'US shouldn't interfere in Israeli politics'

Delegation of American Jewish leaders stops at Vatican to ease recent tensions on way to Israel.

alan solow malcolm hoenlein 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
alan solow malcolm hoenlein 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The US and American Jewish leaders should not interfere in the makeup of the next Israeli government, the head of the umbrella organization of American Jewish groups said Sunday. The remarks come on the heels of reports that both the US administration and certain American Jewish groups have voiced support for the formation of a national unity government including Likud and Kadima, and not a narrow Center-Right government following last week's elections. "It is not correct for Americans and American Jewish organizations to interfere in Israeli domestic politics," said Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the start of a weeklong gathering of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. "We are confident that whatever government emerges here, the relations between Israel and the US will remain strong," he said at a Jerusalem press conference. "It is not appropriate for American Jews to tell Israel what government to form any more than it is for Israelis to tell us who to vote for in America," concurred Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. The American Jewish leaders, who are leading a hundred-strong delegation to Israel after stopping for a tension-soothing meeting with the Pope in the Vatican, also called upon the US administration to boycott the upcoming Durban II UN conference on racism, and expressed their disappointment that the American administration had not announced its intention to boycott the event yet. "We have very serious concerns that Durban II will become a repeat of Durban I... and US participation in such an event will ultimately be inappropriate," Solow said. The US State Department said it would send diplomats next week to participate in preparatory meetings for the World Conference Against Racism, which is set to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in April. Both Israel and Canada have already announced they are boycotting the event. "We regret that the US has not taken a position on this, and we hope by the end of the month they will make a decision not to attend," Hoenlein said. "It is clear that this thing cannot be reversed." The Bush administration agreed with Israel last year that the US would not participate unless it received guarantees that the conference would not become a stage for anti-Semitism and one-sided criticism of Israel, as occurred during the first Durban meeting in 2001. Meanwhile, the American Jewish leaders expressed satisfaction over their talks with the Pope at the Vatican last week, and said that their audience with the Roman Catholic leader - who confirmed he will visit Israel in May - had "exceeded their expectations." The event had previously been suspended due to the Pope's decision to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop. "Bishop Williamson is a church problem but Holocaust denial is a Jewish problem," Hoenlein said. "We were assured by the Pope's response that Catholic-Jewish relations can remain on a positive track," he said. President Shimon Peres will escort Pope Benedict XVI around the Holy Land when the pontiff visits in May, the government announced Sunday. The trip will be the second-ever official visit by a Pope to the Jewish State, following Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 2000. Separately, the American Jewish leaders expressed regret that imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard was not pardoned by president George W. Bush at the end of his term. "We don't know of anything that wasn't done to this end," Hoenlein said. Solow, who is a long-time supporter of US President Barack Obama, said that he expects strong US-Israeli ties to continue despite concerns in Israel that the new US administration will be less supportive of the Jewish state. "The relationship between our two countries is not based on what party is in power, what president or what prime minister, but on principles and values which we share," he concluded.