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Egyptians: No pilgrimage to rabbi's tomb


Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it had told Israel that it would not be “appropriate” for Israeli pilgrims to make an annual visit to the tomb of a 19th-century Jewish holy man in the Nile Delta, as activists mobilized to block the pilgrimage route.

Ceremonies at the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatzira have triggered yearly political sparring in Egypt throughout most of the last decade, with Islamists, nationalists, and others claiming that the government by allowing the pilgrimage is pursuing an unpopular policy of normalization with the country’s former enemy.

Egypt notified Israel two months ago that it would be “impossible to hold the annual ceremony because of the political and security situation in the country,” the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

An Islamist politician involved in organizing protests against the march meanwhile said that visiting Abu Hatzira’s gravesite in the village of Daymouta, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo would be a “suicide mission” for Israelis, because of popular opposition to their presence in Egypt.

“Normalization (of relations) with Israel is forced on the people, and the visits too come against the will of the people and despite popular rejection,” said Gamal Heshmat of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best organized political group.

Heshmat said that activists planned to stage sit-ins and other protests to block the route as soon as they hear the pilgrims are on their way. Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported Tuesday that 31 parties and groups had joined this year’s campaign.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles, denounced the attempts to block the pilgrimage. In a Tuesday statement, the center’s Abraham Cooper accused the Brotherhood of trying to “curb religious freedom of Jews.”

“In their worldview, there is no respect for the traditions for Jews, dead or alive,” he said.

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