Following speculation over the absence of Israeli delegates from the United Nations session Thursday, the Israeli consulate in New York released a statement explaining that the session took place on the first day of the holiday of Sukkot. Israel traditionally does not send delegates to UN meetings taking place on holidays or on the Sabbath (Shabbat).
Some had suggested that Israel missed the assembly in response to United States President Barack Obama's decision to focus on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in his UN speech. Obama called on Israel to continue a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, a move that angered many Israelis.
Television cameras showed empty seats at Israel's UN desk during his address.
The New York Times described Israel's absence as “odd,” while an LA times writer referred to suspicions that “Israel was snubbing Obama as boycotting his speech.” A writer for Politico, while noting that Thursday was Sukkot, suggested that Israel was deliberately keeping a low profile and quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying, “If Bibi [Netanyahu] had good news to deliver on the freeze, he would have been here.”
Consulate officials said the absence had nothing to do with Obama's speech. The U.S. president was informed in advance that Israeli delegates would not be present, they said.
While Israeli Ambassador to the UN Meron Reuben was not present Thursday for Obama's speech, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres attended a speech given by Obama on Wednesday at the UN's Millennium Development Goals summit.