A top adviser to former United States president Barack Obama has spoken positively of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, saying he may be a hard-right nationalist but he’s “at least a straightforward” Israeli leader, compared to former premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking to Yonit Levi of Israel’s Channel 12 news and Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian on the Unholy Podcast this week, Ben Rhodes, the former US deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said moving past the Netanyahu era, “even to a government that doesn’t embrace the policies I would recommend on certain issues, it is a healthy break.”
“Just having an Israeli prime minister or a foreign minister wanting to come to the US and engage US officials for a purpose other than humiliating them or picking a public fight to help their politics back home,” Rhodes said.
“I can’t tell you how corrosive that was. Every interaction we had with Netanyahu through the last few years [of the Obama administration], he would use it… to pick a fight, just for the sake of picking a fight back home,” he added.
Rhodes said he personally much prefers a leader like Bennett, who is more “candid” and open about his views. “This was part of my frustration as we get deeper into the Obama years. It was evident to me that Netanyahu’s stated openness or commitment to a Palestinian state was obviously not what he believed,” he said.
“It was about having a process so that there was a process so people would point to it,” Rhodes said.
“If it is Bennett over time, I would much prefer a politician of the right who is at least straightforward and laying it out on the table so we can talk about it,” he added.
Netanyahu and Obama disagreed on many professional subjects, from Iran to the Palestinians. Over the years of Obama’s presidency, their bickering turned into a highly acrimonious relationship, particularly in the wake of Netanyahu’s vocal objections to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and his efforts to bypass Obama to block the accord — including through a speech to a joint session of Congress in which he urged legislators to oppose the deal the US president was attempting to broker.
Some have even asserted that it was Obama himself who gave the interview to The Atlantic in which an unnamed official mocked Netanyahu as “chickenshit.”