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Jewish leaders wary of effects on Israel

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The borough’s Jewish community is keeping a close eye on the days of protests in Egypt as the country’s citizens gathered in masses for demonstrations that may soon end in a regime change.

The Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, announced Tuesday he does not plan to run for president in September’s elections.

Egypt, the first country to enter into a peace treaty with Israel, is the Jewish state’s closest ally in the Middle East.

Jewish leaders in Queens said they are concerned but hopeful that if there is a change in government in Egypt, peace with Israel will continue.

“We’re watching with baited breath,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council.

“The Jewish community is very concerned,” she said. “For 30 years, there had been a peace ... and we certainly don’t want to see a change in regime that will alter peace between the two countries.”

Zalisky said the borough’s Jews are worried that a leadership void in Egypt will result in more controversial figures taking over the country and making it an Islamic nation.

“That is a great concern,” she said. “We’re praying for a positive reaction to the crisis.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), a former chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, who had traveled to Egypt numerous times and met with the Egyptian leader, called on Mubarak to step down before he announced he would not seek re-election and for the United States to suspend assistance to Egypt until the country transitions into a new government.

“While initially it may have been prudent for the Obama administration to walk the rhetorical tight rope to keep the confidence of regional leaders, that moment has surely passed,” the congressman said. “By their passion, courage and sacrifice in the streets, Egyptians have proved beyond question that they are taking their government back and that the Mubarak era of rule is ending.”

Rabbi Michael Weisser of the Free Synagogue of Flushing, at 41-60 Kissena Blvd., said the uncertainty fueled by protests in Egypt makes it difficult to see how the country’s leadership will pan out.

“It’s hard to tell what it means for Israel. When change is in the wind, it could be very unpredicta­ble,” Weisser said. “It depends on who takes over. I really think it will sort out in a peaceful way, but I think there’s going to be a time of trepidation. Right now, I think Egypt will sort out its problems.”

Weisser said Egypt’s poverty and lack of employment parallel conditions in the United States “on a more extreme level.”

The Flushing rabbi said the crisis may lead to an “interesting twist” in better relations between Israel and its neighbors if other countries follow the lead of the Egyptian people, who in turn were inspired by Tunisian citizens overthrowing their government.

“It could really drive some of them into cooperating with Israel,” Weisser said. “It’s an open secret that some of these countries have worked behind the scenes with Israel” before.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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