Text size

Israel cannot afford to boycott its supporters at the state it is in, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni said on Thursday following a meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation which was boycotted by Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon.

Tension between the Foreign Ministry and left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street, who was behind the congressional visit, was believed to be behind the diplomatic rift between Israel and the U.S. Congress.

"We are all concerned about Israel's future and want what is good for it. Even if there are difference of opinion, and there are, that is not the way to treat Israel's friends who want what is good for it," Livni told reporters after the meeting with the five visiting U.S. congressman.

The opposition leader and Kadima chairperson added that "when there are so many who threaten us, we can not afford to lose those who consider themselves Israel's friends, and even when there is criticism, it is our job as leaders to persuade others we are right instead of giving up the right to do so."

On the subject of Iran, Livni said that Israel "must bolster the U.S. administration's efforts to impose harsher sanctions on Iran."

"The Iranians are playing with the world and trying to earn time, and therefore it is time for severe and harsh sanctions against any attempt by them to further their nuclear program," the opposition leader said, adding that "Iran is not an Israeli problem but the problem of the whole free world.?

On Wednesday, Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), who heads the delegation, said at a news conference that it "was with real surprise and disappointment that we read a headline in this morning's newspaper saying 'Foreign Ministry boycotts members of Congress."

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami said at the news conference that he was confused by Ayalon's calling the lobby anti-Israel. "Our relations with Israel's embassy in Washington are on the mend...I hope this is no more than his personal opinion," he said.

A senior Jerusalem source said the man who advised Ayalon and President Shimon Peres not to meet the delegation was Baruch Binah, deputy director general for North America in the ministry. Binah advised against the meeting because the delegation includes J Street members and a representative of Churches for Middle East Peace, which the Foreign Ministry sees as anti-Israeli.

"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.