Israeli envoy to Egypt: I won’t be deterred by shoe-throwing

After Egyptian MP is attacked for hosting him, Haim Koren says he meets regularly with el-Sissi and ‘countries have shared interest in fighting terror’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Haim Koren, Israeli ambassador to Egypt, October 2013 (screen capture/YouTube/medisraelforfred)
Haim Koren, Israeli ambassador to Egypt, October 2013 (screen capture/YouTube/medisraelforfred)

Haim Koren, the Israeli ambassador to Cairo whose recent meeting with an Egyptian lawmaker sparked a shoe-throwing protest in parliament on Sunday, said the incident has not deterred him from strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries.

“I meet with [Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi and members of his government regularly,” Koren told Israel’s Channel 10 television on Sunday evening. “Both countries have a shared interest in fighting terror organizations like the Islamic State and Hamas.”

Koren went on to tell the TV station that bilateral meetings between Israeli and Egyptian officials — aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries — would proceed, despite the scuffle in parliament earlier in the day.

“I can say that relations with Egypt are very good,” Koren added.

Egypt has full diplomatic relations with Israel, but directly dealing with the Jewish state remains deeply taboo in Egyptian society.

Egyptian MP Tawfiq Okasha has been engulfed in controversy after posting a picture on the embassy’s Facebook page of him with Koren last week, Egypt’s state-run news agency said. Koren and Okasha reportedly discussed politics, trade and agricultural cooperation between Israel and Egypt.

On Sunday, an urgent parliamentary session convened to investigate Okasha’s meeting, during which MP Kamel Ahmed hurled his shoe at Okasha in protest, the MENA agency reported.

But Ahmed was not the only legislator outraged by the consultation. During Sunday’s session, one MP called the initiative “political prostitution,” while another hundred members of the legislature called for an emergency session to discuss the meeting.

Okasha, Ahmed said, “deserves 90 million shoes,” according to a translation of his remarks by the Hebrew-language Ynet news website. “I want to shoot him. What I did reflects the nation’s opinion. I did what I did because I am an MP and a representative of the people. Every time I see him, I’ll hit him with a shoe.”

Okasha swung back at critics, saying he extended the invitation to Koren in hopes of recruiting Israel to help mediate Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over the latter’s Grand Renaissance Dam, a project Cairo fears will limit its share of Nile River water, the Egyptian Independent reported.

He cited the 1979 peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt, and expressed hope Israel could play a constructive role in settling the ongoing dispute, the report said.

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since Sissi became president of Egypt in July 2013.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of the previous president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo. However, it began building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm. In September 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Egypt after being shuttered for four years.

Last week, Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, hailed the increased bilateral relations, expressing hope that the two countries’ “constructive” relationship would bring peace to the region.

Khairat is Cairo’s first senior emissary to Israel since 2012.

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