NEW YORK (Jun. 28)
Mubarak disappoints Jewish leaders, `brushing aside’ key issues of concern Jewish leaders came away from a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this week with few assurances that the Middle East leader would take an active role in promoting Jewish concerns in the region.
Given Egypt’s substantial contributions to Middle East peace in the past, “the hope and expectation was that that level of commitment would re-emerge” at this “critical juncture,” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, which convened the meeting in Washington on Monday at Egypt’s request.
Instead, several of the two dozen Jewish participants said, Mubarak stressed Egypt’s political solidarity with the Palestinians and with Arab states, and blamed Israel for the recent fallow period in the peace process.
“What we have heard over the last two-and-a-half or three years from Egyptian officials is that the reason for the disruption in the peace process has solely been lodged with Israel, and there was no dissent from that line today,” Isaacson said.
He added, however, that Mubarak, who was scheduled to meet with President Clinton on Thursday, repeatedly expressed his support for the Israeli- Palestinian peace process and for a “comprehensive peace including Syria.”
But on other issues — such as the 13 Iranian Jews accused of espionage, anti- Semitism in Egypt and an upcoming meeting of the parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to discuss Israeli settlements — Mubarak was less committal, sparking some vocal disagreement on the part of several Jewish organizational leaders.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, pressed the issue of the meeting in Geneva, currently slated for July 15.
This would be the first meeting of the signatories to the Convention, which protects the rights of civilians during wartime, since the treaty was signed in 1949.
The United States and Israel are currently working to cancel, or at least postpone, the meeting. They argue that to single out Israel, particularly using an international law established in the wake of the Holocaust, is immoral and politically motivated.
Mubarak downplayed the political importance of the Geneva meeting. He indicated that Egypt would favor postponement, but “he said there would have to be gestures from the Barak government on Har Homa and settlement policy,” Hoenlein said, referring to the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood where Palestinians object to Israeli plans to build new housing.
The Jewish leaders who met with Mubarak viewed his suggestion of a quid pro quo as “little short of blackmail,” in the words of one of the Washington participants.
The Washington gathering was attended by leadership from AJCommittee and the Conference of Presidents as well as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith, the American Israel Public Affairs Council, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, in addition to individuals involved in Middle East studies and policy.
On the question of the 13 Iranian Jews being held in custody on charges of spying for Israel, Mubarak would only “reaffirm the position that he disagrees with any action if taken against people on the basis of their religion or race,” according to a statement issued by the AJCommittee.
Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, presented Mubarak with its second report of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media.
The report found that anti-Semitic stereotypes appeared less frequently over the last year in Egyptian news publications, but that their severity had intensified.
Claiming that such was the nature of Egypt’s free press — an institution the Jewish leaders questioned — Mubarak reportedly made no promises to curb further anti-Semitic portrayals in the media.
Foxman described the meeting as “very unsatisfying.”
Calling Egypt “one of the most important Arab nations” and Mubarak “one of the most important Arab leaders,” Foxman said, “For him to brush everything aside as if it’s not for him to do or help was very unproductive.”
Hoenlein sounded some of the same disappointment, but said it was important for American Jews to keep dialogue with Egypt “open and continuing.”
“We will continue to press for results,” Hoenlein said. “We want a clear declaration that they will push for postponement, if not canceling of the meeting of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that they will speak out publicly against manifestations in the press that are anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.”
With such commitments from Egypt, Hoenlein said, “We’ll work with them on more regional approaches” — such as economic cooperation, tourism and trade — “to break down barriers” and to create a climate for a firm and lasting peace.