JERUSALEM (Jul. 17)
Three Israeli Orthodox leaders, all prominent in the Sephardic community, left Monday evening for a two-day visit to Egypt, at the invitation of President Hosni Mubarak.
They are Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, and two leaders of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas: Interior Minister Arye Deri and Immigration and Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz.
They will meet in Cairo on Wednesday with Mubarak and Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, who conveyed the invitations when he visited Israel earlier this year.
The Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv said the trip was arranged in the hope that Israel’s Sephardim could serve as a bridge between Jews and Arabs in the quest for peace.
Deri is conveying a message to Mubarak from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. It is believed to contain assurances that Israel’s peace initiative is unchanged, despite the Likud Central Committee’s July 5 vote to attach new conditions to the plan.
The interior minister has opposed his party’s hawkish foreign policy line in favor of the Labor Party’s proposals for peace talks with neighboring Arab states.
On Tuesday, the three Israelis will meet with the tiny Jewish community in Cairo, once one of the largest in the Middle East, and will visit the ancient Jewish cemetery.
Yosef is no stranger to Cairo. He was a rabbi there before immigrating to Israel. Deri and Peretz are of Moroccan origin.