J Street: PM refuses to meet delegation
Despite warm reception in US, Netanyahu won't hold meetings with visiting congressmen, says lobby
Despite enjoying a hearty welcome at the US Congress recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to meet with a delagation of representatives organized by J Street, the liberal Jewish lobby said Sunday.
Congressmen cheered Netanyahu on enthusiastically 50 times during his speech, 29 of those being standing ovations. However when five of those same Congress members planned a visit Israel, requesting a meeting with the prime minster or any other official representative of the state, not a single one complied.
The delegation, composed of Democratic Congress members, was set to arrive in Israel on Monday. The trip was initiated by J Street, considered a controversial group known for its fierce criticism of Israel, particularly over the issue of West Bank settlements.
The organizers attempted to arrange meetings with Netanyahu ahead of time, however they were turned down due to alleged schedule conflicts.
Organizers claim this is an excuse, stating that the actual reason is due to Netanyahu's government policy, which bans meetings with US legislators brought here by J Street.
The delegation includes five representatives: Steve Cohen from Tennessee, Betty McCollum from Minnesota, John Yarmuth from Kentucky, and Sam Farr and Lynn Woolsey from California. Two of them are Jewish.
They plan to tour Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to become familiar with Mideast realities and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In Egypt the delegation has set up meetings with Egypt's military leader Mohamed Tantawi, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi. While visiting in the Palestinian Authority they will talk with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
However in Israel, after being turned down by nearly everyone, the Congress representatives will only sit down with Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, a few other Knesset members, and possibly with Minister Miki Eitan (Likud).
The US delegation could not conceal their disappointment, adding they feel the Israeli leadership is demonstrating ingratitude towards them.
Congressman Steve Cohen was disappointed. "As members of congress who care deeply about the survival of a strong and vibrant Israel, we have been very pleased to meet with a broad array of Israeli leaders. Unfortunately, the Israeli prime minister and other senior ministers were not among them, which would have been appropriate and proper," he said.
J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami was much less subtle, saying that the refusal of Israeli government members to meet with the representatives is an incomprehensible move.
"It is impossilble to understand how it is in Israel’s interest for the Netanyahu government to show no respect to Members of Congress visiting Israel as guests, who vote year in and year out to provide military and other assistance to the state of Israel," he said.
"The greatest threat Israel faces in the years ahead is its deepening international isolation. Why would this government deepen its own isolation by refusing to meet members of Congress who are received at the highest level by governments across the region?”
The offices of the prime minster and defense minister refused to comment.
The foreign minister's office stated that the delegation "did not submit a formal request but were only checking the possibility, and due to schedule conflicts the meeting was not held."