Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party penned a letter to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday complaining that meetings weren’t scheduled for the former prime minister with United States Congress members who visited Israel.
Responding to the letter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s office acknowledged the “long-standard practice” of opposition leaders meeting with visiting diplomatic delegations, including during his own recent stint as head of the opposition.
“After checking, the delegations did not express any interest in meeting with Opposition Leader Netanyahu, and therefore it was not necessary to coordinate such a meeting,” Lapid’s office said, according to Channel 12. “If such requests arrive, we will definitely deal with them.”
In response to the Foreign Ministry response, Likud put out a statement saying “Netanyahu routinely holds diplomatic conversations and meetings that aren’t through the Foreign Ministry.”
Likud lawmaker Yoav Kisch wrote the initial letter to the Foreign Ministry and other party members signed it. It said the ministry had breached accepted protocol that has been in place for dozens of years and “prevented coordinating meetings between American Senate and House of Representatives members who visited Israel and the head of the opposition.”
Likud expressed hope that the incident was “a one-time misunderstanding, and not a change in diplomacy for political reasons,” and requested a return to protocol “for the benefit of Israel and its international standing.”
Lapid was the last head of the opposition while Netanyahu was prime minister.
A bipartisan, bicameral group of US lawmakers visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last Tuesday. The group also met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah.
The delegation included members of the most influential congressional committees, including on intelligence, armed services, foreign relations, appropriations, and commerce.
A second congressional delegation also met with Bennett last Tuesday. The Democrat-only group was sponsored by the dovish J Street organization, a group that advocates for a two-state solution and is harshly critical of Israel’s settlement activity, but also promotes Israeli culture and values in its activities and opposes the boycott-Israel movement.
A day earlier, the J Street delegation met with Lapid, marking the first time in years that a senior Israeli cabinet member has engaged with the dovish Israel lobby.
Netanyahu, who was in power from 2009 until June 2021, had a prickly relationship with the liberal group, and right-wing members of his governments pointedly stayed away from meetings sponsored by the group and from its annual conference in Washington.