Over the past couple of days, a number of questions have been raised about events surrounding last week's Congressional Delegation to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, sponsored by the J Street Education Fund and Churches for Middle East Peace. We’d like to set the record straight:
- The Delegation was not boycotted by the government of Israel. In fact, the Delegation was pleased to meet with representatives of the Israeli government, including both political leadership (Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor) and staff of various ministries around substantive issues such as veteran’s health and the mental health impacts of conflict.The Delegation also met with leaders from across the political spectrum – including Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, Labor MK Amir Peretz, Yesha Council head Danny Dayan, and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni.
- The Delegation did request to meet both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (in a letter dated January 4, 2010) and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (in a letter dated February 9, 2010). Copies of the letters are available upon request. The Delegation never received a formal written or verbal response to those invitations, and no evidence of any answer has been provided by the Foreign Ministry.
- The first contact between J Street and the media about the Foreign Ministry’s stance toward the Delegation was when J Street representatives in Israel received calls from reporters from Yediot Ahronot and Maariv on Tuesday evening, February 16, seeking reaction to statements by unnamed Foreign Ministry spokespeople that the Ministry had instructed officials not to meet with the Delegation. Reporters in Israel know that to be the case.
- The calls from media to J Street representatives Tuesday evening were also the only indication J Street or the members of Congress received that an official decision had been reached by senior staff at the MFA not to meet the group.
- As the members of Congress indicated in their statement on Wednesday, February 17, in Tel Aviv, they were "surprised and disappointed" to read the headlines in the two papers announcing the boycott that morning. The press conference was called in reaction to the media reports and was not arranged before; the advisory announcing the press conference was dated after the news stories ran Wednesday morning. For the record, the members of Congress and J Street would have much preferred to meet with Foreign Ministry officials rather than hold a press conference; they traveled too far not to hold such high-level meetings.
- On Thursday morning, February 18, Haaretz reported that "the Foreign Ministry apparently came to regret its snubbing of a U.S. Congressional delegation” and referred to the Ministry’s decision to send someone to meet with the Delegation as an “apparent apology."
- J Street and the members of Congress were more than happy to accept the Haaretz story and the Foreign Ministry’s requests for high-level meetings held directly with members of Congress and members of the Delegation that morning as an apology. This invitation - like the original refusal to meet before it - was not conveyed formally or officially. J Street and the Delegation felt it would be best to accept this "apparent apology" and encourage the story to fade.