian spoke slowly with the aplomb of a seasoned leader and descendant of a saint[2]. He had just returned from the Muslim evening prayer – maghrib, and he had that slight bruise on his forehead that bespeaks of the five times daily bowing to the ground. Egyptians, he claims, are tired of cold peace with Israel. “We signed an agreement with Israel, it is time to honor that and have real relations – travel, dialogue, contact. Thursday March 10 I am publishing an article in the newspaper al-Bawaba chiding the Egyptian public for the continued tatbia – boycott. Tatbia is not logical or ethical. Egyptian public opinion is increasingly tilting against the tatbia.” He offered an example, “The newspaper Al Masry Al Yom also came out with a piece in support of normalization with Israel, written under the penname ‘Newton.’ Israelis are special people; you need to know the key to their mind and heart.”

Rabbi Yaakov Nagen has an energetic demeanor and the youthful smile of one who has just fallen in love. Constantly emphasizing the need to connect the head with the heart in cross cultural relations, he took Dr el-Samman’s cue, “Sadat opened the hearts of the Israeli public when he went to the Knesset.”

Still, Dr. el-Samman said that regardless of the strides that dialogue can make, a real stumbling block for Egyptians in normalization with Israel is any mistreatment of Palestinians,

Rabbi Nagen responded, “I work with many Palestinian sheikhs. Oslo did not work for anyone. We want Abrahamic union – citizens of the Holy Land would be both Israeli and Abrahamic or Palestinian and Abrahamic, just like a European can be both French and European or Spanish and European. Palestine and Israel can have a border, but an open one. We propose taking turns concerning who governs the entire area, and all can live anywhere they wish.”

Dr el-Samman responded that union at this point is premature. The Palestinians crave identity. Start with two states, then work towards – “how did you refer to it?”

“Abrahamic Union,” responded Rabbi Nagen, but he reasserted his objection to two states, “there are 120,000 Palestinians who work daily in Israel. If we fully separate, they may build a huge wall and not ever unite.”Brigitte, el-Samman’s wife, piped in brilliantly, “The future of a wall is to be destroyed.” But Rabbi Nagen was not so sure.  “Two states may mean closed borders and I have Palestinian friends who fear that.”

More important than the impromptu peace proposals being worked out between Rabbi and Muslim leader, was the respectful dialogue and meeting of minds, which can only occur with an honest recognition of and respect for the other. And religious dialogue must be a factor.

“We need religion on the map for lasting peace,” Dr. Salem insisted. “Sadat’s vision could not sustain because it did not match the identity of the people, which for good or bad is tied up with religion. People pray five times a day, they do not read UN charters five times a day.Go to a shop in Egypt and you see a copy of the Qur’an, so emphasizing the positive Qur’anic statements about Jews is vital. If I respect Rabbi Nagen’s Torah, then instead of blowing his mistakes out of proportion, I will work with him, hold him to his own standards.”

And this is what I proposed the night before, where I spoke at a small gathering, “Hold me to Torah standards like a big brother would,” and, “Ishmael is described as righteous by our sages.[3] A loving older brother would never exaggerate or publicize his younger brother’s faults, but help heal them. The Jewish experience is largely influenced by fear. When we do wrong as a people, as a state, be our loving older brother, please rebuke and support with love.”

Still at that gathering, Fulbright Dr Joseph Ringel spoke. He offered a perspective on Israel to this audience that should soften the impression that many Egyptians have. “The voices of tolerance and harmony in Zionism were classically stronger than any of the few violent voices that existed, so there is much base for recognizing our mutual interests and humanity. The key is more meetings like this; this will lead to harmony and working together as brethren to build a model to build a better society and a better world.”[4]

Mutual respect graduates us from other-blaming to problem-solving.

You must believe in the Other. And you too can be part of grassroots efforts. Hold that thought. Next article – meetings at AlAzhar University, the oldest running university in the world and center of Islamic scholarship today.

Ps. It is hard, I admit, leaving your heart scattered around the world as you grow to love more and more. Egypt is colorful and full of love, go there and touch the people.


 

[1] Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen is a leading rabbinical figure in interfaith encounters in the Holy Land. He has organized prayer vigils bringing together Israelis and Palestinians against religiously motivated violence.

[2] See his book, “Egypt, from one Revolution to Another”.

[3] Talmud, Baba Kamma on Genesis 25

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w60yVB1TS_A

 

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There is so much more to share about this trip. More articles describing this trip will be serialized. Google “Rebecca Abrahamson – Egypt is Colorful and Full of Love” for next in series.

3 Talmud, Baba Kamma on Genesis 25

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Rebecca Abrahamson is active in cultural diplomacy, has traveled in this capacity to Istanbul and Cairo, co-hosted a conference on making the UN Resolutions for a Culture of Peace into law at the Knesset, and is editor of "Divine Diversity: an Orthodox Rabbi Engages with Muslims." She is married to Ben Abrahamson, who is also active in Muslim-Jewish dialogue and cultural diplomacy, and busy with her children and grandchildren.

