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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Egyptians uniformly against "normalization"

Thirty years after Camp David, a small episode in Egypt this week illuminates the hatred that Egyptians have towards Israel.

Rabidly anti-Israel pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim led the Cairo Symphony Orchestra at the Cairo Opera House. Barenboim, who may be the only Jew to hold an honorary Palestinian citizenship, emphasized that he was not there as a representative of Israel, and he mentioned (to great applause) "I am sick to my stomach every morning when I wake up and I see the Palestinian territories still being occupied." He told a press conference, "I am not here to represent the Israeli government. I am here as an individual who has been very critical of the Israeli government."

Even so, Egyptians were divided as to whether hosting an Israeli in any capacity was part of a slippery slope towards the heinous crime of "normalization" with its peace partner.

Al Ahram notes:
Barenboim's Egyptian opponents question his decision to hold onto Israeli citizenship, pointing out that his visit to Egypt, the first such, may be intended to furtively normalise relations with Israel -- a step Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, along with the vast majority of intellectuals, formally rejects. Hosni's critics ask whether inviting Barenboim to Egypt is a nod on his part to the pro-Israel-dominated US political sphere, with a view to gaining favour regarding his nomination to the post of UNESCO director-general. "I will not accept such a visit or such a performance," the well-known writer Youssef El-Qaeed declaimed. "And don't tell me that Barenboim has a Palestinian passport or that he was a close friend of Edward Said's. I still will not accept it.
But those who were more ambivalent towards Barenboim's performance are equally against normalization:
The better known novelist, Gamal El-Ghitani -- also the editor of the cultural weekly Akhbar Al-Adab -- takes the opposite stand: "Had it been 10 years ago, it would have been perfectly fine. As it is this visit looks like an electoral manoeuvre in Hosni's candidacy for UNESCO director- general, which it is not. This is not normalisation and it's a dangerous wager to say that it is. This conductor is a hugely important figure who has always supported peace and spoken out against Israeli aggression in the Middle East."

The well-known journalist Assem Hanafi goes even further, explaining that refusing to let an anti-Zionist figure perform in Egypt is to realise Israel's wishes. "All I can say," he says, "is that this is an excellent opportunity and I have already booked my seat." The head censor, critic Ali Abu Shadi, feels that "what we have to go on" is Barenboim's stated position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. "If it is in support of the Arab cause and Palestinian rights, I am all for the person. If it is not I am against him -- even if he is the most outstanding artist on earth."

To the claim that it is an electoral manoeuvre on the part of Hosni, Abu Shadi exclaims, "normalisation of what? And to what end?"

People who claim they are for "peace" in the Middle East never talk about what exactly that means in terms of Israel becoming treated like a legitimate state by its Arab neighbors. All they care about is pressuring Israel to make more and more concessions. You will be hard pressed to find a "peace activist" lobbying Egypt to increase cultural and economic ties with Israel.

In other words, the only people who really want a true peace are Israelis, and not its critics, and Israeli-Egyptian relations prove it.

One must wonder why those who claim to want peace rarely try to improve the illusory "peace" that already exists.

The Egyptian peace treaty with Israel is often held up as a shining example of what is possible. This is true. However, it is also a shining example of exactly the kind of "peace" that Israel could ever gain from its neighbors - one where they will continue to project implacable hate towards the very idea of a Jewish state in their midst.