Mubarak: Anti-Semitism in Egyptian Press Down

Melissa Radler, NY - Jerusalem Post - April 15, 2004

See Also: Mubarak Zings American Jewish Leaders on Pollard Injustice

Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian press has sharply decreased, and it is currently limited to fringe periodicals that are more apt to attack the government than express anti-Jewish sentiment, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told a stunned group of Jewish leaders Wednesday.

"He downplayed the problem of anti-Semitism and certainly surprised some in the room by suggesting that it was really not an issue in the Egyptian media," said a meeting participant. The participant added that when 'A Horseman with a Horse,' a 2002, 41-part Egyptian TV series based on the Protocols of the Elder of Zion, was broached, Mubarak claimed to have just been made aware of the series.

"With all due respect to the president, every Jewish leader who has been in a meeting with Mubarak over the last two years has brought this up," said the participant.

Representatives from nine Jewish groups met with Mubarak at Egypt's request in Houston Wednesday afternoon following the Egyptian leader's visit with President George W. Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch earlier this week. The 90-minute meeting took place as Bush, at a press conference with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington, backed Israel's opposition to the Palestinian right of return to Israel and appeared to support Israel retaining control of settlement blocs over the Green Line.

According to Jewish leaders who attended the meeting, Mubarak reiterated his call on Israel to coordinate its disengagement from Gaza with the Palestinians. When participants broached the topic of weapons-smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, Mubarak reiterated Egypt's stance that the issue is the joint responsibility of Israel and Egypt.

"I think the basic theme was that Egypt, as a major power in the region, has a real opportunity to play an extraordinary leadership role, and in general, he handled it like a presidential press conference," said Bob Heller, chairman of the board of trustees of the Union of Reform Judaism.

One issue Mubarak seemed genuinely interested in was the establishment of qualified industrial zones (QIZ's) between Israel and Egypt, which would give Egyptians free trade access to US markets. "He views increased trade as pivotal to stability in the region," said the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Hannah Rosenthal. In fact, noted Hadassah national secretary Judy Palkovitz, economic cooperation between Israel and Egypt was "the only thing he was willing to deal with."

While the topic of Egypt reinstating its ambassador in Israel more than three years after the post was withdrawn, due to renewed Palestinian-Israeli fighting, was not brought up, Mubarak attempted to portray Egyptian-Israel relations in a flattering light, noting that he was "very keen" to strengthen relations between the two countries, said a participant.

Other issues raised included democratic reform, Egypt's use of US foreign aid, and Egyptian diplomatic efforts to dilute language condemning anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism at an upcoming OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) meeting. Mubarak, noted participants, outlined his willingness to help train police, doctors and emergency workers in Iraq to help stabilize the country when the US withdraws from the country. When someone raised the issue of Israeli Druze Azzam Azzam, who is imprisoned in Egypt on charges of spying for Israel, Mubarak, said a participant, told the leader to talk to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "He immediately shot back 'What about [convicted US spy for Israel] Jonathan Pollard,' then smiled in a way [indicating] that he was not taking the issue seriously," said the participant.

At least one Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, declined to attend the meeting, citing Egypt's refusal to participate in events marking the 25th anniversary of peace with Israel, but those who attended said such meetings are important.

"It's better to meet than not to meet and one always learns a few things," said the director of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, Jason Isaacson, who presented members of Mubarak's entourage with a study detailing Egypt's negative portrayal of Israel, including the absence of Israel from maps of the region, in the Egyptian educational system. The report was published Wednesday by the AJC and the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace.

"I think it was worthwhile. I think dialogue is always important, and there is value in having him hear directly from Jewish leadership," said Heller.

  • See Also: Mubarak Zings American Jewish Leaders on Pollard Injustice