In New York, Netanyahu Meets U.S. Jewish Leaders for First Time Since Western Wall Crisis

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File photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) leaves after a meeting with businessmen in Buenos Aires, on September 12, 2017.
File photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) leaves after a meeting with businessmen in Buenos Aires, on September 12, 2017.Credit: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP

NEW YORK - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday night with the leaders of a number of Jewish American organizations in New York, the first such meeting to take place since the Israeli government's decision earlier this summer to scrap a plan for establishing a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Three sources with knowledge of the discussion in New York told Haaretz on Sunday night that the meeting has been "good" and "positive," and described the prime minister's approach as "forthcoming."

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According to the sources, however, Netanyahu did not make any concrete promises to the Jewish American leaders on the issues they raised, including the Western Wall egalitarian prayer space and the Israeli government's policy on Jewish conversions.

"He listened and he explained the political complications on his side," said one of the sources, who asked not to be named as the discussion with the prime minister was "off the record." Another source recalled that Netanyahu said he was working on solving these problems, but added that "there are political dynamics involved" that make any immediate solution unlikely. 

A statement by the Prime Minister's Office described the meeting as "excellent," and added that the community leaders asked Netanyahu to clarify his position on a number of issues. According to the statement, Netanyahu and the leaders of the Jewish organizations also discussed Israel's policy on the Iranian nuclear deal and the civil war in Syria.

The organizations represented in the meeting were the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jewish Federations of North American and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

Before the meeting, Netanyahu held a personal meeting with the head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder. Lauder and Netanyahu have been considered close for many years, though the relationship reportedly soured when Israel's Channel 10, at the time partly owned by Lauder, reported on alleged corruption scandals involving the prime minister a number of years ago.

Lauder has also been advising U.S. President Donald Trump on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, another likely topic of discussion at Sunday's meeting.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Trump on Monday at the Palace Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, and address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Later on Monday, Netanyahu will hold meetings with the leaders of Japan, Panama and Rwanda. On Tuesday, Netanyahu is to attend Trump's speech at the United Nations, before giving his own speech at 1:30 PM local time (8:30 PM in Israel). Netanyahu will head back to Israel on Tuesday evening.

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