Organizer: Egypt tour stymied by Cairo Jews

46 elderly Jews planned to visit Jewish sites; local media said group planned to reclaim lost land.

egypt pyramid 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [illustrative])
egypt pyramid 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [illustrative])
Members of Cairo's Jewish community may have prevented 45 Israeli Jews of Egyptian descent from touring the country, the president of the Israeli Egyptian Friendship Association said Sunday. Levana Zamir said she had planned a four-day trip to Cairo and Alexandria beginning this past weekend for 45 elderly Israelis. The group was planning on praying in Cairo and Alexandria synagogues and visiting the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo. But after reports in the Egyptian media and on Bassatine News, an Egyptian Jewish community Web site, that claimed the group would try to reclaim their ancestors' property, a wave of protest began, leading to the cancellation of the trip by Egyptian authorities. "Both the Cairo JCC [Jewish Community Center] board and its members refuse to have anything to do with this pseudo Congress," read a posting on the site, apparently confusing the Friendship Association with a different organization. According to Zamir, members of the Cairo Jewish community had refused to allow the group entrance to Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue, without which the group could not get the required security and permits from the Egyptian government. "Without this confirmation from the Jewish Community of Alexandria or Cairo to the Egyptian security authorities, there is no entrance for any group at one of the synagogues," she said. On Wednesday, Egyptian broadcaster Amr Adib reported that the tour group was going to Egypt to celebrate 60 years of Israeli independence and to reclaim their families' lost property, allegations that Zamir denied. "His report was like a bomb," she said. "We had already made hotel and flight arrangements for 45 people and paid for them." According to AP, the report sparked a media frenzy in Egypt, which caused the Cairo Marriott to cancel the group's reservation. "On Thursday morning, I got an e-mail from our travel agent saying the Marriott Hotel does not have adequate security for us and they have canceled our reservation," Zamir told The Jerusalem Post. The agent tried making reservations at other Cairo hotels, but none agreed to accept the group, she said. A Marriott Cairo employee said there was no reservation for the group, and that he knew nothing other than what was published in the media. A group member said she was disappointed the trip was canceled over the false report. "We are very disappointed because they built up a story about us, but we don't know who started the story," she said. "We have doubts, we think someone didn't want us to go, but we're not sure." The woman, who has not returned to Egypt since her family was exiled 46 years ago, said she was angered by the false reports. "Why did the journalist speak nonsense about us?" she asked. "Somebody must have told him those things. But who? I don't know." Both the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Egypt declined to comment. Dr. Max Salama, president of the Alexandria Jewish Community, told Zamir in an e-mail obtained by thePost the tour group was welcome to pray at Alexandria's Eliahu Hanavi Synagogue. AP contributed to this report.