JERUSALEM, Aug. 8 -- "You are not to directly quote the prime minister," Ehud Olmert's press handler told a group of American Jewish journalists I've been traveling with this week.
This directive came as we sat in a conference room in the leader of Israel's Jerusalem offices. It seemed a ridiculous request, but the prime minister's fears made more sense once the meeting was over.
When Olmert walked confidently into the conference room, he shook some hands, said 'Shalom' and posed for a photo with a few journalists. Dressed in a navy suit and red tie, he sat tall, speaking in fluent English as he cracked jokes and invited our questions -- and that's when the meeting went south.
Asked about the hundreds of millions of dollars sent by American Jews to help Israel during and after last summer's war with Hezbollah, Olmert responded that the donations were very important -- but he stopped short of calling it necessary.
If a giver wants to give and the receiver wants to get, Olmert said, God bless that situation. And as we've seen this week, God -- or human resourcefulness -- has blessed a quick reconstruction of northern Israel.
But Olmert's comments seemed particularly ungrateful because he spoke not only to the American journalists, but also to some top officials of the United Jewish Communities (UJC).
Through the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign last summer, North American federations sent $360 million to Israel. UJC is also the sponsor of this media trip, which was designed to show reporters and editors how American donations have been used. UJC officials have shuttled our group, including editors and writers from major Jewish publications in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and L.A., to show us the pain inflicted by war.
They arranged this forum with the prime minister to allow him to speak to the most philanthropic Diaspora community -- and this is what he says?
That is the beginning of a column I just filed from Jerusalem after meeting with the prime minister earlier today. Check out the rest at jewishjournal.com, and let me know what you think.