Egypt Nixes Synagogue Ceremony Citing 'Israeli Aggression'

Cancellation of unveiling attributed to Israeli oppression of Muslims in the occupied territories.

Egypt has canceled the inauguration of a restored synagogue citing the Israeli oppression of Muslims in the occupied territories as well as excesses by Jews during an earlier ceremony at the synagogue.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities restored the ruined Ben Maimon synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter and was set to unveil it to the press Sunday following its rededication a week earlier in a private ceremony.

SCA chief Zahi Hawass said in a statement that the cancellation of ceremony comes following "provocative" activities by Jews at rededication, including drinking alcoholic beverages, as well as "aggression by Israeli authorities against Muslim sanctuaries."

Last Tuesday, Egypt said it will shoulder the costs of restoring the country's Jewish houses of worship, days after the Ben Maimon synagogue was rededicated.

Cultural Minister Farouk Hosny said in a statement that his ministry views Jewish sites as much a part of Egypt's culture as Muslim mosques or Coptic churches and the restorations would not require any foreign funding.

The ceremony at the Ben Maimon synagogue was closed to media but attendees said it was an emotional event, especially for the Egyptian-Jewish families invited, many of whom now live in Europe.

"There were some lectures on the Jewish sites in Egypt and the temple. It was nice, emotional and nostalgic," said Raymond Stock, an American close to the Jewish community in Cairo who attended the three-day event.

A group of about 11 Hassidic Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis also came to Cairo from the United States and Israel sang at the event.

Egypt's Jewish community, which dates back millennia and at its peak in the 1940s numbered around 80,000, is down to several dozen, almost all of them elderly. The rest were driven out decades ago by mob violence and persecution tied in large part to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Egypt and Israel fought a war every decade from the 1940s to the 1970s until the 1979 peace treaty was signed.

Despite that treaty, Egyptian sentiment remains deeply unfriendly to Israel, and anti-Semitic stereotypes still occasionally appear in the Egyptian media.

Last September, Hosny blamed a conspiracy cooked up in New York by the world's Jews when he lost a bid from becoming the next head of the U.N.'s agency for culture and education.

At the time, Hosny's candidacy raised an outcry because of a threat he made in the Egyptian parliament in 2008 to personally burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria Library.

While he later apologized and Israel said it had withdrawn its opposition to his candidacy, several prominent Jewish activists spoke out against him in the run-up to the vote