PM meets with US lawmakers, including some on J Street-sponsored trip

Bennett sits with bipartisan delegation and with Democrats on visit backed by dovish lobby after years of Netanyahu government boycotts; thanks legislators for Iron Dome funding

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with a US Congressional delegation led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro in Jerusalem, November 9, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with a US Congressional delegation led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro in Jerusalem, November 9, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Tuesday with two US Congressional delegations — one bipartisan and one Democrat-only group that is in Israel on a trip sponsored by the dovish J Street organization.

A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office did not mention that the second group was on a J Street-sponsored trip and did not list the names of the lawmakers in either delegation.

The bipartisan delegation was led by Sen. Chris Coons, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

The second delegation was led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Bennett acknowledged the “excellent meeting” with the bipartisan delegation. There was no mention of the Democrat-only group.

That delegation was brought to Israel on a tour organized by J Street, 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.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with a bipartisan delegation of US lawmakers led by US Sen. Chris Coons in Jerusalem, November 9, 2021 (Haim Zach/GPO)

In a statement released by the PMO, Bennett thanked the US lawmakers for supporting the decision to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

A day earlier, the J Street delegation met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, 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 representatives Mark Pocan, Barbara Lee, Melania Stansbury and Jamaal Bowman.

Bowman’s inclusion is particularly noteworthy, given the New York Democrat’s membership in the “Squad,” a group of progressive legislators some of whom who openly back the boycott-Israel movement.

However, Bowman has stood apart from the Squad in not joining the calls to reduce or end defense assistance to Israel, and in being the only Squad member to vote for an extra $1 billion in funding to replenish the Iron Dome anti-missile system depleted during the Gaza conflict. Bowman’s district covers parts of Westchester and the Bronx, and has a substantial Jewish population.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-Bronx/Westchester, left, meets with Sally Abed and Alon-Lee Green of Standing Together, a progressive Jewish-Arab grassroots movement, during his visit to Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas as part of a Congressional delegation arranged by J Street, Nov. 8, 2021. (Twitter via JTA)

Lapid’s meeting was the first between a minister and a J Street delegation in at least four years, according to the Haaretz daily. Lapid’s tweet did not mention that the group was on a J Street-sponsored trip.

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.

In 2016, then-public 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.

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

During its five-day trip, members of the J Street delegation are also planning to meet Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and President Isaac Herzog, and to visit communities near Gaza affected by rocket fire. They also met with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg.

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.

JTA contributed to this report.

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