Was Katz's Washington trip kept secret because he is meeting with Arab leaders?

Last month Katz took part in a UN meeting on the environment in Abu Dhabi, with diplomatic officials saying he met with a senior United Arab Emirates official.

By
July 16, 2019 13:38
3 minute read.
Was Katz's Washington trip kept secret because he is meeting with Arab leaders?

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz in Oman.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz arrived in Washington on Tuesday to take part in a State Department Conference on religious freedom. Despite repeated requests, his office did not release an itinerary of his visit, leading to speculation that while there he may meet on the sidelines with representatives from Arab or Muslim countries.

Last month Katz took part in a UN meeting on the environment in Abu Dhabi, with diplomatic officials saying he met with a senior United Arab Emirates official. in November, as Transportation Minister, he attended a transportation conference in Oman.

According to the State Department, the Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which opened on Monday evening with an event at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, “brings together leaders from around the world to discuss the challenges facing religious freedom, identify means to address religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and promote greater respect and preservation of religious liberty for all. This event focuses on concrete outcomes that reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom and produce real, positive change.”

About 1,000 leaders from around the world, including foreign ministers, are expected to take part. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address the group on Tuesday morning, and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.

Katz, making his first official visit to Washington as Foreign minister, is set to address the parley. According to his office, he is also expected to meet with Pompeo, as well as with Senator Sen Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) the Chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Among the panel discussion during the conference are, “The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,” and “Christian Holy Sites and Holy Places in the Middle East.”

The conference follows the release last month of the State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom report. In the section on Israel, the report said that Israel's laws and Supreme Court rulings “protect freedom of conscience, faith, religion and worship.”

The report then cited a number of events touching on the issue of religious freedom that took place in Israel during 2018, including the following:

* Calls from some sectors to reverse the ban on non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount

* Closing of the Temple Mount for several hours on July 27 following clashes with Muslim protesters

* Prohibiting the performance of religious ceremonies at the Western Wall “not in accordance with the customs of the place,” which the report said “authorities interpreted to include mixed gender Jewish prayer services and other ceremonies that did not conform to Orthodox Judaism.”

* The government continued to implement policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law.

* In June police officers injured an Ethiopian monk while evicting him and other monks from their church in Jerusalem, and in October police arrested a Coptic monk and removed others from Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after they refused to allow the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to enter and perform restoration work.

* Some minority religious groups complained of what they said was a lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities.

* Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community, police, and other Israelis, particularly related to service in the Israel Defense Forces,

* Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity.

It was not clear whether Pompeo would raise any of these issues with Katz during their meeting.


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