A furor erupted in Jerusalem this weekend over criticism aired by the head of the U.S. government's Office To Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism of Israel's ambassador to Washington. The criticism of Ambassador Michael Oren related to his turning down a request from the U.S. Jewish lobby J Street to address its first annual conference, which took place in Washington in October.

The U.S. government envoy, Hannah Rosenthal, told Haaretz in an interview published Thursday that Oren's failure to appear as the keynote speaker at the liberal Jewish group's inaugural conference was "very unfortunate."

Israeli officials told Haaretz yesterday, "We received Ms. Rosenthal's statements as reported in Haaretz with astonishment and surprise," adding that Rosenthal's remarks "do not represent the state of relations between Israel and the United States, nor the great esteem commanded by the ambassador and his staff in Jerusalem and Washington."

The statements made by Rosenthal, who once served on J Street's board of directors, provoked a flurry of reactions in both Washington and Jerusalem. Israeli officials in Washington asked their U.S. counterparts to clarify her remarks, and said it was unacceptable for a top government figure to express public criticism over a foreign ambassador's relations with a Jewish lobby. Leaders of American Jewish organizations also asked the White House to clarify Rosenthal's remarks.

Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement: "As an official of the United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken, as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community."

Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, issued a statement distancing himself from Rosenthal's remarks, while Israel's embassy in Washington was informed that Rosenthal's remarks do not reflect official U.S. policy.

Feltman told Haaretz on Thursday, "We maintain links from all over the political spectrum, which testifies to the strength of relations between Israel and the United States, that so many groups feel a shared obligation to strengthen ties between the two countries."

"The United States Department of State values the close ties we have with Michael Oren and the people of the Israeli embassy," Feltman added.