LONDON, Nov. 1 (JTA) — Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, swept into power 20 years ago after Anwar Sadat’s assassination by Islamic militants, is marking two decades in office with a verbal onslaught on Israel and the American Jewish lobby.
In a recent interview with the Lebanese newspaper Al-Hawadith published simultaneously in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly, Mubarak claims that the Jewish lobby’s allegedly blind support for Israel is heightening Arab hostility to Israel.
The normally cautious Egyptian leader also blamed the Jewish lobby for the absence of an international conference on combating terrorism.
“The Jewish lobby fears the convening of such a conference,” Mubarak said.
The venom of Mubarak’s remarks drew an immediate condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League.
“Attacking the so-called ‘Jewish lobby’ for a variety of alleged activities is a refrain often utilized by anti-Jewish extremists,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said. “Such comments are all the more unacceptable coming from a head of state.”
He also described as “unacceptable and illogical” the Jewish lobby’s efforts to equate Palestinian “resistance” with terrorism.
“The Palestinian people have a legitimate right to resist and to regain their land,” Mubarak said in language echoing the position of the PLO and more radical Arab states like Syria. “Resistance with the aim of liberating an occupied territory is not terrorism. National resistance is a legitimate right sanctioned by international law.”
Mubarak also said he is not pressuring Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to end the intifada.
“President Arafat is a symbol of the Palestinian people, and I help him as much as I can. He comes to me with his troubles,” Mubarak said.
Egypt became the first Arab state to forge ties with Israel when Sadat signed a peace treaty in March 1979. Israel often complains that Egypt has done its utmost to limit relations to the level of a “cold peace.”
Shortly after the Palestinian uprising erupted last fall, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel to protest what it called Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians.
Using uncharacteristically venomous language, Mubarak twice described Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as mass murder.
In the first such comment, he said, “The Israeli government’s policy of mass murder must be halted so that stability may be achieved for all peoples of the region.”
Later, Mubarak rejected claims that restrictions on democracy and free speech in Egypt and other Arab countries help nurture terrorists.
Insisting that freedom of opinion and expression exists in most Arab countries, he said: “Contrary to Israeli claims to be the only democratic state in the region, actually Israel is the one state that disregards international legitimacy, ignores the rulings of the judiciary, engages in mass murder and tosses human rights to the wind.”
In other remarks, the Egyptian leader claimed that Israeli obstinacy will not lead to peace or stability in the region, and that the Palestinian cause is responsible for more than 50 percent all global terrorism.
Even when the Palestinian issue is not the direct cause, terrorism hides behind it, moves in its shadows and uses it for its own purposes, Mubarak claimed.
He also warned that frustration and despair on the Palestinian street will rise if the Palestinian issue is not resolved, creating fertile ground for more violence and terrorism.
Mubarak said he often had warned Israel against assassinating suspected terrorists.
“I said the consequences would be dire,” he said. “The tragic result has been killing everywhere.
The Egyptian leader also took a swipe at Israel’s internal political structure, claiming religious parties there hold too much sway.
“This was precisely the example Egypt did not want to follow, and justified its own policy of banning religious parties,” he said.
Mubarak said he had exchanged seven messages with Washington since President Bush took office, all of them focused on the Arab-Israeli confrontation. Egypt is the biggest recipient of American aid after Israel.
In the latest exchange, Mubarak said he had stressed that the current strikes against terrorists in Afghanistan made action on the Palestinian issue and the Middle East problem even more urgent.
But Mubarak denied he was setting conditions for full cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition against terror.
Criticizing the United States, Britain and other European countries, Mubarak said they had refused to hand over terrorists wanted by the Egyptian security services and courts.
“The West never thought that it would become a target of terror,” Mubarak said. “I warned repeatedly that terrorism was an international phenomenon and that it would spread. I told Western leaders: If you protect terrorists who escape from their own countries, the day will come when they will turn against you.”