Egypt's culture minister: "I am not against Israel or the Jews"

Egypt's Culture Minister Farouk Hosny denied Thursday accusations made by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre that he was anti-Semitic and should be disqualified as a contender for UNESCO directorship, dpa reported.

In a letter to UNESCO Director-General published Wednesday, the centre's Director for International Relations Shimon Samuels warned that Hosny, an "aspirant book burner cannot head the intellectual arm of the United Nations."

In the letter, Samuels drew attention to a statement, in which the minister was quoted as saying on May 10 in the Egyptian parliament, that he would burn Israeli books himself if he found them in Egyptian libraries.

Hosny told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, that his statement was a hyperbole used in response to a comment by a member of parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, who said Egyptian bookshops and libraries were full of Israeli books.

"I denied this and told him (the member of parliament), using a hyperbole, that if those books existed I would burn them myself," the minister said.

"This was a way of confirming the denial, not confirming the act of burning," Hosny asserted.

"On the same day, I went on Egyptian TV and said Israeli books should be translated into Arabic in order to know about the Israelis, who translate many books from Arabic and know us much better than we do them," Hosny said.

Being a minister of culture, he could not order the burning of books, Hosny noted.

As an example of what he described as the minister's anti- semitism, Samuels said Hosny had blocked an initiative to build an Egyptian Jewish history in Cairo.

"If what the(Simon Wiesenthal) centre said were true, why would I be ordering the restoration of Jewish temples and the preservation of Jewish papyri as part of world heritage?" Hosny wondered.

"If what I said really meant the actual burning of books, then I would be ordering the burning of Jewish temples and papyri," the minister said.

Israel's Ambassador to Cairo Shalom Cohen was quoted by Israeli online media reports as describing Hosny's statements in parliament as "harsh and especially blunt" in a supposed classified report that the ambassador submitted to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hosny said some Israelis were inciting people against him on the internet.

"I am not against Jews or Israel or against normalization (of ties) with Israel if it honours its international commitments towards the Palestinians and recognized their rights to have their own state."

"Normalization can not happen if Palestinian blood is spilled in the occupied territories," the minister noted.

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