Lapid meets with congressional Democrats, ending Israel’s long snub of J Street

Meeting seemingly first-ever between lawmakers on trip sponsored by dovish lobby and a senior minister, after years of Netanyahu governments boycotting group

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meeting with members of Congress in the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Yair Lapid Twitter)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meeting with members of Congress in the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Yair Lapid Twitter)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met Monday with a Congressional delegation brought to Israel by J Street, marking the first time in years that a senior Israeli cabinet member has engaged with the dovish Israel lobby.

Among the lawmakers making up the Democrat-only delegation in Israel are Reps. Rosa DeLauro, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Melania Stansbury and Jamaal Bowman. The trip, which will also include meetings with Palestinian officials, was sponsored by the J Street Education Fund.

In a tweet, Lapid said he thanked the group “for supporting the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, and we discussed the importance of continuing to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”

The meeting was the first between a minister and a J Street delegation in at least four years, according to Haaretz.

Meretz’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frij also met with the group, and tweeted that J Street were “true friends of Israel and partners in promoting the two-states solution.”

Former prime minister Benjamin 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.

Since the group’s first Congressional delegation to Israel in 2010, it has been consistently blackballed by members of Netanyahu governments. On that first trip, the top government official it met with was deputy minister Dan Meridor.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s annual national conference in Washington on April 15, 2018. (Courtesy, J Street)

In 2016, internal security minister Gilad Erdan, today ambassador to the US, met with the head of J Street’s Israel office as he sought support to combat efforts to boycott Israel. The Forward described the meeting at the time as the first ever between a member of a Netanyahu government and J Street.

Ron Dermer, who was ambassador to the US from 2013 until January of this year, also consistently refused to meet with J Street while serving in that role.

Ron Dermer speaks with J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami at a 2009 convention for Jewish bloggers in Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In 2010, deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said he bristled at J Street’s claim of being pro-Israel. “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are,” Ayalon said then, according to JTA. “They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.”

Lapid’s tweet did not mention that the group was on a J Street-sponsored trip. In the past, members of the government have indicated they would meet with delegations so long as J Street officials were not accompanying them.

There was no immediate comment from J Street on the meeting and a statement from the group late Monday did not mention that the sit-downs with government ministers would be a first.

“In service of the trip’s emphasis on balance and providing equal time to both Israeli and Palestinian voices, the delegation will meet with ministers in the Israeli government, Members of Knesset, and representatives of the IDF, as well as with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, and with a wide range of Israeli and Palestinian civil society leaders, issue experts and activists,” J Street said in a statement announcing the trip late Monday.

Illustrative: A sign welcoming attendees at J Street’s 2013 national conference in Washington, DC. (Courtesy of J Street)

During its five-day trip, members of the Congressional delegation are also planning to meet Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and President Isaac Herzog, and to visit communities near Gaza affected by rocket fire.

The lawmakers also plan on meeting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and other Palestinian officials and will tour parts of the West Bank to “examine the impact of the Israeli settlement movement and de facto annexation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” J Street said.

“Nearly six months after the most recent escalation in violence, this trip will provide an important opportunity to speak with those on the front lines in civil society and government,” DeLauro told Politico.

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