Tag: Egypt/Israel

Envoy to Morocco: ‘cultural relations will bring people together’

Moroccan are eager to visit Israel, says Israel’s newly-installed ambassador David Govrin. The country contrasts with Egypt, for instance,  where Nasserists and Islamists are a powerful obstacle to peace, he tells Jewish Insider:

Ambassador David Govrin: served in Egypt

A veteran of Israel’s foreign service and a fluent Arabic speaker, Govrin understands the difference between a peace that is warm over one that is not. A former ambassador to Egypt, from 2016 to 2019 – Govrin also served as first secretary in Cairo between 1994-1997 – he said Israel’s relations with the two Arab states differ wildly.

“One has to bear in mind that Israel and Egypt have engaged in five wars, this is not the same for Israel and Morocco,” Govrin began, highlighting that powerful segments in Egyptian society – the Nasserists and the Islamists – have remained an obstacle to Egypt’s ability to develop better personal ties with Israel.

“There are also no cultural relations between Israel and Egypt,” he continued. “This is unfortunate because it is cultural relations that really bring people together.”

During his short time in Morocco, Govrin has focused on building those cultural and people-to-people relationships. From a young leaders’ seminar last month in Marrakesh to a Jewish women’s festival in the Mediterranean city of Tangiers to mark International Women’s Day, he said it has been easy.

“Before I arrived, my expectations were at a certain level,” Govrin admitted. “After arriving, however, I noticed that the reality was way beyond that. There’s so much enthusiasm and the people here are very excited and eager to visit Israel.”

Indeed, the new consular section, which did not exist before Govrin’s arrival, has received endless inquiries and requests from Moroccans wanting to visit Israel. Israeli airlines began direct flights to Morocco last summer, and the first Moroccan airline held its inaugural flight from Casablanca just over a week ago.

What sets Morocco apart from other Arab states, Govrin explained, is that “the Moroccan people fully understand the importance of the peace with Israel” and feel connected to Jews because of the community’s long presence in the country.

“They have a positive and forthcoming approach to Jews because the Jews were an integral part of Moroccan society, history and heritage for many centuries,” he continued. “This has helped us to push the relationship forward.”

Jews have had a permanent presence in Morocco for more than 2,000 years and with the arrival of Jews from Spain and Portugal – following their expulsion in 1492 – their impact in the country grew even further. Today, while the community has shrunk from an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 in the mid-20th century to only about 2,000 – most fleeing following waves of antisemitism after Israel’s creation –  those still living in the country remain openly and actively Jewish.

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Egypt Air to run direct flights to Israel

In a sign of thawing relations between Israel and Egypt, the national Egyptian airline will run four flights a day to Israel beginning in October. Egyptian Streets reports:

Israel speaks Arabic,’ the official Arabic-language Facebook page for Israel, announced Tuesday 14 September, that Egypt’s national airline, EgyptAir will start operating direct flights between Cairo and Tel Aviv next month.

For the first time in decades, EgyptAir will operate with four weekly flights starting with 3, 4, 5, and 7 October.

More so, Israel’s Transportation Minister, Merav Michaeli, stated that Sinai’s Taba border crossing will become fully operational with extended opening hours, allowing an unlimited number of entry permits per day.

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Cairo Book Fair still purveying Antisemitism

The good news is that the Gulf States, bound by the Abraham Accords,are not pumping out antisemitism at their book fairs. The bad news is that Egypt, despite its Peace Accord with Israel, still displays  ‘hate literature’ at this year’s Cairo Book Fair. Article by Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the Jerusalem Post:

An Arabic edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Ziyon

The Simon Wiesenthal Center annually monitors the shelves of seven Arab Book Fairs for incitement to hatred and violence. We send our findings to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where measures are taken to ban the listed offenders. COVID-19 closed down some of the Arab fairs, but until last year, Abu Dhabi was among the offenders. This May, in the spirit of the Abraham Accords, that book fair was totally clean. This was not the case of Egypt, however, where the ongoing fair hosts 1,218 publishers in 756 stands representing 25 countries, led by Spain, whose ambassador recently waxed lyrical regarding Hispano-Arab literature.

At the same time, Egyptian author Mansour Abdel Hakim was signing at the Dar Al Kitab Al Arabi (House of the Arab Book) stand, the fourth volume in his series The Great Secrets of Freemasonry – The World Hidden Government (in English and in Arabic). This demeaning book takes you through various conspiracy theories and the beliefs they promote, including one that says Jews divided the world into two parts: masters and slaves.

Each year in Frankfurt we present The Worst Offender Award. In 2019, it went to Iran for its books for four-to-seven year old children extolling “shehada,” suicide martyrdom. The runner-up award went to Egypt for a plethora of questionable editions.

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Antisemitism plagues the Cairo Book Fair

Egypt to teach Judaism in schools to counter fanaticism

Egypt appears to be following Morocco in promoting the teaching of Judaism in schools. Whereas Morocco seems keen to teach  its Jewish history and heritage, Egypt is more focused on using religious values to  counter Islamist extremism and intolerance. The Jerusalem Post quotes a report in al-Monitor: (with thanks: Roger)

Egyptian schoolchildren (Photo: Al Ahram online)

In an unprecedented move, the Egyptian parliament recently commended the Ministry of Education on approving a new school subject: religious values ​​and verses that have the same meaning in the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Al-Monitor reported. 

