US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and apologized to him in the name of the Obama administration for the comments made by an anonymous US official who called the prime minister “a chickenshit.”
On Thursday, Kerry had publicly distanced himself from the comments, stressing that neither he nor US President Barack Obama were behind the remarks, which he said were “disgraceful, unacceptable, and damaging.”
American officials were quoted Friday night as saying that the Kerry-Netanyahu phone call was a “good conversation” and that they discussed ways to improve relations between the US and Israeli leaderships. The two were also said to have discussed other regional issues, including efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (Kerry said later Friday that the gaps between the P5+1 and Iran had narrowed ahead of a November 24 deadline on a deal. “We’re closer than we were a week ago or 10 weeks ago,” Kerry said in an interview Friday, “but we’re still with big gaps.”)
Nonetheless, analysts on both of Israel’s main news shows Friday night, on Channels 2 and 10, said ties between the American and Israeli leaderships were extremely bad — with a Channel 10 commentator speaking of “unprecedented loathing” between the two administrations.
Kerry also telephoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, to discuss the escalating tension in Jerusalem. On Thursday, Kerry had urged Israel to reopen the Temple Mount compound — which was closed for the day after the attempted assassination of right-wing activist Yehudah Glick, and the killing of Glick’s alleged shooter Mutaz Hijazi — and warned against any changes to the status quo at the contested site. Israel reopened the compound to worshippers on Friday.
The anti-Netanyahu 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 on Thursday, Kerry condemned “anybody who uses language such as was used in this article,” and added that the vulgar comment expressed by the unnamed official did not reflect the views of either Obama or his administration.
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.”
Lazar Berman and AFP contributed to this report.