Saturday, December 10, 2005

Egyptian envoy gives glib answer

It's not often that a Jew from an Arab country gets a chance to ask the ambassador of that country to confront - and apologise for - the way they treated their Jewish citizens. What is immensely disappointing, and frustrating, is how the questioner can be fobbed off with a glib answer - and the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from the Middle East (the issue at the heart of the Israel-Arab conflict) seemingly dismissed as an irrelevance.

Here's what happened, in Israel Bonan's words, when his son confronted Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the USA, with a question he himself had wanted to ask for 40 years:

"On 19 October 2005 at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, an Academic forum was held, to discuss what the possible next steps are for Israel and the Palestinians peace process, which was attended by a distinguished panel of Academics and Research Centers and think tanks (one notably being the Saban center in Washington, DC).

"The keynote speaker was the Egyptian Ambassador to the US in Washington, his Excellency Nabil Fahmy. Once we found out he will entertain questions, a friend of mine, myself and my son worked cooperatively to articulate a pointed question to pose to his Excellency, the tone was intentionally respectful but direct; the text of which is copied below:

Your Excellency, my father is a Jew who was born in Egypt and still possesses many fond memories of Egypt and the friends he left behind, who were protective of him and his family during years of persecution. But he is also sure you are aware that previous governments have caused many injustices to a great many of the Jews from Egypt, such as by incarcerating them, mistreating them, confiscating all of their money and property, and eventually expelling them from Egypt. My father is keenly interested in asking you whether the current Egyptian Government is ready for a rapprochement with the estranged Jewish community. And what steps ought and should be taken to acknowledge that episode in history and see to it that it is redressed. Is an apology overdue? After all, the US apologized to Japanese Americans for what it did during WWII, isn't it time, your Excellency, Egypt did the same?

Since neither I nor my friend could attend, my son took the onus of representing us. After he read the first paragraph, the moderator tried to cut him off by implying that he is making a speech, and not asking a question. And Jacques responded “My father has waited 40 years for an answer to this question."

”At this point the President of the University interceded and indicated for my son to 'go on'. So my son completed the second part of the question. The whole thing was being recorded (I hope we can get the copy to circulate it).

"The Ambassador replied that the Japanese example is different, that Egypt has paid some restitution to Jews from Egypt? And that if we are expecting President Mubarak to apologize, the answer is No. We want to move forward and nothing is to be gained by rehashing the past, or try to assess who is right and who is wrong!!

My son then attempted to follow up: “Your Excellency, we are here to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and ask ourselves where we go from this point as to how do the Israelis and Palestinians reconcile. But shouldn’t we also step back and look at the broader picture in the Middle East in order to reach a more comprehensive and conclusive settlement? That there were Jews who suffered too …"

At this point the moderator cut him off. An individual in the audience ran after the Ambassador (who was pressed to take a flight and had to leave), and reminded him that his answer negated everything he said vis-a-vis the Palestinians in his keynote speech. The rest of the audience rumbling implied that the glib answer was cheesy… and congratulated Jacques on the question.

I wanted to share with you this episode, and hope to hear from you and your reactions. I also take it as an opportunity to thank my son for stepping up to the plate and assert our cause. After all once our generation has passed on the newer generation already feels the obligation to carry that torch forward."

In the following article published on HSJE Israel Bonan explains why the analogy between the Jews in Egypt and Japanese Americans during World War ll does not stand up.

Yes, Your Excellency, I agree with you

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