Hoenlein reveals secret Syria visit

Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he met for several hours with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a secret visit to Damascus.

In an interview published Monday by The Associated Press, Hoenlein said his recent one-day visit came at the invitation of Assad. The visit reportedly was several weeks before the popular uprising in Egypt, which resulted in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Hoenlein called the mission “humanitarian,” according to the AP, and said he was not acting as an envoy for Israel.

Hoenlein did not give details of the meeting, which he said involved just him and the Syrian president without an interpreter.

Presidents Conference’s Hoenlein, Assad meet in Damascus

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Hoenlein said the meeting Monday was at the invitation of Syria and not, as had been reported originally by the Israeli media, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I went to Damascus on an important humanitarian issue to the Jewish people,” Hoenlein told Haaretz. “Netanyahu did not ask anything from me, and any attempt to link me to the diplomatic process with Syrian is manipulation.”

He would not elaborate on his mission other than to say it involved the restoration of synagogues and was “for the good of the Jewish people.”

Hoenlein did not return JTA’s request for comment.

The Presidents Conference is the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.

Netanyahu has refused to renew talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who had indicated that a comprehensive peace would include Israel’s return of the Golan Heights.