Vowing to work for “comprehensive, equitable peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the rest of the Middle-East,” Hesham Elnakib, the new consul general of Egypt to Los Angeles, spoke in a ceremony in the rotunda room of Los Angeles City Hall on Friday, Oct. 8. The event welcomed him and the Egyptian consulate in their move here from San Francisco.
Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan and members of Los Angeles’ City Council stood together to greet Elnakib at the ceremony. Calling the event “Middle-Eastern hospitality,” Dayan said: “Peace on the political level is important, but peace on a person-to-person echelon carries a grander weight, and that is what we need to pass on to our communities.”
The nearly two-hour affair, organized by the Consulate General of Israel, Los Angeles and the Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles, drew an estimated 200 people from the local Israeli, Jewish and Egyptian communities.
In a performance for the event, Israeli pop singer Miri Mesika was joined by Egyptian Oud player Hosam Ibrahem as she sang the song “Inta Umri” (My Beloved) in Arabic.
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With an Egyptian consul now in Los Angeles, Dayan told the group, Israel and Egypt can “build for a better future of co-existence…between our two great nations.”
The move, which actually took place three months ago, was prompted, Elnakib said in an interview, by the fact that the Egyptian community here is larger than in San Francisco.
He estimated that the Egyptian community in Los Angeles numbers around 400,000 people—counting first-, second- and third-generation Egyptians.
Elnakib embraced the move to Los Angeles. “We are very happy to move in,” he said, thanking the Israeli consulate staff and the event organizers for the “warm reception.” He described Dayan as his “dear colleague” and “dear friend” and called for stronger cultural ties between Egypt and Israel, emphasizing the two country’s similarities.
“We are the same,” Elnakib said. “We come from the same region.”
Elnakib smiled throughout the event and reached out to shake hands frequently, reinforcing the importance of a healthy diplomatic relationship between the two communities, in the hope that their communities would pay attention.
“I hope that everyone in the region is watching us,” Elnakib said.
Likewise, Dayan said he expects extensive media coverage in Israel of the event.
The mood was festive. Villaraigosa dropped by to say hello to Dayan and Elnakib after their speeches; the two consul generals’ wives stood at their sides; and councilmember Tom LaBonge, joined by Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry as well as Sheriff Lee Baca, welcomed Elnakib to neighborhood, doing so in good-natured, jokingly self-deprecating L.A. fashion.
“Somebody actually moved from San Francisco to L.A!” LaBonge said.
Villaraigosa described the Egyptian’s consulate move from San Francisco to Los Angeles as logical.
“Let’s be honest,” Villaraigosa said, during an interview, “L.A. is the second largest city in the country, the most diverse city in the United States—certainly a larger Egyptian population than San Francisco. It makes sense that they’re here.”
Dayan said he was deeply moved by the concert performance at city hall. “I had goosebumps,” he said afterwards. “This is peace. This is peace in existence.”
Also in attendance was David Pine, a representative of Americans for Peace Now, who expressed doubts that cultural events can work toward achieving peace in the Middle East, meanwhile conceding that such efforts may have nevertheless have positive impact on the political and diplomatic process.
The event is “not influencing peace directly,” Pine said. “But it’s linked.”
Dayan, in the interviw, expressed hopes for increased social understanding between the two nations, which he said could help the peace process.
“I think this is the first step in normalization,” Dayan said. “It comes from Los Angeles, but hopefully it will spread to Jerusalem to Cairo.”