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Netanyahu won’t meet with visiting congressional delegation

by Madeleine Morgenstern, JTA

June 6, 2011 | 2:29 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not meet with a visiting congressional delegation visiting under J Street auspices.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, who directs the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group, confirmed Monday that the prime minister and other senior government officials refused to meet with the five-member delegation.

“I just don’t really understand what would be in Israel’s interest to refuse to meet with members of Congress who are year in and year out supporters,” Ben-Ami said. “Why would one not welcome them when the greatest threat to Israel’s safety is growing international isolation?”

Ynet reported that the Foreign Ministry said the delegation did not submit a formal request and that there were scheduling conflicts.

Multiple calls from JTA to the Israeli embassy in Washington were not returned.

The group may yet meet with a Miki Eitan, a second-tier minister, and has scheduled meetings with opposition figures and top Palestinian Authority officials. The Egypt leg of the tour will include visits with top officials of that country.

A J Street congressional delegation was similarly snubbed last year.

This year’s delegation is comprised of Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ken.). Cohen and Yarmith are Jewish.

“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,” Cohen told Ynet. “Unfortunately, the Israeli prime minister and other senior ministers were not among them, which would have been appropriate and proper.”

J Street has had a contentious relationship with Netanyahu’s government and its envoy in Washington, Michael Oren.

The Israeli government wanted little to do with the group as long as its support of Iran sanctions and its opposition to a U.N. investigation charging Israel with war crimes was not ironclad. Once J Street had clarified its positions on those issues, in early 2010, the relationship improved.

However, the relationship deteriorated again after J Street urged the Obama administration earlier this year not to veto a U.N. Security Resolution blasting Israel for its settlement building.

The congressional visit comes on the heels of Netanyahu’s trip to the U.S. last month, when he spoke at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington and was enthusiastically received at a speech to both houses of Congress.

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