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Jewish Leaders Decline Luncheon Invite With Mubarak

By Julie Stahl
CNS Jerusalem Bureau Chief
April 04, 2001

Jerusalem ( - Leaders of major Jewish organizations turned down an invitation to lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington on Wednesday to protest against anti-Semitism and incitement in the Egyptian media, as well as Egypt's refusal to return its ambassador to Israel.

Mubarak, on an official visit to the U.S., has been faced with opposition from several groups including the Jewish community and Egyptian Christians, who asked President Bush to raise their concerns in his meeting with the Egyptian leader.

Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein explained that his organization was not boycotting the luncheon, but was simply not going to attend.

If the invitation had presented an opportunity for a "serious dialogue," then he would have attended, said Hoenlein, who has met with the Egyptian leader in the past. But the phrase on the invitation said it was a "luncheon in honor of ... " so he decided not to attend, he added.

Among the issues to which the American Jewish community takes exception is the rampant anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments expressed regularly in editorials and cartoons in the Egyptian press.

Jewish leaders would also like to see Egypt return its ambassador to Tel Aviv. The Egyptian ambassador was recalled several months ago in support of the Palestinians.

The Anti-Defamation League has led the campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media and to call on Mubarak to use his influence to stop it.

On Monday when Mubarak met with President Bush, the ADL called on administration officials to hold him "personally accountable for the persistent use of anti-Semitism in the media."

The ADL's appeal was prompted by an article in the government-backed newspaper Al-Akhbar, which resurrected the centuries-old charge of blood libel against the Jewish people during the week of the pan-Arab summit in Amman.

Blood libel refers to the evil myth that Jewish people kill Christian children at the time of Passover to use their blood to make matzah. Matzah, the unleavened bread of the book of Exodus in the Bible, is made from flour and water only.

"It is ludicrous that Egypt's leaders, while holding out an olive branch to Israel and the United States, continue to permit such ugly and hateful stereotypes of Jews and Judaism," Foxman said in a statement. "Egypt's tolerance of anti-Semitism belies its claim that it wants to continue to be a partner for peace," he added.

In comments to the daily Ha'aretz newspaper on Wednesday, Foxman said that he respected Mubarak but was "not prepared to be present at an event held in his honor."

Foxman argued that the luncheon was organized for "propaganda reasons" and criticized certain Jews who had decided to attend the luncheon.

"There is no common language or common cause today linking Jews and Arab individuals, who up to now have refrained from denouncing violence and terror," he was quoted as saying.

Earlier, the Zionist Organization of America called on Jewish leaders not to attend the luncheon citing among other things what it called "Egypt's preparations for war, its withdrawal of its ambassador from Israel, its refusal to accredit Israel's ambassador in Egypt, and its many other violations of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty."

Among those not heeding the appeal are said to be the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and a rabbi from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Religious Persecution

On Wednesday, Communications Director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Lawrence J. Goodrich said in a telephone interview that his organization hadn't received any information on its earlier appeal to President Bush to raise issues of religious-freedom with Mubarak.

The Washington-based organization was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to give independent recommendations to the executive branch and Congress.

A delegation from the UCIRF just completed a fact-finding trip to Egypt, which is known to allow persecution and discrimination against the country's Christian minority.

"With respect to the Christian community, government permission must still be sought to build or repair a church.

"Christians are rarely promoted to high levels in the government or military and are frequently discriminated against by private employers in hiring and promotion. Their taxes help pay the salaries of all Muslim, but no Christian, clergy," a letter from the organization to the president charged.

The letter also notes infractions against Baha'is and certain Muslims, as well as police brutality and torture of detainees.

©Copyright 2001, CNS Mews

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