Israeli Foreign Ministry boycotts US Congressional delegation visit co-initiated by CMEP

Israeli Foreign Ministry boycotts US Congressional delegation visit co-initiated by CMEP

Israeli Foreign Ministry boycotts US Congressional delegation visit co-initiated by CMEP

[Churches for Middle East Peace and J-Street are co-leading a visit of US Congressional members to Israel/Palestine.  The following article appeared in the Feb. 17, 2010, edition of Yediot Acharonot, an Israeli daily newspaper.  The article is followed by a press statement read by Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA, 10th district), on behalf of the delegation, which also includes Bob Filner (D-CA, 50th district), Lois Capps (D-CA, 23rd district), and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH, 15th district).]

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has decided to boycott the visit of a Congressional delegation from the United States. The reason: the visit was initiated by members of J-Street and the Churches for Middle East Peace, organizations that criticize Israel a great deal.

The delegation is conducting a five-day visit of the Middle East. Two days ago, its members visited Jordan, where they met with King Abdullah and with Prime Minister Samir Rifai. When the delegation arrived in Israel, the Foreign Ministry set a condition that meetings between its members and diplomats and Israeli figures not be attended by representatives of J-Street or Churches for Middle East Peace. The members of the American delegation refused to accept the condition. The result: they were not permitted to meet with any high-ranking officials of the Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Bureau. Their request to meet with President Shimon Peres was turned down due to a crowded schedule. A source close to the delegation said last night, “The delegation is surprised and disappointed by the deputy foreign minister’s refusal to meet with it.”

Officials of the Foreign Ministry commented, “Israel welcomes the delegation of American legislators that is visiting us. At the request of the Foreign Ministry, the members of the delegation will meet with Minister Meridor.”

In a speech that he gave at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said yesterday regarding J-Street, “They cannot say that they are pro-Israel.” He called upon world Jewry “to mobilize against terrorism and verbal incitement at universities.” He also said, “Israel and world Jewry must have a united front against anti-Semitism. There is no difference between anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Just as we can defend ourselves against physical terrorism, we must defend ourselves against verbal terrorism.”

Regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians, he said, “The two sides must not be urged to sign an agreement just in order to close a deal, since this could only harm both sides.”

[The following is the press statement read by Rep. Delahunt, on behalf of the delegation:]

“My colleagues and I are very pleased to be in Israel as part of our visit to the region which has included Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

“Every member of Congress with me is a long-time friend of Israel.  We are deeply committed to Israel’s country’s security and to the special relationship between our two democracies.  Some of us have deep personal and family ties to Israel as well.

“I want to be clear that every member of this delegation has consistently supported aid and assistance to Israel – amounting to tens of billions of dollars during our collective decades of service – all of which has been aimed at guaranteeing Israel’s security.

“We are particularly delighted to be visiting Israel and the region with the pro-peace and pro-Israel group J Street and with Churches for Middle East Peace.  We and many of our colleagues from both political parties have been very supportive of the emergence of this new pro-Israel voice with its deep support in the American Jewish community. 

“We have met with a wide variety of political and civil society leaders, including King Abdullah II and Prime Minister Rifai in Amman; Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, other Members of Knesset on both the right and the left.  Additionally, we met with the head of the Yesha Settlers Council as well as peace and human rights groups in Israel; and Prime Minister Fayyad and civil society leaders in the Palestinian Authority. 

“We are looking forward to meeting tomorrow with Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni and to further official briefings.

“We come here supportive of the Obama administration’s peace efforts and have met the senior America officials on the ground.  We are confident that an extraordinary effort is being made by the Obama administration and are hopeful that we will soon see this effort result in a substantial movement toward a two state resolution of the conflict. 

“We have come to the region to deepen our understanding of the issues facing the Middle East and the world – notably the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to better address the challenges posed by Iran.  These are not simply Israeli interests. We are here because these important issues impact on fundamental American security interests as well.

“We’ve just arrived in Tel Aviv from Sderot where we had a very emotional meeting with the Mayor and residents from whom we better understood the trauma and pain they have endured.  The Mayor described his childhood when it was possible for him to accompany his grandmother to shop in the open market in Gaza and for residents of Gaza to work in his community of Sderot. 

“In addition, we received a very informative briefing from the United Nations on the current situation in Gaza.  

“We have been struck by the breadth of opinions and depth of passion that we have encountered in Israel and throughout the region when it comes to the best way forward to addressing the multiple challenges facing Israel and the Middle East.

“We’ve been extremely gratified by the reception we’ve received across the region and across the political spectrum.

“It was therefore with real surprise and disappointment that we read a headline in this morning’s paper saying, “Foreign Ministry Boycotts Members of Congress.” 

“We were puzzled that the Deputy Foreign Minister has apparently attempted to block our meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office and Foreign Ministry – questioning either our own support of Israel or that we would even consider traveling to the region with groups that the Deputy Foreign Minister has so inaccurately described as “anti-Israel.”

“In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship.

“We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations.

“There are undoubtedly a range of opinions in this country as there are in the United States on how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region. 

“It is unwise for anyone to take disagreements as to how to accomplish our common goals and purpose – which is to achieve peace and security – and to misrepresent those differences as questioning support and concern for the state of Israel itself.”