Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, who has launched a bid to head the UN cultural and educational organization UNESCO, apologized Wednesday for saying in the past that he is "ready to burn Israeli books" should he find them in Egypt's libraries.
"I am a man of peace. I know that peace is through understanding and respect. On behalf of those values, I want to take backs the words I said in May 2008, which were seen as a call to burn books in Hebrew. These words were shocking and I understand that," he wrote to French newspaper Le Monde.
"I solemnly say that I regret the words I spoke," he continued, adding that "these words are the opposite of what I believe and what I am."
Intellectuals and Jewish groups in Europe recently came out against the possibility of Hosni, a known opponent to Israel, becoming the next head of UNESCO.
Hosni, who has served as Egypt's culture minister for over 20 years, is favored to win the spot and become the next chief of the UN's education, culture and science agency.
In May 2008 Farouk said at a conference in Egypt that he would burn Israeli books himself if found in Egyptian libraries.
German daily Der Spiegel reported Tuesday that the German Culture Council - an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany, expressed concern over Hosni's candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.
"Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake," Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council, told Der Spiegel. "UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn't be trusted to someone who hasn't fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO."
The newspaper also quoted Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, as saying in an interview on German radio that due to his "clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements" Hosni should be "disqualified" for the position.
Meanwhile, JTA reported last week that three leading Jewish intellectuals in France published an open letter urging nations to keep Hosni from leading UNESCO.
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levi, Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel Peace laureate, and Claude Lanzmann, the director of the seminal Holocaust documentary, Shoah, wrote in the letter: “Mr. Farouk Hosni is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture; Mr. Farouk Hosni is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds.
“There is only little, very little time left to avoid committing the major mistake of elevating Mr. Farouk Hosni above others to this eminent post.”
However, a recent report argued that Israel itself has dropped its objection to Hosni's candidacy, as a gesture to President Hosni Mubarak. According to the French news agency AFP, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to drop Israel's objection following a personal request by Mubarak at their meeting this month.
AFP quoted a senior Israeli official as saying, "We have accepted the Egyptian president's request and will no longer oppose his candidature."