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Delahunt says Israeli diplomat snubbed visiting US delegation

US Representative William Delahunt held a news conference in Tel Aviv yesterday with other members of a US delegation. The trip was hosted by J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group. US Representative William Delahunt held a news conference in Tel Aviv yesterday with other members of a US delegation. The trip was hosted by J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)
By Aron Heller
Associated Press / February 18, 2010

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TEL AVIV - US Representative William Delahunt lashed out at Israel’s number two diplomat yesterday, saying he was snubbed by the Foreign Ministry and demanding an official clarification.

Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is heading a congressional delegation to the region.

The trip is hosted by J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group that presents itself as an alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies.

J Street, which supports President Obama’s push for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, says it sought a meeting for the US representatives with Israeli diplomats but was turned down.

The Foreign Ministry dismissed the complaint, saying it did not need mediators to set up meetings with US officials.

The snub appeared aimed at J Street. Israel’s government has been critical of the group’s programs, which are more conciliatory than those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, Delahunt said he was surprised and disappointed to read an Israeli newspaper report that he was being boycotted by the Foreign Ministry for his affiliation with J Street and identified Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as the culprit.

“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 said.

“In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country.’’

Delahunt asked the Israeli government “for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations.’’

Ayalon’s office said the deputy minister was prepared to meet any elected officials, especially from the US Congress, but he “didn’t need mediators.’’

Ayalon is a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is a senior partner in Netanyahu’s hawkish coalition government.

Ayalon, who had served as an ambassador to the United States, has questioned J Street’s commitment to Israel, criticizing the group earlier this week for describing itself as both pro-Israel and pro-peace.

“The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are,’’ he said. “They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.’’

That categorization upset Delahunt, who called J Street a pro-Israel voice with support in the American Jewish community. He said it was “unwise’’ to misrepresent legitimate disagreements as questioning support for Israel.

Four other US representatives were traveling with Delahunt - Democrats Donald Payne of New Jersey, Lois Capps of California, Bob Filner of California, and Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio.