Foreign Minister Yair Lapid continued the policy of meeting with any members of the US Congress visiting Israel, a source close to the minister said, denying that he broke the government’s past boycott after meeting with a delegation of the progressive Israel-focused lobby J Street.
However, J Street brought a delegation of members of Congress to the Knesset on Monday, where they met with Lapid, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev.
House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-Connecticut), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Rep. Marc Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-New York) and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-New Mexico) met with the ministers while J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, was present.
A source in the meeting said Ben-Ami and Lapid shook hands.
Lapid also met with the members of Congress alone.
Under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government had a policy of boycotting J Street.
However, Netanyahu would meet with members of Congress visiting Israel, even if they were with J Street, but not have any J Street officials in the meeting. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett maintained that policy on Tuesday evening, hosting only the Members of Congress to the Prime Minister’s Office.
A source close to Lapid presented his meeting as though it were the same as Netanyahu’s policy, saying: “We meet all members of Congress... We didn’t meet with the J Street board. This is not an endorsement of J Street or any organization.”
The US legislators all voted in favor of funding Iron Dome missile-defense batteries for Israel and said they see themselves as friends of Israel even while critical of its policies, the source said.
Michaeli and Zandberg have spoken at J Street conferences in the past, but they did so as opposition lawmakers. Coalition MKs have also addressed J Street events, even ones from Likud, such as Tzachi Hanegbi in 2013.
However, cabinet ministers did not openly work with J Street.
The meeting “expressed the important tie between the Democratic Party and the State of Israel,” J Street Israel Director-General Nadav Tamir said.
“The ministers’ willingness to meet with members of Congress, some of whom are critical of part of Israel’s policies, shows the importance with which the Israeli government sees strengthening the dialogue with the Democratic Party that was abandoned throughout the Netanyahu government’s tenure,” he said.
The meeting took place in good spirits, and even when there was criticism, it came out of concern for Israel’s future, Tamir said.