For 30 months, the Israeli Academic Institute in Cairo has functioned quietly as one of the few visible reminders that Israel is at peace with an Arab neighbor. Tucked inconspicuously into the rented apartment of an Egyptian actress, the institute offers a meeting place for Israeli and Egyptian scholars and students.
The institute, established as a result of the Camp David peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, has suffered from the deterioration in relations between the two nations following Israel's June 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
There are no signs outside the apartment building that a library of Judaica and collection of works by contemporary Israeli authors are available within.
There are fewer Egyptian students and professors coming to the institute than its director, Gabriel Warburg, would like to see. There is less exchange of academic ideas between the two nations than had been anticipated in the first heady days after the historic treaty was signed. But still, Dr. Warburg says, he counts the institute as one of the successes of the treaty.
``Here, you feel the meaning of peace,'' says Warburg, a professor of Middle East studies on leave from Haifa University. ``After all, you are sitting in the middle of Cairo. There is an ongoing dialogue taking place in these rooms. There are hundreds of Egyptian students coming here, and this has meaning.''
Sitting on a comfortable couch in one of the institute's offices, Warburg waves a hand to take in the shelves of books, Judaica, and Islamic posters, and the Nile outside the windows.
``We are a low-key operation aimed at personal contact among academics,'' he says. ``We have maintained those contacts.''
Warburg and his wife, Rachel, took over directorship of the institute in October. Together, they manage its libary, run the small dormitory of four rooms available to visiting Israeli scholars, arrange monthly lectures in Hebrew by visiting professors, and assist Israeli scholars in contacting Egyptian scholars in the same fields.
The institute is run by the Israeli National Academy of Sciences, which is funded indirectly by the Israeli government through the Council of Higher Learning. The council oversees all seven Israeli universities.
Since its establishemnt, Warburg says, the academic exchanges the institute tried to foster between Egypt and Israel ``have been working, unfortunately, only in one direction.''
Israeli scholars come freely to Egypt and have access to Egyptian archives and research materials, according to Warburg. But few Egyptian scholars travel to Israel, a situation Warburg attributes to tense relations between the two nations.
``If things would clear up a bit, we could expect more individual students would pursue their own research in Israel and would be able to go without any problems, '' he says. ``I would like to see Egyptian academics going to Israel.''
Several hundred Egyptian students, however, do use the institute's library on a regular basis, according to Warburg. There are Egptians studying Judaica and Hebrew at one of three Cairo universities and ``many of them come and spend time here and speak Hebrew with us freely,'' he says.
But the institute's top priority, Warburg says, is making it easier for Israeli scholars to do research in Egypt.