U.S. lawmakers in Israel 'puzzled' by Ayalon boycott
Deputy Foreign Min. snubs U.S. congressional delegation touring Israel with members of J Street group.
A delegation of U.S. Congress members on Wednesday said they would seek clarification from Israel after an apparent snub by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts) is touring the region with a congressional delegation hosted by J Street, a liberal Jewish organization that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace.
"It was with real surprise and disappointment that we read a headline in this morning's paper saying, 'Foreign Ministry Boycotts Members of Congress,'" said Delahunt, who is heading the group of Democratic Congress members visiting Israel.
"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,'" Delahunt continued.
"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 U.S.-Israeli special relationship."
Regarding J Street, Ayalon on Tuesday said, "The thing that troubles me is that they don't present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli."
Delahunt went on to ask the government for clarification regarding Ayalon's boycott, saying, "We ask the Israeli government to clarify its position toward this delegation and future congressional delegations."
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "We always welcome American Congress members who visit Israel and are happy to arrange meetings for them with any political officials in Israel.
"The Foreign Ministry is happy to arrange such meetings for U.S. Congress members currently in Israel, without any mediators. The Foreign Ministry is troubled by the attempt to dictate who will be present at such meetings, which is unacceptable in diplomatic life."
As a member of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Delahunt said he became familiar with Ayalon's behavior during a recent diplomatic crisis with Turkey in which the Deputy Foreign Minister humiliated Ankara's envoy.
During a meeting between the two to protest a television show in Turkey that Israel viewed as anti-Semitic, Ayalon told cameramen in Hebrew: "Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair ... that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling."
Ayalon later issued an apology for the incident.
Delahunt said that there are a range of opinions in Israel and in the U.S. about "how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region."
However, he added, "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."