North American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein visited Damascus last month at the invitation of Syrian President Bashar Assad and met with him. Officials in Jerusalem said that Hoenlein, who is considered close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, did not go to Damascus on Netanyahu’s behalf.
YeshivaWorldNews spoke with Hoenlein, who confirmed he met with Assad. "Hoenlein was unable to discuss the purpose of the visit, but reiterated that he was not there to pass along any messages from any governments," YWN reported. Hoenlein would only agree to say that Assad announced he would rehabilitate Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in Syria.
Hoenlein is the longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (Presidents' Conference).
He told news organization Politico that he went to Damascus on a "humanitarian mission" about 10 days ago. "I am for four decades involved in humanitarian issues and concerns, and we held discussions about humanitarian issues," Hoenlein was quoted as saying.
In 1998, during Netanyahu's first term as Prime Minister, another man considered close to him - billionaire Ron Lauder - reportedly visited President Hafez Assad as part of indirect negotiations over the Golan Heights and a possible peace deal. Nothing came of those talks and there has been controversy as to what was offered to Syria.