Monday, May 25, 2009

Burn Burn

Ha'aretz reports that the Netanyahu government has dropped its objection to the appointment of Egypt's Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, to a top position with UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Netanyahu apparently cut a deal with Egypt, but the contents are secret and nobody knows what he got in return.

Hosni is controversial for telling an opposition Egyptian MP that he would "burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt." Lovely sentiments in general, particularly so for a culture minister looking to take a plum role with the UN's education and culture wing.

At some level, Hosni looks more like a run-of-the-mill flip-floppy politician than a particularly (emphasis) virulent anti-Israel ideologue. He walked back the book burning comment, and proceeded to say he supported translating Israeli books into Arabic. Then he switched tenors and stated his outright opposition to opening any cultural ties with Israel -- or even cultural acknowledgment of Jewish history in the nation -- while "there are bloody attacks every day against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza strip." Flip it back: He says that he would not be adverse to visiting Israel. And, the story ends, he is now under fire by the same opposition party which prompted the book burning comment, saying that even suggesting he visit the state "was humiliating to the Egyptian people."

Still, the letter released by several prominent intellectuals opposing Hosni's appointment has some damning quotes, including the claim that Israel was "aided" by "the infiltration of Jews into the international media." It seems pretty readily apparent that this is not the sort of person who should be put in charge of a college film festival, let alone a prominent international culture organization.

The Ha'aretz article, incidentally, says that Netanyahu is being blasted by Kadima for this deal, as up until recently derailing Hosni's appointment was a top foreign policy priority for the nation. Can I just note this is yet another reason to be annoyed at Bibi? Contrary to popular belief, Israel does not have at its command an inexhaustible supply of power and influence. It has limited political and international capital, same as everybody else. When Netanyahu expends it on protecting the right to expand settlements or petulantly refusing to utter the phrase "Palestinian state", he has to give up other things elsewhere. Unless the secret deal with Egypt is Hassan Nasrallah's head on a pike, I can't imagine its a net benefit for Israel. Fight the stupid fights, and you lose the ammo you need to fight the good ones.

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