|Enough said. Netanyahu really does understand Arabs. Especially Egyptians. Look what happened to Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian culture minister who longed to head UNESCO.
The beginning of the story is well-known. All of Israel’s ambassadors and attaches wasted no effort to sabotage the Egyptian minister’s appointment to the desirable post. Every anti-Israeli remark, every word he mouthed critical of Israeli books and writers and every pronouncement against normalizing ties with Israel were meticulously gathered in a file of evidence against him. Indeed, how could an Egyptian minister, a painter and intellectual, be awarded this international post when he had announced he would burn Israeli books?
While it is difficult to find an independent Egyptian intellectual, as opposed to those in the establishment, who would put in a good word for Hosni? His declarations had made him a local hero for building a wall, with his own hands, against normalization. That is, until Netanyahu came along to fix things for him in a conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Haaretz political correspondent Barak Ravid uncovered the fact that Netanyahu agreed to drop Israel’s objections to the appointment in exchange for a gesture of normalization on Egypt’s part. The gestures followed immediately.
Hosni apologized for his remarks and even announced he had ordered the translation of books by David Grossman and Amos Oz into Arabic. Heaven forbid, not from the original Hebrew, but from English and French versions. Such translations have, by the way, existed for years in Egypt’s university libraries, and Egyptian scholars have written numerous research papers on Israeli authors.
But then there was an uproar. The culture minister became the object of derision. « Hosni will not stop short of courting Zionist influence to reach the UNESCO seat, » wrote the critic Wael Kandil. MP Abbas Abd al-Aziz, representing the Suez region, called for Hosni to be removed from office and his way to UNESCO blocked, because he was willing to do anything to get the position, even at the expense of the history of the city of Suez. Aziz was angry; Hosni had agreed to invite Israeli representatives to a literary festival in Suez, nicknamed « the city of opposition. »
Intellectuals and academics from Suez announced they would campaign against the invitations and even created an Internet site detailing Hosni’s crimes and submission to Zionism.
But the Egyptian opposition contains several voices, and one of them is particularly original. The translator and Hebrew scholar Mohammed Aboud wrote his doctoral dissertation at Ain Shams University on Hebrew literature. Israeli poet and writer Almog Bahar turned my attention to an article by Aboud last week in the Almasry Alyoum newspaper in which he explains why he opposes translating Hebrew works into Arabic through the Egyptian Culture Ministry:
« I personally have great appreciation for those who reject translating Hebrew literature into Arabic through the offices of the Culture Ministry, because this is the apparatus that inherited the slogan ‘know your enemy,’ under whose shadow Hebrew language departments at Egyptian universities developed. These departments participated and still take part in anti-Israeli efforts on the information, ideological and military fronts. They swallow every piece of paper translated from Hebrew so as to be armed with the knowledge to continue the confrontation with the enemy from the east.
« I understand the reason for the Culture Ministry’s haste to translate Hebrew literature at this moment in time, » Aboud writes. « Rather than taking this important step in the framework of a national undertaking – to become familiar with Israel, and methodically and intensively gather information on the ideological and cultural currents there – it aspires to attain an international office, which may or may not be reached. »
Aboud’s voice isn’t enough to change the official, ideological allegiance to opposing normalizing ties with Israel. Farouk Hosni now understands very well he will pay too high a price in public opinion for what is seen as reconciliation with Israeli literature. The national hero directly fighting the Zionists has turned into a traitor, according to the principles of those intellectuals warring against normalization.