Labor MKs expressed outrage on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not make time during his short visit to Israel to meet with their party chairwoman, opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich.
Diplomatic protocol requires visiting heads of state to meet with the opposition leader. But Putin's trip was termed a “working visit” and not a “state visit,” so he was able to bypass traditional elements of diplomatic protocol, including meeting Yechimovich and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Mount Herzl.
Putin met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and even coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin. Yechimovich was invited to be among dozens of attendees at a state dinner for Putin hosted by President Shimon Peres but she did not come because she was sick.
“It is outrageous that he did not meet with her,” a Labor MK said. “It presents a message that there is a lack of legitimacy for her job if leaders ignore her when they come here. It harms Israeli democracy. He made a mistake by not getting a second opinion.”
Some Labor MKs blamed the lack of a meeting on Putin, who they said “does not have a tradition of tolerating opposition.” But others said foreign leaders do not want to meet with Yechimovich because she lacks a clear diplomatic plan and they have no interest in internal Israeli social issues.
One MK said Israel's allies in the European Left have complained that Yechimovich could play a positive role in that difficult arena for Israel but she has shown no interest.
An ally of Yechimovich in the faction responded that she has invitations to go to the United States and Europe and that she was seriously considering attending the Socialist international Congress on August 30 in Capetown. Yechimovich has not left the country since she was elected Labor leader in September.
In a speech in English to the Jewish Agency assembly on Monday, Yechimovich downplayed the diplomatic issue and focused on social issues. She impressed delegates with strong comments on religious pluralism.
"I have great respect for Orthodox Judaism," she said. "Yet, I also believe, that the state of Israel must allow expression for all streams of Judaism. This decision [to pay non-Orthodox rabbis] was a great achievement for liberal streams of Judaism. It is not enough, but it is an important step, that will bolster the bond between Israel and Diaspora Jews."