Visiting US, President Rivlin says he won’t meet Obama

Israeli media report Rivlin doesn’t want to embarrass Netanyahu, but his office cites conflicting schedules

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the president's residence in Jerusalem, September 22, 2014 (photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the president's residence in Jerusalem, September 22, 2014 (photo credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will not meet with US President Barack Obama during his visit to the US currently underway, the president’s residence said on Sunday.

Rivlin is in New York to address the official Holocaust commemorations of the United Nations. His schedule includes meetings with African-American leaders and others.

According to unsourced Israeli media reports, the White House invited Rivlin to a summit meeting with Obama in Washington. Israeli media outlets, including Channel 10 and the Ynet news site, have suggested the White House invitation was meant to embarrass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not invited to meet with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry during his stay in Washington to address both houses of Congress in early March.

Netanyahu was invited to address Congress by House Speaker John Boehner. The invitation was not coordinated with the White House, and Boehner himself has suggested it was meant to be part of the Congressional Republican campaign to pass stiffer Iran sanctions legislation opposed by the administration. The row over Netanyahu’s visit has led to mutual recriminations and angry comments from both governments.

Rivlin’s office denied the president’s schedule was affected by the Obama-Netanyahu spat.

“Over the past few days, there has been contact between the relevant parties in Israel and the US, discussing the possibility of a meeting between President Obama and President Rivlin during his visit to New York to address the United Nations Holocaust commemorations,” a president’s residence statement read Sunday.

“At this stage, it has been agreed not to hold a meeting during his visit, due to the schedule constraints of both leaders, and that a meeting would be scheduled at a later date.”

Sources in the president’s residence denied media speculation that Rivlin had turned down a White House request in order to avoid stepping into the dispute between the administrations. The Israeli president looked forward to meeting Obama at the first possible opportunity, officials said.

Rivlin’s first event in New York took place on Sunday, when he addressed the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, an African-American church, with thousands of residents and church members in attendance.

In his first speech on American soil, Rivlin highlighted the close ties between the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who supported King’s activism and calls for equality.

He also said Israel had “no war with Islam.

“Today, we are faced with the need to combat terror,” he said in his speech at the cultural center. “We must remember that Islam is not an enemy, and we have no war with Islam. Our enemy is hatred, the hatred inherent in fundamentalism. The victims of this hatred are the religious minorities — Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds — and lest we forget that, first and foremost, there have been hundreds of thousands of Muslims slaughtered.”

Rivlin is slated to address the UN’s special assembly on Tuesday marking international Holocaust Remembrance Day. According to the president’s residence, he will meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, lay a wreath at Manhattan’s 9-11 memorial, visit the West Point military academy, and hold multiple meetings with American Jewish communities and leaders.

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