US Secretary of State John Kerry distanced himself Thursday from comments made by an anonymous US official calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit.” Kerry stressed that neither he nor US President Barack Obama was behind the remarks, which were “disgraceful, unacceptable, and damaging.”
The comments were published Tuesday by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the American magazine The Atlantic, in an article which portrayed the rift between the United States and Israel as a “full-blown crisis.”
Speaking at a forum hosted by The Atlantic, Kerry condemned “anybody who uses language such as was used in this article,” and added that the comment expressed by the unnamed official did not reflect the views of either Obama or his administration.
The secretary of state further emphasized that the US would continue to work “quietly and effectively” in order to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We still believe it is doable, but it takes courage and it takes strength,” he said of the peace process. “Both sides have to be prepared to compromise in order to do it.”
On Wednesday the White House also denounced the derogatory remarks against Netanyahu, saying the comments had the potential to cause serious harm to Israel-US relations.
“Certainly, that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive,” said National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey, according to the Washington political journal The Hill. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership, and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office.”
The Atlantic report quoted a senior Obama administration official calling Netanyahu “a chickenshit,” with Goldberg adding that officials had previously called the prime minister “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’” He said US officials increasingly see the Israeli leader as acting out of a “near-pathological desire for career-preservation,” rather than in Israel’s national interest.
Netanyahu rejected the criticism Wednesday, saying in the Knesset plenum that he was “personally attacked purely because I defend Israel, and despite all the attacks against me, I will continue to defend our country; I will continue to defend the citizens of Israel.”
The prime minister said he remained confident that the current disagreements between the US and Israel, which center on the peace talks and the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, would not affect the two countries’ “deep connection.”
“I respect and appreciate the deep ties with the United States we’ve had since the establishment of the state,” he said. “We’ve had arguments before, and we’ll have them again, but this will not come at the expense of the deep connection between our peoples and our countries.”
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu’s fellow Likud parliamentarians came to his defense.
“The unrestrained criticism against Israel and its leader quoted today from ‘officials’ in the White House crossed all lines,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said in remarks to the parliament Wednesday. “You can have disagreements, but in diplomatic relations — certainly among close allies — it is appropriate to maintain a respectful dialogue.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of the prime minister, charged that insulting Netanyahu was tantamount to insulting the Israeli people.
“The prime minister of Israel is not a private [citizen] and he represents the position of the democratic and sovereign State of Israel and its constant concern for its existence and security,” Steinitz said in a statement. “Therefore offensive comments toward him are insults against the State of Israel and its citizens.”
AFP, Spencer Ho and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.