JTS Professor Urges Egyptian President Morsy to Uphold Peace Treaty with Israel

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September 27, 2012, New York, NY

The Jewish Theological Seminary's Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky-Nathan and Janet Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies, Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, and director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue-met with Egypt's fifth and current president, Mohamed Morsy, during a week of conferences at the United Nations' General Assembly and the observance of the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. The conversation, which was rescheduled to allow Rabbi Visotzky and others to observe the holiday, was attended by some three dozen American interfaith leaders (Jewish, Evangelical Christian, Coptic, Maronite, Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and more), who were invited to the 90-minute conversation with President Morsy. The event was held at the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations, and was hosted by Egypt's ambassador-designate to the United States, H. E. Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik. It was moderated by Professor John Esposito of Georgetown University.

Rabbi Visotzky spoke to President Morsy on the topics of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Israeli-Palestinian relations, security in Sinai, and the United States-Egyptian alliance. He addressed President Morsy in English, and the president answered in Arabic, which was then translated.

"I wish you mabruk (I rejoice in your good fortune) on being elected democratically as president of Egypt," said Rabbi Visotzky. "If I may translate mabruk into New York 'English'-mazel tov! I want to express my hopes and wishes to you in four areas: (1) that you can do everything in your power to uphold Egypt's peace treaty with Israel; (2) that you can bring security and quiet to the Sinai; (3) that you use your position to bring a two-state solution to Israel and Palestine, and help there be peace between Israelis and Palestinians; and (4) that you do all you can to strengthen ties to the United States so that, when reporters ask, both you and President Obama can say, 'Yes, we are truly allies.'"

Rabbi Visotzky made note of President Morsy's responses to his requests. According to the rabbi, they were:

"Dear brother representing the Jewish faith. I will speak about Camp David, Sinai, Israel, and the Palestinians. Egypt is a State that respects the treaties it signs on to. The peace treaty [with Israel] refers to a just and comprehensive right of Palestinians to self-determination and full rights of Palestinian refugees, [yet] on the ground over the last 30 years, none of that has happened. There will be no real peace unless there is peace for all parties. There is now a siege on Gaza and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank. We need to cooperate together to bring those [Palestinian] rights into reality. I cannot stand by and watch as people die of hunger-I will open crossings in both directions for people to bring humanitarian supplies. Regarding Sinai, this is a very sensitive issue. The security of Sinai is a sole Egyptian responsibility. We are taking steps to restore stability. Regarding Egypt and the US, Egypt is interested in extending friendship to all peoples. The US has taken a positive approach to the Arab Spring. We wish a relationship of equals, with mutual respect and noninterference."

At the end of the conversation, it was Rabbi Visotzky's view that President Morsy's comments indicated that there is yet hope for improved relations in the Middle East, but that they are contingent upon an Israeli-Palestinian accord. Said the rabbi, "I would conclude that the new American administration, be it Democratic or Republican, must put Israeli-Palestinian peace front and center."

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