Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new top media adviser on Thursday came under fire for controversial past comments, including some accusing US President Barack Obama of anti-Semitism.
The controversy surrounding Ran Baratz erupted as Netanyahu prepares to meet Obama in Washington on Monday as part of efforts to heal rifts over the Iran nuclear deal, among other issues.
Netanyahu’s office announced Baratz’s appointment as the prime minister’s head of public diplomacy and media on Wednesday, and Israeli news sites have since dug up a string of comments he has made.
In March, Baratz wrote about Obama on his Facebook page after Netanyahu addressed the US Congress to express opposition to the Iran deal. The speech drew heavy criticism from Obama.
“Obama’s way of speaking about Netanyahu’s speech — that is the modern face of anti-Semitism in Western and liberal countries,” Baratz wrote. “And that comes, of course, with much tolerance and understanding toward Islamic anti-Semitism.”
Netanyahu on Thursday condemned the remarks, while Baratz apologized.
“They are inappropriate and do not reflect my positions nor government policy,” Netanyahu posted on Twitter.
He said he would meet Baratz after he returns from the US.
Baratz said they “were written without thinking and sometimes as jokes in language which is appropriate for social networks and for a private person.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “readily apparent that that apology was warranted.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry — who was also among Baratz’s targets — spoke with Netanyahu about the matter by telephone on Thursday.
Baratz’s comments “were troubling and offensive,” US Department of State spokesman John Kirby said.
“We obviously expect government officials from any country, especially our closest allies, to speak respectfully and truthfully about senior US government officials,” he added.
Baratz reportedly wrote that Kerry’s “mental age” was no older than 12.
He also spoke of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in withering terms, saying that even the Islamic State group would not want him as a hostage.
Baratz recently wrote on Facebook that Rivlin, whose position is mainly ceremonial, was “such a marginal figure” that he had nothing to fear.
“We could send him by paraglider to the Syrian Golan controlled by ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]” and they would want to send him back, Baratz wrote.
Rivlin’s office has reportedly asked Netanyahu’s office for explanations regarding the comments about him.
In addition, the 42-year-old resident of a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank supported calls in 2004 for the construction of a new Jewish temple at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Baratz’s appointment is to be submitted for Cabinet approval, and some ministers have said they will oppose it.
Israeli Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said the comments “undermine the symbols of our government and those of our greatest ally, and may be misconstrued as an official stance,” according to the Haaretz newspaper.
In other developments, Obama has made a “realistic assessment” that a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians is not possible during his final months in office, US officials said Thursday.
While the nuclear accord that the US and its international partners reached with Iran is expected to be a major focus of Obama’s talks with Netanyahu, they are also scheduled to discuss the fresh wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that began two months ago.
Officials said Obama and Netanyahu would discuss steps to prevent confrontations between the parties in the absence of a peace agreement.
Additional reporting by AP
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