U.S. Jewish groups back ADL, boycott meeting with Mubarak

WASHINGTON — Several American Jewish organizations boycotted a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, was not invited.

Representatives from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and B'nai B'rith International chose not to attend the session, protesting the control the Egyptian Embassy tried to exert over what has become an annual encounter.

Tuesday's meeting, which went ahead despite the flap, came as Mubarak was preparing to meet with President Bush and push forward his idea for an Egyptian-hosted summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Mubarak frequently meets with Jewish leaders during his visits to Washington in an effort to seek support for his agenda.

The ADL has been a vocal critic of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian press, and annually releases a packet of anti-American and anti-Semitic articles and editorial cartoons to coincide with Mubarak's annual trip to Washington.

"I think it's sad that they continue to dodge the issue of anti-Semitism," Foxman said Tuesday.

"It's also sad that they preach democracy and interest in hearing views, but blackball organizations that ask them questions."

The American Jewish Committee, which hosted the event this year along with the Israel Policy Forum, said the ADL was included on a list of attendees submitted for approval to Egyptian officials prior to the event.

But Egyptian officials told the AJCommittee they did not want the ADL at the event, even though the organization has been represented at similar meetings in past years.

"They wanted a meeting with people who would listen to them," Jason Isaacson, the AJCommitee's director of government and international affairs, said of the Egyptian position.

"We said we would listen to you but also ask tough questions."

The ADL contends its Washington director, Jess Hordes, was not invited originally, but was given a belated invitation, once other organizations said they would not attend as a sign of solidarity.

When the ADL sought an invitation for Foxman, the ADL was told the meeting was for lay leaders only.

"This was a subterfuge," said Hordes. "This was an attempt to say there are certain people we will not invite."

Isaacson said his group had "made it clear that the American Jewish Committee was not intent in taking part or hosting a meeting that did not include our brother organizations."

The national chairman of the ADL, Glen Tobias, was eventually invited but declined, along with the lay leaders from the other groups that chose not to participate.

In addition to the AJCommittee, those attending included lay leaders of the Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, Americans for Peace Now and several independent Jewish leaders, including former Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat and George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Several of the organizations say they did not know about the flap when they chose to attend.

Richard Heideman, president of B'nai B'rith, said he was "very disappointed" in Mubarak's decision.

"If you're a peace partner of Israel you don't attempt to divide Israel and the Jewish people, you don't divide Jewish organizations," said Heideman, whose organization helped found ADL in 1913.

Heideman said Mubarak's attempt to "divide and conquer" by preventing ADL from attending the meeting was "very undiplomatic and inappropriate."

An AIPAC spokeswoman said the organization was disappointed the meeting became a "public relations ploy."

This year's meeting came as American Jewish leaders were raising concerns over a proposed shipment of Harpoon missiles from the United States that some fear could hurt Israel's strategic advantage.

The Bush administration has forwarded the plan to Congress, who has 30 days — or until March 14 — to veto it. The administration says it has modified the package to ensure Israel's protection.

Some Jewish leaders have also been striving to alter Egypt's nearly $2 billion annual foreign aid package, adding more economic aid from the United States while minimizing military aid.

In his meeting with the Jews, Mubarak laid out "vague, positive signals" about his proposed summit between Sharon and Arafat, Isaacson said.

"They should sit, whether they like it or not," Mubarak said of his proposal later Tuesday in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. "We have to find the solution."

After his meeting with Bush on Tuesday, Mubarak called on both the Israelis and Palestinians to curb the violence.

"As the Palestinians are being asked to exert more effort to bring down the level of violence, the Israeli government should understand that the use of military power and unilateral measures against the Palestinian population, the closure of roads, the siege of towns and villages, the demolition of houses, the collective punishment that make progress more difficult, should stop," Mubarak said at the White House.

For his part, Bush said he appreciated the efforts of both Mubarak and the Saudi leader to push forward efforts on peace.

He called the Saudi Arabian proposal a "very positive development" and said Israeli officials should try "to find out exactly what it means."

"Our government supports efforts to create and lay out a vision for a more peaceful tomorrow," Bush said. "And so I appreciate the efforts of both leaders, and I applaud those efforts of those willing to explore opportunity."

In his meeting with the Jews, Mubarak did not address the concerns about anti-Semitism, according to participants in the meeting. They said he claimed that the Egyptian press is free, and government control would only make matters worse.

He told the American Jewish groups that there would be no problem sending an Egyptian ambassador back to Israel, but made clear it would not happen immediately.

The ambassador was removed from Tel Aviv when Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensified in 2000.

Egyptian Embassy officials were unavailable for comment.