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The regime change in Egypt is expected to top the agenda at the annual visit organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a US umbrella group, which got under way on Sunday.
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During their four-day stay the 106 Jewish officials from the US will take part in several panels touching on a wide-range of Middle Eastern issues, including one devoted to recent events in Egypt, at which former OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash is slated to speak In addition, the officials will meet with a string of senior Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Presidents’ Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, who will head the delegation, is considered to be one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants. Late last year Hoenlein, who has been in his post for the past 26 years, visited Syria, where he reportedly delivered a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad from Netanyahu.
Hoenlein, however, has denied media reports saying he went to the Arab country, which is still officially at war with Israel, on a humanitarian mission to retrieve the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.
Hoenlein was also the first to break the silence surrounding events in Egypt earlier this month when he called former International Atomic Energy Agency head and wouldbe presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei a “stooge” for Iran.
“He is a stooge of Iran, and I don’t use the term lightly,” Hoenlein was quoted as saying, referring to ElBaradei’s perceived passivity in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program on behalf of the UN-affiliated group. “He fronted for them, he distorted the reports.”
Meanwhile, several Jewish groups reacted over the weekend to news of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down in response to protests against him, which brought much of the country to a standstill for nearly three weeks.
“The demonstrations by the people of Egypt against the regime’s authoritarianism and repression, and their demands for greater freedom, political accountability and transparency, have been inspiring to all who cherish democracy and liberty,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Friday after Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had relinquished his powers to the army.
“The people of Egypt must now channel their passion for change into the more difficult task of building the foundations for a true open, inclusive and stable democracy.”
The statement noted uncertainty about “the new role of the military is and how they will govern” as well as “serious questions about what role the Muslim Brotherhood will play in the transition and beyond, and how this will impact Egypt’s policies, and its relations with the West and the State of Israel.”
The Union for Reform Judaism quoted the Babylonian Talmud (Brachot 55a): “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.”
“We hope and pray that the transition in Egypt will be one of calm and peace and that the next leader of Egypt will be chosen through open and democratic elections,” said the statement from URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie.
“We further pray that the next government will continue Egypt’s leadership in the area of regional security and work to protect both Egypt’s and the world’s interest in continuing peace with Israel.”