17 COMMENTS

  1. My speech – Dr Salem graciously granted us the opportunity to speak at one of his venues.

  2. Here is a copy of Dr ElSamman's above mentioned article:

    We need a Parliament that respects the rules of the game
    3/3/2016, Al Bawaba
    There was a disgraceful clash between the two Egyptian Parliament members, Kamal Ahmed, and Tawfik Okasha. We saw the former threatening the latter and shaking his shoe at him, an image that is extremely inappropriate and one that conveys a very damaging image of our Parliament. This, we must recall, is the Parliament we had long waited for, both internally and externally, in order to complete the democratic process.
    We need to look deeply into the real reason for this clash. This incident came as a reaction to the dinner invitation extended by Tawfik Okasha to the Israeli Ambassador. I do not wish to take sides on this matter. However, some have gone so far as accusing Okasha of treason for breaking with the tradition of opposing “normalization” with Israel.
    Frankly, I fail to understand the sense in which “normalization” is being used here. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel. Therefore, meeting with an Israeli citizen, including the ambassador, cannot be interpreted as treason.
    This is not to deny that there are many points on which we disagree with the Israeli side, especially with regard to the acts of aggression and to crimes committed against the Palestinian people, who are being deprived of their internationally – accepted legitimate rights.
    Nevertheless, had Okasha elected to keep his meeting with the Israeli ambassador secret, he would have been in the wrong. Such a meeting should be announced, and people have the right to discuss the topics raised in the meeting.
    As for public opinion on the Camp David accords, and what is this so called “normalization”, I would very much like to see a group of experts from various parties and shades of opinion get together to evaluate the peace treaty with Israel from its legal and political aspects, in order to put this matter to rest. The only concern we all have is the good of our country, and how to maintain its status and role in the Middle East.
    I have a personal opinion on this matter for which I take full responsibility. If our discussion of so-called “normalization” would lead to boycotting Israel, this would deprive us from playing an effective role in mediating between Israel and Palestine. This role is something we need in order to reach a peace agreement that will provide legitimacy and recognition to a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. This is a role that no one can play but Egypt, a country that has an existing peace treaty with Israel. Such a mediating role, if successful, may raise Egypt’s profile in the bargain.
    The assessment of the peace treaty and normalization is also something the Parliament can do. Unfortunately, partisan and prejudiced views have made “shoes” part of the dialogue, thus undermining the ability of the Parliament to play this role.
    Let’s be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that having signed a peace treaty with Israel we can no longer treat it as an enemy in the technical sense of the world. Israel may be a rival country or a country with a different viewpoint. But the word “enemy” was erased from our international political lexicon the day we signed the peace treaty in 1979.

  3. Rebecca Abrahamson and her crackpot cleric husband Ben are Useful Idiots promoting the dangerous fallacies that there are such things as peaceful Islam and "moderate" Muslims. Both of them are dangerously delusional as are their interfaith oriented cronies.

  4. Rebecca Abrahamson is obviously and dangerously delusional. Here are two of her comments on her Facebook page. The first one refers to Musawi Muslim and is a perverted reference to Moses who is called Musa by Muslims. The second statement speaks for itself.

    "Where can I register? "Musawi Muslim" is a recognized category, right?"

    "If Muslims get smeared and suffer at the hands of thosee who would blame Islam and all Muslims for all violence , then guess what? Christians and Jews will also be targeted! "If they go we are next!"- I quote Russell Simmons. So profile me, for I am a Muslim too."

  5. Abrahamson is gloating over the fact that the JP published her perverted Islamophile screed: This from her FB page:

    "A new venue – the center-right and traditionalist Jewish Press has published my first article about our trip to Egypt – please support with a share etc and many thanks! it will be A run of the mill phenomenon to see pieces about the nobility in the Muslim world in the media! Got more dreams than that to boot!"

  6. Her first article lauded Omer Salam an Al Azhar graduate who was hosted as a speaker by child suicide bomber martrydom supporter Sheikh Ekrima Sabri and Raed Salah The head of the Hamas aligned Islamic Movement in Israel.Her third article was in praise of Adnan Oktar aka Harun Yahya and his "Oktar Movement" which claims to promote Muslim moderation. It was entitled "The Adnan Oktar Movement: Peaceful Islam for the fashionable and upwardly
    mobile."
    "The movement of Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, has been described as an "Islamic sex cult supporting Turkey's prime minister" peddling a "sexed-up Disney version of Islam." Presiding over a network of surgically-enhanced Gucci-clad followers, Oktar is perhaps the world's foremost Islamic creationist, and is widely ridiculed by social scientists as little more than a "charlatan" or a "crackpot." …

    Abrahamson and her crackpot cleric husband Ben were hosted in Istanbul last year by sex cult leader Adnan Oktar aka Harun Yahya.

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