Herzog’s brief conversation with the Tunisian Prime Minister is receiving harsh criticism in the Arab world

Herzog’s brief conversation with the Tunisian Prime Minister is receiving harsh criticism in the Arab world

Herzog’s brief conversation with the Tunisian Prime Minister is receiving harsh criticism in the Arab world

President Isaac Herzog was seen speaking briefly to Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Boudin at the UN climate conference COP27 in Egypt on Monday, drawing harsh criticism from some Arab commentators.

Herzog and Boudin exchanged pleasantries as world leaders gathered for a joint photo in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Footage of the incident, in which Herzog had fun, went viral on social networks. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati was seen laughing nearby, apparently in response to the exchange.

The apparently brief conversation between Israel’s president and leaders of countries that do not officially recognize the Jewish state was not well received by many in the Arab world.

“That smile is a sin,” the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper al-Mayadeen wrote of Buden.

Other Arabic publication titles included: “Spreads like wildfire,” an apparent reference to the settlement of Arab relations with Israel and “Bouden’s debacle with Israel’s president.”

Some speculated that the exchange could be interpreted as a sign of warming relations.

“Normalization between Tunisia and Israel. Will [Tunisian President] Does Kais Said consider it treason?’ According to Israel’s 12 TV channel, the Algerian deputy wrote on Twitter.

Only 11% of Tunisians are interested in normalizing relations with Israel, according to data released last month. Arabic barometera nonpartisan research network that examines the social, political, and economic attitudes and values ​​of ordinary citizens in the Arab world.

Although both countries opened official “interest offices”—a de facto consulate—in the 1990s, ties were severed with the outbreak of the Second Intifada and have never been restored.

In May, Boudin, the Arab world’s first female prime minister, was criticized for posing with Jewish pilgrims at the El-Ghribah synagogue in Djerba.

“The Jewish pilgrimage … shows that Tunisia remains a country of peace, tolerance, openness and coexistence,” he said at the time.

Lebanon’s Mikati has also been criticized for his role in Monday’s incident, despite not directly dealing with Herzog.

“Who is Mikati talking and laughing with? What does it say?” one of the Lebanese newspapers asked.

Israel is still officially at war with Lebanon. The maritime border agreement signed last month between the two countries was brokered by the US, and no Israeli or Lebanese officials have met publicly. However, the deal was seen by some as Lebanon’s tacit recognition of Israel.

Herzog’s brief conversation with the Tunisian Prime Minister is receiving harsh criticism in the Arab world

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (R) presents a gift depicting a hologram of the Lebanese Government House to U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein (L) mediating the Lebanon-Israel maritime border during a meeting in Beirut, capital of Lebanon on October 27, 2022. (JOSEPH EID/AFP)

After the public uproar that the exchange of leaders caused, Herzog’s office issued a clarifying statement on Tuesday.

“The president addressed the leaders standing next to him and introduced himself, as dictated by manners,” said the president’s residence.

“As for the Prime Minister of Tunisia and the Prime Minister of Lebanon, who were standing nearby, when the leaders introduced themselves to each other, they realized that they could not talk,” the statement continues. “That was the whole conversation between the three leaders.”

Another unusual incident took place during the climate conference in Egypt, when Israel’s Environment Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg shook the hand of Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtaye, according to an official close to the Israeli minister. A Palestinian official denied the claim.

Public contacts between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are rare.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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