Fear and guilt in EgyptI've done at least two posts that deal with the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. They are here and here. In a nutshell, some 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries in the 1940's and 1950's. Most left with nothing. Many left large amounts of property behind. One of those countries was Egypt. In 1948, there were 75,000-80,000 Jews living in Egypt. Today, less than 100 remain.
It has become stylish today for Jews in Israel to return to the countries from which they fled or emigrated for a visit. While it has always been stylish for Jews from western countries like the United States and Canada and England to do so, it has recently become in vogue for Israeli Jews to visit countries like Poland and Lithuania. A group of 46-Egyptian born Jews had planned to visit Egypt. They planned to visit historic Jewish sites, like Maimonides' synagogue in Cairo, also known as the Ben Ezra synagogue, which is where the Cairo geniza was found (yes, I have been to Egypt) and the pyramids (yes, we built them). A 'media storm' has now caused the Egyptian government to cancel that visit.
Some 45 elderly Jews, most born in Egypt, had planned a four day trip to Egypt which would have included visits to historic synagogues and lectures. Local media painted the event as a conference celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding and would call for the restoration of properties once owned by Jews in Egypt.And the reason for the uproar, the claim by the Egyptian media that this group of 45 elderly Jews was going to try to claim back the property that it abandoned when it left Egypt with the clothes on its members' backs? It's complete nonsense.
"Authorities contacted the organizers of the Israeli delegation and informed them that the event was canceled due to sensitivity of the current situation in the region," a security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Israeli press attache Shani Cooper-Zubida said that when the media storm broke the group had trouble finding accomodation in Cairo.
"Unfortunately they had to cancel the visit two days ago because they had a lot of difficulties arranging their stay here," she told The Associated Press. "After the negative publicity in the Egyptian media, they just couldn't (come)."
Egypt once boasted a vibrant and prosperous Jewish community of tens of thousands during the the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Most, however, emigrated to Israel and Europe, following the dramatic worsening of relations between Egypt and the Jewish state during the 1956 war between the two countries.
According to a report Friday on the Web site of Yedioth Aharanot newspaper, the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, where the delegation had originally booked their rooms, cancelled their reservations and said they could not accomodate them because of the situation.
Nadia al-Ansari, the Marriott's director of sales and marketing, would only say the delegation no longer planned to stay at their hotel.
"The only information we are actually giving out about this group is basically that it is no longer confirmed with us, they are not staying with us," she said.
Dr. Gabriel Rosenbaum, director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo who was scheduled to give a lecture to the delegation, said the whole event was grossly mispresented in the Egyptian media as a conference rather than just a visit.Since the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed in 1979, hundreds - if not thousands - of Israelis have visited Egypt (I went in the spring of 1980, just a few months after the treaty was signed). There has been very little tourism from Egypt to Israel. Egyptians are informally 'discouraged' from visiting here. But until now, the Egyptians were always willing to take our money when we visited there.
"The average age of these people was between 70 and 80, not all of them in good health condition," he said. "Before they die, they just wanted to come see Egypt, to see the synagogues, to see maybe the tombs of their fathers and then go away."
These people had no intention of demanding any money or property from the Egyptians or their government. But what if they had? What if they wanted to move back to Egypt? The Egyptians would have said no. So why do they complain so much when we say no to the 'Palestinians' moving back? You can bet that those 70 and 80-year olds would at least have been willing to live in peace. Are the Egyptians afraid of Jews moving back? Do they feel guilty about what they did to their Jews? Do they realize that if the Jews ever took them to an international tribunal the Egyptian government may not have a leg on which to stand?