 The decision will allow Egyptian students to study verses from the Jewish religion for the first time ever.

“The Ministry of Education’s approval of the subject of religious values shared between the divine religions expresses the state’s keenness to spread the values ​​of tolerance and fraternity,” declared Kamal Amer, head of parliamentary defense and the National Security Committee in the Egyptian Parliament.

 The three religions “include common values ​​that students must study to be able to confront the extremist and takfirist [apostasy defying] ideas that backward groups are working on to spread in society,” Amer continued.
“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is keen to teach youth the values ​​of respect for others, tolerance and rejection of fanaticism and extremism,” he said. “This is why the Ministry of Education decided to teach the subject of common values ​​in schools.”

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Where should the Mosseri Genizah collection go next?

Posted on the ‘Egyptian Jews’ Facebook page, a link to a podcast entitled ‘Whose Genizah?’reveals a little-known aspect of the Cairo Genizah story.  The podcast, a 43-minute professionally- produced programme by  Kerning Cultures, was remarkable for having been made by a group of Egyptian non-Jews. It is fascinating for reflecting contemporary attitudes about national heritage, the colonial past, and  has curious parallels with another contentious story – the Iraqi-Jewish archive.

Inside Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue

The Cairo Genizah is that trove of discarded documents bearing God’s name discovered in a small room in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fostat, old Cairo. in  1897. Some 193, 000 fragments, many dating back to the Middle Ages, were found by the Talmudic scholar Solomon Schechter and shipped off to Cambridge to become the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Unit.

But Schechter left some 17,000 fragments behind. They were collected together by Jacques Mosseri, a member of a prominent Egyptian banking family with a keen interest in education. The programme makers, projecting perhaps their fashionable distaste for the  colonialist exporting to the West of what they consider to be ‘Egyptian heritage’, explain that Mosseri dreamed of setting up a Jewish library or museum in Egypt. This  would have housed the  Mosseri collection and other Jewish memorabilia. But his idea met with little response.  

When Jacques died suddenly in 1934 aged 50, the Genizah manuscripts followed his widow to the south of France in tea chests and cardboard boxes. A scholar from the Israel National Library, Israel Adler, came looking for one of the family heirlooms, the Mosseri Bible. The Bible had been stolen by the Nazis, but what Adler did find was the Genizah material in the family kitchen. Mrs Mosseri gave Adler just two weeks to put the documents on microfilm before transferring them to a bank vault. Eventually the  Mosseri collection was loaned  to the Taylor-Schechter Collection in Cambridge for 20 years. Most documents have now been restored and digitised. But where should the Mosseri collection go next?

While the Israel National Library would seem to be the logical choice,  Jacques Mosseri’s descendants  are resistant to the idea, saying that the collection should not go to Israel until there was peace in the region.’ That was a bit like saying ‘When pigs fly’ or, to use an Egyptian expression,  Bukra fil mishmish.  ‘I don’t won’t the collection to be bombed, ‘ protests Jacques’ grand-daughter Anne Mosseri Marlio, showing little faith in Israel’s capacity to look after its own treasures. 

Was Egypt any more secure? the question was not asked.  Should it stay in Cambridge ? The UK was tainted with its colonial past. There is a consensus, says Ben Outhwaite, head of the Cairo Genizah Unit, that the collection should return to the Middle East.

Had he lived, Jacques might well have considered Israel as a home for the Mosseri collection, but of course there was no Israel at the time. Nor could he have anticipated that Egypt’s Jews would have been thrown out.  Yet the Egyptian programmers struggled with the idea of giving the collection to Israel, Egypt’s mortal enemy, pointedly disregarding  the 1979  Israel-Egypt peace treaty.  

The makers had to admit that the Egyptian-Jewish community ‘was finished’, to quote the leader of the tiny band of Jews still in Egypt, Magda Haroun, although US  scholar of  Egyptian Jewry  Joel Beinin was allowed to blame Jews for their own exodus,  glossing over anti-Jewish persecution and violence in 1948. The seminal event, he said, was  the 1954 failed bomb plot ordered by Israel’s defence minister, Pinhas Lavon, Operation Suzannah, which turned every Egyptian Jew into an enemy agent.

But someone on the podcast did make the point that the Egyptian government could not have a claim on the Mosseri collection since it was Jewish private property. The state did nothing to create or preserve the collection. This argument could equally be applied to  the Iraqi Jewish archive, the random collection of documents, correspondence and books belonging to the Iraqi-Jewish community. The archive was shipped out to  the US for restoration; the State department has undertaken to  send it back to Baghdad in 2021, although the Jewish community there is extinct.

The Genizah is Jewish heritage, but the  podcast turns it into a controversial and politicised issue, fuelled by the Mosseri descendants’ ambivalence towards Israel. Thankfully there is a solution: it’s called digitisation. Scholars will access the collection through their computers: more than half  of Jacques’ collection is already online. All that is needed in the money to digitise the rest.

To hear the podcast click here.(43 minutes)


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