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Deputy foreign minister aims to woo US progressives despite Israeli policy

15 4 1

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Idan Roll’s mission as Israel’s deputy foreign minister is to repair Israel’s relationship with progressives, especially in the United States.

His challenge is that he is bound by an Israeli political reality that has shifted to the right.

It’s a dilemma that he understands, and hopes to bridge.

“I want to try and promote this so-important relationship,” Roll said earlier this month of the US-Israel relationship, speaking at a reception on November 16 for national US media, Jewish media and Arab media. “And first and foremost is to, as I said, reach out and extend dialogue and hear different thoughts, and even be open to criticism because that’s part of talking.”

Israel’s young government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, has made a priority of restoring relations with the American left. Roll — 37 years old, strikingly handsome, trim and poured into a bespoke wardrobe, fluent in English — is part of that charm offensive.

The problem is policy: Israel maintains many of the policies that stoked tensions with the left in the first place. Among them: advocacy for a tough US stance toward Iran, expanding settlements in the West Bank, maintaining Israel’s hold on all of Jerusalem, and nixing for now moves toward Palestinian statehood.

That contradiction was sharply illustrated when, returning from the United States, Roll canceled scheduled meetings with Belgian’s left-leaning government because of a law it just passed requiring goods manufactured in settlements to be labeled as such.

“The Belgian government’s decision to label products from Judea & Samaria strengthens extremists, does not help promote peace in the region, and shows Belgium as not contributing to regional stability,” Roll said on Twitter, using the biblical names for the West Bank preferred on the Israeli right.

Those were the kind of policy flashpoints Roll tried to avoid during his US tour, when he met with Democratic lawmakers and engaged them on LGBTQ issues. He and his husband, Israeli pop star Harel Skaat, had their two children, via a surrogate, in the US because of restrictions for LGBTQ Israelis.

Still, Roll faced sharp questions in his meetings on policies on Iran and on the Palestinians.

“We have nothing to hide,” Roll said in an interview. “I’m here to keep an open dialogue and give them answers about what is going on in Israel.”

Roll said at the media reception that one reason for past tensions was former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s confrontational tone and his willingness to write off progressives and Democrats.

“Israel has always been a bipartisan issue, and our government and our ministry, we intend to keep it that way,” Roll said at the reception.........

© The Times of Israel

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