A Plea for True Respect for Arabs and Muslims by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Rav Yosef, my good friend and a rabbi I respect deeply, misunderstands my motivation in holding off on a prayer for Egypt.  I certainly am frustrated with the Obama administration’s handling of the Middle East.  However, my main point is that we need to stop pandering and patronizing the Arabs and Muslims throughout the world, and actually show some respect to them.  They can face the challenges of their past just as well as Jews and Christians can: the anti-Semitic elements of their religion, which need to be re-understood just as Judaism and Christianity evolved in their understanding of the “other”; the discriminatory treatment of the Jews in Arab and Muslim lands throughout  history; the abominable attitude of the Arab leadership, trade unions and professional organizations toward the State of Israel – even in Jordan and Egypt; the leaders and mobs who pressured Great Britain not to allow Jews to enter Palestine when faced with murder and destruction in Europe – and even after the Holocaust before the rise of the State of Israel.  I respect the Arabs and Muslims, and I think they are capable of rising to the challenge of becoming an enlightened people, a part of the developed world.  Yes, they need democracy,  and that means a different attitude towards women – we in the West need to work on that as well – and toward homosexuals and other “others” in their midst.  Yes, I think the Palestinians can advance to the point where selling land to a Jew is not a capital offense, nor is a gay person forced to hide their identity.

People from developed countries throughout the world come to Israel to learn agriculture, science and to share in Israel’s rich culture.  I do expect Arabs to learn from Israel as well.  It is their loss, their sad loss, and certainly the Palestinians loss, that they have spent nearly 63 years fighting Israel instead of teaming up with Israel. The protesters in Tienanmen Square erected a model of the Statue of Liberty; they understood that America stands for freedom and liberty.  In Egypt, protesters put Jewish stars on Mubarak to show how much they hated him – how sad that they did not understand that Israel represents their ticket to freedom, democracy and a thriving, open economy, rather than the evil they need to eternally fight.

No, I am not angry, I am waiting: I am waiting for the Egyptians to rise to the challenge and to be the human beings they can be.  The prophets understood that they can be a great people.  But unless we challenge them to pursue truth, not just populism, and unless we ourselves admit to that truth, we are not respecting them and treating them as our equals.    They are God’s children just like we in the West are God’s children, and I have every expectation that I place on myself and my own religion.

I pray that we stop pandering and patronizing and start respecting our Arab and Muslims brothers in a way that allows them to enter a new era of truth and good.  When that happens, I will be the first to say a Shehechiyanu.  Until then, I pray for us to be strong, and never to compromise or ask others to compromise the values that have given us our freedom and our liberty.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

5 Responses to A Plea for True Respect for Arabs and Muslims by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Wolfman says:

    R. Lopatin,

    Your lionization of Israel as a beacon of democracy leaves quite a bit to be desired. In any number of ways, Israel has learned from the worst elements that you demonize in the Arab world as well as from the nasiest elements of 19th and 20th century nationalism. (Your choice of elements to demonize the Palestinians — not selling land to Jews and accepting homosexuality — are startlingly ironic, given the recent tumolt over rabbinic disapproval of selling land to Arabs [and de facto and de jure obstacles placed in the way of Arab maintenance of land they own as well, let alone acquisition and development of new land], and the tragedy of the Tel Aviv nightclub shooting and intolerance displayed towards homosexuals in Israel.)

    Second, as evidenced by the above example, it is clear that many elements of the most committed parts of the Jewish community (whom you would consider brethren) have not “evolved” in their understanding of the Other. Rather than patronizingly demand that Egyptians “become an enlightened people” why not let them make their own decisions and develop as a society as they will, and turn your moralizing efforts towards the community that you could affect and that still needs the evolution and enlightenment that you so fervently desire in others.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Dear Wolfman,

      Couldn’t disagree with you more. Suffice it to say that even right wing rabbis came out against a halachic ban on selling land to non-Jews. In fact, there was a groundswell in Israel – and amongst Jews everywhere – against it. Of course you will always have some radicals and some criminals in society: The question is how society deals with them, and that society rejects their approach. There are many Palestinians desperate to get into the predominantly Jewish neighborhood (“settlement”) of French Hill – and they have become part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Those are Arabs that understand that connecting with the Jews and the Jewish state is one of the smartest moves they can make.


      • American-Muslim says:

        Rabbi Lopatin,

        You are correct that many prominent Jewish leaders(Such as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein) did condemn the ruling that selling homes to non-Jews was prohibited.

        However there were many figures who were not radicals or criminals who supported. For example the spiritual leader of Shas( which is part of Netenyahu’s ruling coalition), Ovadia Yosef. I don’t think you would attempt to argue that he is a marginal figure.http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3976568,00.html.

        Bottom line:

        Both of our communities have problems with hatred and xenophobia. The solution isn’t to portray ourselves as more “evolved” and “enlightened”, while trivializing the the faults within our respective communities.

      • Muslim-American says:

        Rabbi Lopatin,

        You are correct in your point that many Jewish leaders condemned the religious ruling against selling land to non-Jews. However their are some prominent religious leaders such as the Spiritual leader of Shas(which is part of Netenyahu’s right-wing coalition), who reaffirmed the ruling . I don’t think you would argue that Ovadia Yosef is marginal figure.

        Bottom Line:

        There are problems with xenophobia and intolerance in both of our respective communities. We don’t solve them by portraying ourselves as more “evolved” than the other, while trivializing the problems within our own communities.

        Claim about Ovadia Yosef can be found here.


  2. Mitch Morgenstern says:

    Great post. The world has to stop treating the Muslims / Arabs as children. They have to be held responsible for their words and actions. They cannot spew hatred and then claim to be part of the world of nations. They have to be held accountable for their treatment of women. They have to be questioned why their societies advance little to the betterment of the world and world peace. Why the western media gives the Arab world a free pass to be destructive is amazing.
    Obama’s pandering to the Arabs by telling the head of NASA to “market” to the Arab world.
    How about this. The Arabs have billions and billions of dollars. Rather than play the victim game, how about reinvesting the billions into your people: Build hospitals, schools, industry, high tech centers, and housing.
    When Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza, I supported Sharon and thought it was the proper move. The only argument someone made to me against the move that gave me pause was the difference in attitudes of the people of Israel and the Arab world. The Israeli’s want peace, almost desperately. The Arab world is poised for war through the constant demonization of Israel and Jews in their media. Again we treat the Arabs as children as they can spew vicious hatred publicly and no one questions them.

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