A powerful Israeli rabbi with influence in the country’s halls of power has been invited to meet with the president of Iran, in what could be a stunning development after years of harsh rhetoric between the two countries.
Rabbi Yoshiyau Yosef Pinto, seen as a spiritual leader for some of Israel’s biggest politicians and business leaders, may meet Hassan Rouhani in New York at the UN General Assembly later this month.
Rabbi Yossi Achituv, an Israeli journalist and Pinto’s media liason, told The Times of Israel that Rouhani had expressed interest in the meeting.
Achituv said the meeting was being brokered by a group of Jewish and non-Jewish businessmen, adding that the Jewish businessmen in the group knew Pinto and thought he could relate to Rouhani.
According to Maariv, which was the first to report on the plan, the Iranian-American Council, a think tank based in the US and focused on promoting dialogue with Iran, invited Pinto to meet with Iran’s recently-elected president.
Israel and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since the 1979 revolution, with Jerusalem acting as the main cheerleader for international action aimed at stopping Iran from pursuing a nuclear bomb, which the country sees as an existential threat.
However Rouhani, seen by some as a more moderate leader than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last week tweeted a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Jews all over the world, and Iranian Jews in particular.
Although the Iranian government denied that the Twitter account was indeed Rouhani’s own, some took it as a sign that Tehran was willing to engage constructively with the West.
On Thursday, the LA Times reported that Washington and Tehran were closing in on establishing a direct diplomatic channel.
If the sides come together, the meeting between Rouhani and Pinto will reportedly take place on September 26 in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Recently-appointed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was also invited to attend.
Pinto has yet to respond to the invitation, but turned to Israel’s Foreign Ministry to consult on the matter. According to Maariv, Pinto would use the meeting to try to deter Rouhani from developing his country’s nuclear program further.
A number of US senators, as well as the US State Department, are also involved, Achituv said.
Pinto’s paternal grandfather was Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, the Baba Sali, considered a man of miracles by many Jews around the world. His followers include a wide range of Jews from all sorts of religious backgrounds.