SAN DIEGO - Move over, South Africa.
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Not only did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu change his mind and decide to send his regrets instead of attending the memorial service for the late president and international hero Nelson Mandela - in the same week, it was announced that he has also decided not to travel to San Diego to deliver the keynote address at the Biennial Meeting of the Union for Reform Judaism as scheduled.
For months, Netanyahu has been billed as a speaker at the Biennial Event and the movement made much of the fact that it would be the first time that a sitting Israeli prime minister has spoken to the URJ Biennial.
Although those who follow the prime minister’s schedule have been doubtful for weeks that such a trip would actually occur, the formal announcement by organizers that Netanyahu’s speech would be delivered on video via satellite from Israel, and not in person was only made Tuesday, just a day before the five-day biennial was scheduled to begin.
In a letter to Biennial participants, the conference organizers said "although he had planned on being with us in person, the press of urgent business will keep Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. He has canceled his entire U.S. trip, and will join us live, via satellite, from Jerusalem."
The decision was unsurprising to many. Most visits to the United States by an Israeli prime minister include a stop in Washington, D.C., and the relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is so fraught with tension and uncertainty at the moment that the timing hardly seems ideal for a stroll in the Rose Garden or a chat in the Oval Office.
And certainly, an expensive trip to the United States this week would be poorly timed in view of the fact that the Prime Minister's Office cited high travel costs" as the reason for declining to attend the Mandela event.
Despite the lack of Netanyahu’s live presence, the statement said that the Reform Movement was “excited and proud” the Israeli prime minister would be addressing the closing plenary of the event on Sunday morning, December 15. Netanyahu will be making formal remarks and then answering questions from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs drawing on suggestions that Jacobs “receives from across the Reform Movement” via email.
The Prime Minister's Office's response: "The Prime Minister accepted the invitation to address the delegates to the URJ biennial either in person or via satellite. At no stage was a commitment made to attend in person. The URJ leadership was informed in November that the PM would not be in the USA at the time of the conference and would therefore deliver his remarks via a satellite link."
Mark Pelavin, director of the URJ Biennial, issued the following statement in response to the Prime Minister's Office's words:
"We are honored that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be addressing our Biennial General Assembly this Sunday, via satellite. We understand that the Prime Minster had hoped and planned to be with us in San Diego, but we learned from the Israeli Embassy in Washington on November 26th that he would not be making the U.S. trip that was to include our Biennial. It took another ten days to lock in the timing and logistics of his satellite presentation, at which time we shared the details with our delegates. We look forward to hearing from Prime Minister Netanyahu directly and his engaging in a conversation with URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs."
This article was amended after publication to include the response of the Prime Minister's Office.