Netanyahu slams ‘those who try to instigate strife with allies’

Finance minister labels ‘absurd’ Olmert’s accusation that Netanyahu played favorites in US elections; US ambassador says leaders’ relationship is positive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Ehud Olmert in 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Ehud Olmert in 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Thursday that “there are those among us who are trying to instigate strife between Israel and the US,” and said they would “not get away with it.”

The prime minister was alluding quite clearly to a comment made the previous day by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who said Netanyahu’s apparent preference for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the US presidential campaign was damaging to the relationship between the two allies.

Netanyahu said, at a cornerstone-laying event for a hospital in Ashdod, that he would continue to work closely with the reelected US president in order to maintain Israel’s security interests.

“The alliance between the countries is strong and cooperation exists in all fields, especially when it comes to security, there cooperation is deep, broad and fundamental,” Netanyahu stressed.

Netanyahu’s statement came a day after former prime minister Ehud Olmert questioned Israel’s ability to maintain strong ties with the Obama administration in light of Netanyahu’s perceived favoritism in the tight US election race.

“Following what Netanyahu did in the last few months, the question arises of whether or not our prime minister has a friend in the White House,” Olmert said in a meeting with New York Jewish leaders.

Olmert said that while the Israeli head of state was allowed to have a personal preference for one candidate over another, it would be “better, obviously, if he kept it to himself.”

“What took place this time was a breaking of all the rules, when our prime minister intervened in the US elections in the name of an American billionaire with a clear interest in the vote,” Olmert continued. “The very same billionaire used Israel’s prime minister to advance a nominee of his own for president.”

Olmert’s words were a clear reference to Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who according to reports donated some $100 million to Romney’s failed campaign. Adelson also owns the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is largely perceived as a stalwart backer of Netanyahu.

In September, clips of Netanyahu speaking about the Iranian nuclear threat were used in Romney campaign ads targeting the Jewish vote in Florida.

US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro on Thursday denied that tension exists between the two heads of state. Shapiro said their personal relationship was an open one and that in the nine meetings the two men held over the years, discussions were positive and constructive and would continue in that vein.

On Wednesday Shapiro ruled out the possibility that Obama would harbor ill will toward Netanyahu for the latter’s perceived support for Romney. “Anyone who knows the president understands that this is not how he thinks,” Shapiro said, adding that talk of revenge against Israel for Netanyahu’s political preferences was “ridiculous.”

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz came to his leader’s defense Thursday, rebuffing criticism by former prime minister Ehud Olmert who charged that in showing preference for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the US elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had damaged the US-Israel relationship.

Calling Olmert’s accusation “absurd,” Steinitz advised him “not to interfere in the elections in Israel and certainly not with statements that may cause damage to the State of Israel.”

In an interview to Israel Radio, Steinitz added that the “excellent” relations with the US would continue and that security and economic cooperation had improved in recent years.

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