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Obama-bashing would-be media czar installed as PM’s ‘adviser’

Ran Baratz, whose appointement was frozen over Facebook posts disparaging US and Israeli officials, joins Netanyahu’s communications team

Ran Baratz delivers a lecture for The Israeli Freedom Movement, April 13, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
Ran Baratz delivers a lecture for The Israeli Freedom Movement, April 13, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Ran Baratz, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his new communications chief over half a year ago, entered the Prime Minister’s Office Tuesday as a lower-level media adviser, an Israeli official confirmed Sunday.

Baratz will not serve as the head of the National Information Directorate — the position for which he was initially tapped — due to a series of controversial statements he made about US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and senior Israeli officials. Rather, he joined the prime minister’s spokesperson’s office in an “advisory capacity,” a spokesman for Netanyahu told The Times of Israel.

The position of head of Israel’s National Information Directorate will, however, not be immediately filled by someone else. One of the government’s most senior positions, carrying with it the responsibility of explaining the prime minister’s policies and coordinating the country’s public diplomacy strategy, it has been vacant since August.

Baratz’s exact title had not yet been decided upon, according to the spokesman, who could not comment on whether he would effectively be running the department without the official appellation. Baratz’s new status was first reported on Tuesday on the news site NRG, which is owned by Netanyahu’s billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson.

Netanyahu nominated Baratz to become the head of the National Information Directorate on November 4, 2015. But soon after the appointment was announced, it emerged that Baratz had previously published a series of controversial Facebook posts attacking senior figures in Israel, including President Reuven Rivlin and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and abroad. Most notably, he had called Obama “anti-Semitic,” and compared Kerry’s mental age to that of a 12-year-old. Netanyahu, who had also been at one time a target of Baratz’s caustic wit, decided to freeze his nomination.

Baratz quickly apologized for his “hurtful remarks,” arguing they were “written hastily and sometimes humorously” and vowing to express himself differently once he became a government official. He did not withdraw his candidacy and was apparently still hoping to get the coveted job.

US President Barack Obama, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)
US President Barack Obama (right), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Baratz’s Facebook posts “are totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the Government of Israel,” Netanyahu stated on November 5, four days before he headed to Washington for a meeting with Obama in the White House. At the time, Netanyahu said he would meet with Baratz upon his return from the American capital to “clarify the matter.”

In April, Netanyahu revived his bid to appoint Baratz, presenting his candidacy to the Civil Service Commission, which is tasked with vetting candidates for high-level public posts. However, government officials were quoted at the time as saying it was “highly doubtful” Baratz would pass the commission’s vetting process.

A former philosophy professor and the founder of the conservative Hebrew website Mida, Baratz was set to replace Liran Dan as the head of the National Information Directorate. Dan served until August, although the PMO’s official website still lists him as National Information Directorate head.

Boaz Stembler, a former spokesperson for the Finance Ministry, is Netanyahu’s spokesman for Hebrew media and is currently filling Dan’s position on a temporary basis.

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