WASHINGTON (Apr. 5)
American Jewish leaders will travel to Houston to meet Egypt’s president on the day Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected at the White House.
Hosni Mubarak will meet Bush at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch on April 12. Many Jewish leaders will leave straight from the end of the Passover holiday for an April 14 meeting in Texas with the Egyptian leader.
Sharon will meet with Bush in the White House the same day.
Past meetings with Mubarak have been contentious in the Jewish community, and this year’s is proving to be no exception. The Anti-Defamation League has refused an invitation to attend in protest of Egypt’s cold shoulder toward Israel.
Several other groups will not be represented either, though primarily because of the meeting’s location.
The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said he’ll skip the Mubarak meeting because Egypt boycotted events in Israel celebrating the 25th anniversary of the two countries’ peace treaty.
“There have to be consequences for behavior that is insulting and offensive to the Jewish community,” Foxman said.
Egyptian officials said they skipped the ceremony to protest Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, though they had sought to cancel the events several times in the weeks before the killing, citing various reasons.
The ADL has clashed with Mubarak in the past. Two years ago, Egypt did not invite ADL to a meeting Mubarak held with Jewish leaders because of the group’s denunciations of anti-Semitism in Egypt’s state-sponsored media.
Several other Jewish groups boycotted the event after the ADL was left out.
The ADL often times its releases of packets of anti-American and anti-Semitic articles and editorial cartoons from the Egyptian media to coincide with Mubarak’s visits the United States.
Representatives from Hadassah, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are expected to attend the April 14 meeting with Mubarak.
“We’re going to ask difficult questions,” said Reva Price, JCPA’s Washington representative. “We’re going to talk about anti-Semitism and Egypt’s participation in any future plans for Gaza” after Israel’s planned withdrawal from the strip.
Jason Isaacson, AJCommittee’s director of government and international affairs, said he believes the Jewish community would use the meeting to help make clear Egypt’s responsibilities in the Middle East.
“It’s necessary to say certain things in a meeting like this, to express disappointment and to express a desire to move forward,” he said. “I’m sure President Mubarak has a list of grievances himself.”
The Jewish community would like Egypt to support Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza — perhaps by helping to maintain security afterward — and help the Palestinians reorganize their security services to fight terrorism.
The lack of an Egyptian ambassador in Israel also will be on the Jewish community’s agenda. In a breach of Egypt’s commitments under the Camp David Accords, the ambassador was removed from Tel Aviv after the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.
Mubarak told the American Jewish groups in 2003 that he would not have a problem sending an Egyptian ambassador back to Israel, but that it would not happen immediately.
Sharon’s visit to Washington is expected to focus on American support for the Gaza withdrawal. Sources said Israel is seeking a statement from Bush attesting that the withdrawal is in keeping with the “road map” peace plan that the United States formulated in 2002 with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
Sharon’s travel plans are constrained by the tail end of the Passover holiday, so he will not travel to New York, as he customarily does, to meet with American Jewish leaders.
He is expected to meet with other senior Bush administration officials, and possibly some Jewish leaders in Washington. Congress is on recess.