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It's Lucky He Didn't Bring a Violin
Last uploaded : Saturday 23rd Apr 2005 at 01:56
Contributed by : Zvi Bar'el


Tel Aviv -

Ashraf Rady did not expect that his lecture on liberalism in Egypt would be received with such profound interest by the Israeli security checkers at Ben-Gurion Airport's Terminal 3. Perhaps these questioners just wanted to check how remote they are from Egyptian liberalism? Perhaps when they interrogated him about his friends in Israel they just wanted to become a part of this circle of friends?

One can understand why, "for security reasons," they stripped him and poked into his underwear and all of his baggage. But it is impossible to understand why they quizzed him over and over about the content of his lecture, about the lectures of other participants in the conference organized by the Chaim Herzog Centre for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University, and about the places they visited. It is also incomprehensible why they insisted on checking the telephone numbers saved in the memory of his cell phone, despite the fact that he explained that the device only works in Egypt. It's lucky that Rady did not have a violin with him.

Perhaps the Herzog Centre made a big mistake by not inviting the checkers to the conference on liberal discourse in the Middle East. These checkers certainly could have learned a thing or two. If they had been invited, they definitely would have understood, "Why did the Herzog Centre decide to specifically invite you to the conference?" as they asked Rady.

So here is the answer, dear checkers. The Herzog Centre recruits and operates Egyptian spies, and within hours turns them into terrorists. Even worse, it does this in collaboration with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that these dangerous terrorists receive entry visas to Israel? The most hidden secret is that all of this activity is designed to perpetuate the cold peace with Egypt and other Arab states - and perhaps to undermine it completely. Because, after a respected researcher and journalist like Ashraf Rady is treated this way by the checkers, why should other Egyptian journalists or academics want to come?

So what - it's just Egypt, a famous enemy state. But one can also note the abusive treatment by Ben-Gurion Airport checkers of the important Turkish journalist Semih Idiz, the diplomatic editor of CNN Turk. He was also foolish enough to agree to come to a conference the Herzog Centre organized in December 2004 on "New Media in the Middle East." He also underwent a process of abuse at Ben-Gurion Airport reserved for the select few who come to Israel from a Muslim state, even if the state is Israel's closest friend in the Middle East.

Idiz didn't hesitate to voice his opinion about the intellectual abilities of the security checkers who interrogated him about his lecture. He could allow himself this, because he is Turkish. Immediately upon his return to Turkey, the Israeli Foreign Ministry was compelled to apologize to him.

Rady is "just" an Egyptian, someone who has visited Israel many times and has participated in conferences. He is a gentle-spirited person who feels it is important to promote peace between Israel and Egypt. So how could he raise a fuss about the humiliation he suffered when two weeks later the Israeli foreign minister is slated to visit Egypt?

Silvan Shalom claims credit, to some extent justifiably, for the warming trend in relations between Israel and Egypt. He hopes to forge a breakthrough in relations with Arab states - not only on the diplomatic level, but also in relations with the Egyptian public in particular and the Arab public in general. This is undoubtedly an important goal and one that will be difficult to achieve.

So here is a new challenge for the foreign minister. Instead of yielding to the checkers and their bosses, who allow themselves every stupidity in the name of security, he can initiate new procedures. These new procedures should allow visitors from Arab or Muslim states who receive entry visas from his ministry to enjoy the respect that such a visa should entail. If not, the Foreign Ministry should make it clear to every Israeli institution: Please coordinate the visits of guests from Arab states with the checkers at the airport.

* Zvi Bar'el is a Middle East commentator and a member of the Ha'aretz editorial board. He is currently doing a PhD on "Globalization in the Middle East" at Ben-Gurion University.

Source: Ha'aretz, April 10, 2005.

Visit Ha'aretz online: www.haaretz.com

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.
It's Lucky He Didn't Bring A Violin
by: Zvi Bar'el


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