By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Egypt's journalist union is investigating whether to expel a prominent member for meeting with the Israeli ambassador, a case that highlights the broad opposition to normal relations with Israel that persists despite a 30-year-old peace deal between the two countries.
Egyptian media often act as the standard bearers for anti-Israeli sentiment in the country, a practice that was in full display last month when reporters of all stripes echoed the cultural minister's claim that a Jewish conspiracy undermined his bid to lead the UN cultural agency.
Some reporters said Farouk Hosni's failed UNESCO bid likely fueled the decision by the Egyptian Journalists' Union to investigate Hala Mustafa, editor-in-chief of the state-run quarterly magazine Democratiya. It is the first disciplinary hearing of its kind by the union even though the group has banned contact with Israelis for nearly 25 years.
Other factors also likely played a part, including lingering anger that the Egyptian government did not do more to stop the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this year that killed some 1,400 Palestinians, said Salah Eissa, a prominent writer and editor of the cultural weekly al-Qahira.
"The incursion in Gaza, the loss of UNESCO ... and the politics of an upcoming union election - it all added up," said Eissa.
Mustafa, who met with Israeli Ambassador Shalom Cohen in her office on Sept. 14, criticized the union, saying the ban against traveling to Israel or meeting with Israelis for work or personal reasons was "obsolete." The union will decide her fate on Tuesday.
"It's ridiculous not to have any contact with Israelis as a journalist," said Mustafa. "Many have done it before me."
She said Cohen visited her office to discuss a symposium they were organizing that would include Egyptian, American and Israeli participants.
"There is a reality on the ground that we have to deal with: we have a peace with Israel," said Mustafa. "If people want to boycott Israel, they should do so on an individual basis, but according to our law we have normal relations."
The meeting came less than a week before Hosni, a painter who has been Egypt's cultural minister for two decades, lost his bid to head UNESCO. He was initially seen as the front-runner for the UNESCO job, which would have made him the first Arab to hold the position.
But his campaign faltered over controversy about a comment he made in parliament in 2008 promising to burn any Israeli books in Egyptian libraries. Hosni made the comment in an attempt to defend himself against charges by Egyptian lawmakers of being soft on Israel.
Hosni and his supporters claimed he was the victim of a Jewish conspiracy aiming to undermine Egypt - a message that was embraced and amplified by the Egyptian media.
Despite the heated environment that followed Hosni's loss, Eissa said he was surprised the union decided to conduct a formal investigation of Mustafa.
"There has been a lot of anger over Mustafa's action, but the anger should have been expressed through the media and through articles," said Eissa. "This isn't a case that needs to be disciplined."
Eissa said the 1985 decision to ban journalists from having normal ties with Israelis was a "weapon" put in place by the union.
"The union said: this is the card to play when negotiating with Israel," he said. "No peace or normal relations with the people of Egypt until land goes back to Palestinians."
Mustafa said the Egyptian media was controlled by Arab nationalists and Islamists who view the 1979 peace agreement with Israel signed by former President Anwar Sadat as a shameful moment in Egypt's history.
"You still have some journalists blaming Sadat, saying that he signed the peace agreement on his own behalf, and not on the country's behalf," she said.
Mustafa said she knows the union is making an example of her but wants Egyptians to realize that peace with Israel is a fact of life that can't be denied.
"We are living in a world of dialogue and peace building," said Mustafa. "How can you have a dialogue with every faction and not engage a major side of the debate?"
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