Burning issue

Burning issue

The library at Alexandria in Egypt, founded in 283 B.C., held perhaps 500,000 priceless, irreplaceable books – on papyrus and parchment – from all over the ancient world. Just imagine the riches it contained – and mourn with scholars its destruction by fire, possibly at the hands of Julius Caesar, around 48 B.C.

You would think that Egyptians would be wary of fire – especially in libraries.

But no. Comes now Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian culture minister who is a prime candidate for director general of UNESCO, and whose words, to a member of Egypt’s parliament about Israeli books in Egyptian libraries, are damning: “Let’s burn these books. If there are any, I will burn them myself before you.”

You know, UNESCO, the agency whose initials stand for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization – that one. An agency, one would have assumed, where books are assessed for their contents, not destroyed because of where they came from.

Three of Hosni’s critics, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, “Shoah” filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, and philospher Bernard-Henri Lévy, inveighed against him in Le Monde, noting among his other anti-Israel comments his characterization of Israeli culture as “an inhuman culture; it’s an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture.”

Hosni did not deny his comments but apologized for them in the same newspaper, writing, “Nothing is more distant to me than racism, the negation of others, or the desire to hurt Jewish culture or any other culture.” (By the way, as Egypt’s culture minister, Hosni banned that wonderful Israeli film, with its marvelous Egyptian actors, “The Band’s Visit.” It might have helped to warm Egypt’s “cold peace” with Israel.)

Shockingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after initially opposing Hosni’s candidacy, withdrew his objection. We can guess at his reasons – appeasing Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, for one, especially as the U.S. president heads to Cairo.

Netanyahu notwithstanding, Farouk Hosni is a clearly ineligible candidate who should not be allowed to prevail when the final choice is made in October.

For an opinion peace by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, go to http://www.adl.org/ADL_Opinions/International_Affairs/20090603-oped+unesco.htm.