Jerusalem mayor gets cool reception

By Jake Sherman, POLITICO

The mayor of Jerusalem swept into Washington this week, meeting with members of Congress while calling the Obama administration’s request to freeze construction in East Jerusalem “illegal,” a “shock” and surprising.

Nir Barkat, who runs Israel’s largest city, sat alongside House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican lawmaker, who said his colleagues in Congress were “taken aback” at the White House’s stance on construction.

Yet while Barkat and Cantor were taking swipes at President Barack Obama’s Israel policy, U.S. and Israeli diplomats appeared to be keeping an arm’s length from the mayor. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said that all questions about Barkat’s visit should be referred to his spokesman. “The mayor of Jerusalem is an independently elected official on a visit that he arranged,” the spokesman said.

The Israeli news site Ynetnews, citing unnamed officials, reported that Barkat was turned down in his request to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell. An administration official told POLITICO no request was made to meet with Clinton. Mitchell was out of town, the official said, but his deputy was “happy to meet with [Barkat] but was turned down.” Barkat spokesman Stephan Miller denied that, saying, “No, I didn’t even know he had a deputy.”

Asked whether Barkat should be making foreign policy rounds, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said: “He’s the mayor of Jerusalem. I don’t think so.”

After Waxman met with Barkat, he clarified his statement: “But he is a spokesman for Jerusalem, and I think it’s important to hear his views on how things were viewed in the city.” Waxman said that construction in East Jerusalem is dealt with by the city — Barkat’s comments about legality were in reference to Israeli laws.

On a two-day visit to the Capitol, Barkat, considered to have eyes on higher office, met with congressional leaders, at times unfurling maps of Jerusalem and showing why a freeze in construction would be bad for all residents of the city. He conveyed to lawmakers how the administration’s request to freeze construction in beleaguered areas of East Jerusalem was taken. Citizens were surprised, he said, with the Obama administration’s position. He was surprised that the administration would hint to Israelis that they should discriminate “by race, color or religion,” a reference to asking Israelis to stop building in East Jerusalem.

Republicans and Democrats had different interpretations of the visit.

Republicans used it as an opportunity to showcase their support for Israel and criticize the Obama administration for confusing its priorities and being soft on the country.

No comments yet - you can be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.