The Brussels-based Conference of European Rabbis (CER) has called on the government of Egypt to ensure the protection of religious rights after Egypt advised Jewish pilgrims not to enter the country for an annual pilgrimage to the grave of a saintly rabbi. The tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatzira, a 19th-century Jewish mystic buried in the Nile Delta city of Damanhour, has been the destination of Jewish pilgrims for decades.
According to Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, CER’s president, protecting the rights of non-Muslim groups in Egypt “is the ultimate test of the success of the Arab Spring and the progress of democracy and human rights” in the country.
“The world is looking at how Egypt protects the rights of all religious minorities in the country,” he said. “To now describe as ‘inappropriate’ a peaceful visit to the tomb of a sainted Egyptian rabbi which has been going on for decades is an affront to the principles of tolerance and human rights for which many Egyptians laid down their lives during the Arab Spring,” Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said.
Recently, the Egyptian foreign ministry said that the annual ceremony would be halted because of fears of violence on the part of Muslim fundamentalist groups. Over the past 10 years, the event has sparked political controversy and several cases have been filed in court demanding an end to the pilgrimage with its influx of Israeil visitors.
“Our hopes and prayers continue to be with those who are fighting for a new Middle East based on respect for people of all faiths,” said Goldschmidt. “We call on Egypt to protect Jewish pilgrims and to reflect on the value of preserving this important religious pilgrimage that stands as testimony to the longstanding history of the Jewish presence in Egypt.”
The CER federates Jewish religious leaders in more than 40 European countries and includes all the continent’s chief rabbis and senior rabbinical judges. It holds consultancy status as an international NGO at the Council of Europe and within the institutions of the European Union.