CAIRO-- Two senior Egyptian editors have been punished by Egypt's Journalists Union for violating its ban on contacts with Israel, in a case that underlines the country's ambivalent policies toward its neighbor.

On Tuesday, the union reprimanded Hala Mustafa, editor in chief of the state-run weekly Democratiya, or Democracy, for meeting with Israel's ambassador in Egypt, while Hussein Serag, the expert on Jewish affairs and deputy editor of the weekly magazine October, was suspended from writing for three months.

It was not clear why the union decided to take action against Mustafa and Serag. However, a reprimand is symbolic and almost entirely inconsequential, while Serag's suspension from writing for October for three months is a relatively light punishment.

Serag's punishment was for visiting Israel 25 times. He has translated books from Hebrew to Arabic, the latest was "Between Tel Aviv and Cairo," a memoir by Israel's former ambassador to Egypt David Sultan.

He said all his visits to Israel were approved by the editor of October magazine and security officials.

"My field of specialty is Israel and Hebrew. If I don't visit Israel how can I understand these people?" Serag said. "This is hypocrisy, pure and simple."

The union said the decision can be appealed before courts, but Mustafa said she had no intention of challenging the union's decision.

The ban on contacts with Israel, she said, should be put to a debate with a view to annulling it because the role of the Journalists Union should be to protect freedoms and not to enforce political views.

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but relations have remained cool since, with government-to-government contacts dominating links between the two nations.

Cultural exchanges and travel to Israel are officially discouraged by the government, while popular sentiments remain mostly hostile toward Israel because of its perceived oppression of the Palestinians.

Egypt's Journalists Union issued the ban on contacts with Israel in 1985. Yet, many Egyptian journalists have traveled to Israel since and escaped punishment.

Journalists in Egypt are punished by prison sentences for libel and other publishing offenses. (AP)