Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he remains determined to appoint Ron Baratz as his spokesman, five months after he raised hackles in Israel and the US with the controversial pick.
Netanyahu has presented Baratz’s credentials to the state commission in charge of vetting candidates for high-level public posts, Channel 2 reported Thursday, though a government official told the TV station it was “highly doubtful” Baratz, who is on record deriding US President Barack Obama and other leaders, would pass the commission’s vetting process.
Defending his choice, Netanyahu said efforts to stymie the appointment were a result of “bureaucracy and outside influence,” and “absurd.”
The announcement of Baratz’s impending appointment last year made international headlines when it was revealed that the intended media chief had accused Obama of anti-Semitism and made highly derogatory comments on social media about President Reuven Rivlin and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Allow me to diverge from my usual moderate ways and be a bit blunt,” Baratz wrote in a March 3 Facebook post after Netanyahu addressed the US Congress on the Iran deal. “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].”
The appointment caused a mini-diplomatic crisis, coming just a week before a highly anticipated meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, their first in over a year. Ahead of the meeting, Vice President Joe Biden hit back at what he called Baratz’s “terrible comments.”
Netanyahu nominated Baratz on November 4 to become the head of the National Information Directorate, a position that had been unfilled for two months. But he froze the nomination once news of the controversial comments surfaced.
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 it appears that he is still hoping to get the coveted job.
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 his 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.”
Between then and Thursday, Netanyahu’s office had remained mum on the status of the appointment.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu backed off supporting another controversial appointee, former settler leader Dani Dayan, announcing he would make him consul in New York instead of ambassador to Brazil, where his nomination had been rejected.
A former philosophy professor and the founder of the conservative Hebrew website Mida, Baratz is meant to replace Liran Dan at the head of the National Information Directorate, tasked not only with formulating the prime minister’s communications strategy but also coordinating Israel’s message to the world with other government spokespeople.
Dan announced his intention to leave the post in March 2015, after three and a half years on the job, but continued serving until August. Since then, the post has been vacant.