Likud minister Steinitz joins chorus against media chief pick

Likud minister Steinitz joins chorus against media chief pick

Netanyahu reportedly says Ran Baratz’s appointment will be brought to government, ministers can vote as they wish; issue not to be discussed in PM-Obama meeting

Ran Baratz (screen capture: YouTube)
Ran Baratz (screen capture: YouTube)

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that comments against US administration officials and others by the prime minister’s appointee for spokesman were “unwise” and “unjust.”

Steinitz was the first among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle to speak out against the choice of Ran Baratz as media chief, joining a cadre of Israeli and American officials who have chafed at salty comments made by Baratz on Facebook, highlighting the uphill battle his appointment will face.

“It is okay to argue, including with our greatest and most important ally. But any expression such as ‘anti-Semitic’ or other expressions, that’s unwise, unjust and unfair,” Steinitz told Army Radio.

The comment was a reference to a Facebook post from March 3, during which Baratz called US President Barack Obama “anti-Semitic,” following a speech by Netanyahu in Congress.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“Allow me to diverge from my usual moderate ways and be a bit blunt. Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s speech — this is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in Western liberal countries. And it is of course accompanied by a lot of tolerance and understanding for Islamic anti-Semitism; so much tolerance and understanding that they’ll even give them [an atomic bomb],” Baratz wrote.

Other comments he made criticizing other Israeli and American politicians have also drawn fire.

Baratz was tapped last week for the top spokesman’s position.

The appointment was widely criticized by the opposition and the media and also by Minister of the Periphery, Galilee and the Negev Aryeh Deri, who is a member of Netanyahu’s coalition. Two other Likud ministers had also publicly opposed the choice prior to Steinitz’s comments.

Netanyahu on Thursday distanced himself from the comments, though he denied reports he would reconsider Baratz’s appointment

“The comments are inappropriate and do not reflect my positions or the policy of this government,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister noted that Baratz had since apologized for his remarks and said he would discuss the issue when he returned from his visit to the US next week.

The appointment must be approved by the cabinet. Netanyahu is expected to let the nomination come to a vote and let ministers vote their conscience, according to Channel 2 news.

Culture Minister Miri Regev said on Sunday she would support the nomination.

Netanyahu’s reported comments on the cabinet vote came hours before he boarded a flight to Washington DC, as Baratz’s comments drew anger in Washington.

He is not expected to discuss the matter with Obama, Army Radio reported Sunday. US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Channel 2 News it was not Washington’s place to tell a foreign government who to appoint.

But Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday strongly criticized Baratz’s comments.

Addressing the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference, Biden told the audience during his keynote speech that “there is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of the United States in derogatory terms. Period. Period. Period. There is no justification for an official Israeli voice degrading the secretary of state, who has worked so hard, so long for the security of Israel.”

On Thursday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said Baratz’s apology for his comment was “warranted.” Earnest stopped short of explicitly accepting the apology or of condemning Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Baratz.

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