Israeli consul general, under fire, defends Beilin visit

Israeli Consul General Yossi Amrani angrily rebuked an Israeli news report claiming he had deceived and shocked his bosses at the Foreign Ministry by co-sponsoring Yossi Beilin’s upcoming Bay Area appearances.

He also had harsh words for several dozen mostly local letter-writers who have protested Beilin’s appearance, some of whom, Amrani says, have gone so far as to label him a “traitor” for hosting Beilin.

Beilin, who is not currently a member of Israel’s government, has been spearheading controversial — and questionably legal — negotiations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Geneva. He is a former Knesset member and justice minister under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and a co-architect of the Oslo accords.

“No one in the Israeli government, and, I emphasize, no one, has approached me with doubts or questions about Yossi Beilin or our sponsorship. We reported his visit [to the Foreign Ministry]; we reported our activities,” said Amrani, who claimed Beilin was invited to the Bay Area five or six months ago.

“It’s embarrassing and even worrisome that many people believe we are undermining the state of Israel. Someone even wrote that we are Judases.”

The national conservative Israeli newsweekly Makor Rishon, however, claimed that the consulate had shocked the foreign ministry by managing Beilin’s Northern California itinerary, despite the fact that the former Labor M.K. has been deemed persona non grata by some current Israeli government officials because of his Geneva negotiations.

But Shlomi Ravid, the director of the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, said it was he, and not Amrani, who organized Beilin’s trip “from A to Z.” Amrani’s sole involvement was to co-sponsor the “Israel at 55” lecture series that includes Beilin and other speakers.

The Makor Rishon article also claimed Amrani had assured the Foreign Ministry that he invited Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz in order to “balance Beilin.” But Steinitz says he never received such an invitation.

Amrani told j. that his office sent a cable to the foreign ministry several weeks or a month ago requesting Steinitz’s presence at the lecture series.

Steinitz acknowledged that it is possible the Foreign Ministry hadn’t passed the invitation on to him yet.

“Through the Foreign Ministry, I get many invitations, some extremely serious. [But] if someone will invite me to San Francisco in three weeks notice, this will make it almost impossible to come,” he said.

David Bedein, the author of the Makor Rishon article, further criticized the consulate for misrepresenting Beilin as if he were still a member of government, in addition to leaving out details about his electoral defeats and an alleged $90,000 salary Beilin receives from the European Union.

Ravid dismissed Bedein’s allegations as “stupid.”

“No one thinks [Beilin] is in the government. Not in this government,” he said with a laugh, referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s right-leaning coalition.

“There is a witch hunt going on here, and Jews are not supposed to support witch hunts.”

Lee Kaplan, an East Bay-based activist with the right-wing pro-Israel group Dafka and one of the many who wrote angry letters to the consulate, said shipping in left-wingers to slam Israel is par for the course here in the Bay Area.

“There are too many lecturers going around the Jewish community talking things up that aid the PLO, the dismemberment of Israel and ultimately work against those trying to survive over there,” he said.

“The Bay Area Jewish community tends to be overly leftist and gives too much time to these people. These leftist groups also have money to promote themselves in the Bay Area. The consulate had no business sponsoring this.”

Kaplan claimed Beilin to be a paid employee of the EU, an “interlocutor for an outside power” and “an agent provocateur for a foreign power.”

Rabbi Doug Kahn, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, defended Beilin as “a loyal Israeli citizen.” He also defended Amrani’s record and the Israeli speakers he has brought to the Bay Area in the past two years, a list that includes Barak, Natan Sharansky, Dan Meridor and Ehud Olmert.

Amrani said the tolerance of a contrarian speaker such as Beilin tested “the true meaning of a democracy,” and he accused the most vehement protesters of engaging in “undemocratic, intolerant reactions.

“Building support for Israel is not just hearing what you’d like to hear; it’s listening to the other side’s opinion, debating and building Jewish and Israeli concerns,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone has a right to decide what is Israel and what is not. No one in Israel outlawed Yossi Beilin, as some people have claimed in their e-mails. …We reported everything to the Foreign Ministry, and no one approached me. I’d like to have some argumentation and debate before you call an Israeli a traitor.”

Beilin is scheduled to make several public appearances early next week, including Sunday at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center and Monday at U.C. Berkeley. Two San Francisco events have been canceled, as Beilin recently cut his trip short to return to Geneva.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.