European Rabbis call for protection of religious freedoms in Egypt after Cairo cancels annual Abuhatzeira pilgrimage

Jerusalem, Israel - The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) called on the government of Egypt to ensure the protection of religious rights after Egypt's foreign ministry advised that it would not be "appropriate" for Israeli pilgrims to make an annual visit to the tomb of a well known 19th-century Jewish mystic in the Nile Delta, as activists mobilized to block the pilgrimage route.

CER President Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said Thursday that 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," Rabbi Goldschmidt added.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said that an annual pilgrimage visit to the tomb of Rabbi Yaacov Abuhatzeira, a religious leader who is buried in the Egyptian city of Damanhour, would not be allowed to go ahead because of fears of violence by Muslim fundamentalist groups.

The pilgrimage marks the Hebrew date of the rabbi’s death.

"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. 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," Rabbi Goldschmidt said.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, citing a report from Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency, said that a group – led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and joined by Mohamed Elbaradei’s presidential campaign and the Nasserist Trend – had vowed to form a human chain to prevent “Zionists” from traveling to Damanhur.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said Israel had been in contact with the Egyptians in an attempt to ensure that the pilgrimage takes place. These efforts were being carried out despite the travel advisory issued by the National Security Council’s Counter-terrorism Bureau warning against Israeli visits to Egypt due to “concrete risks

According to the report, the Muslim Brotherhood called the pilgrimage "unpopular and unacceptable legally and politically."