Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fresh appointment for spokesman, Ran Baratz, accused US President Barack Obama of anti-Semitism earlier this year.
“Allow me to diverge from my usual moderate ways and be a bit blunt,” he 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].”
Netanyahu is set to meet Obama in Washington on Monday.
Word Thursday morning of Baratz’s comments about Obama came hours after the Prime Minister’s Office was forced to respond to criticism over disparaging statements made by Baratz about another head of state: Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.
Baratz, 42, who was tapped Wednesday as media adviser and head of public diplomacy and media in the PMO, had said on October 25 that Rivlin was an insignificant personage, after he flew back to Israel from the Czech Republic in coach.
“I think it says a lot that the president flies in economy class, goes around the plane and shakes hands with everyone,” Baratz wrote. “In particular it says that he’s such a marginal figure that there’s no concern for his life.”
He went on to suggest sending Rivlin over the Syrian border on a paraglider, a journey made by an Israeli Arab recently in a quest to join the Islamic State group.
“A day later they would return him with the desire to open negotiations to return immediately to Iraq,” Baratz rambled, “just take him, upon our lives, Israelis, your president goes around the camp shaking everyone’s hands, trying to speak to us in Arabic he doesn’t know, tells us to unite because it’s a shame we are divided thus into tribes.”
The President’s Residence quickly responded to a report highlighting the Facebook post about Rivlin, saying that the president viewed Baratz’s remarks gravely and “demands to know if his statements were known to the prime minister when he decided to appoint him to the post.”
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement later Wednesday night that it had not been aware of Baratz’s comments and that Netanyahu viewed them as unbecoming. Asked for clarification, Baratz told the PMO the comments had been made as a private citizen and that his new state position demanded more restraint. Baratz also said in a late-night interview with Channel 2 that he was sorry if Rivlin was offended.
His appointment will still need to be approved by the cabinet next week. Two Likud ministers, Gila Gamliel and Haim Katz, came out against the appointment Thursday; Katz said he would against it in the cabinet. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said Baratz should be “sent home.”
Baratz was previously founder of Hebrew conservative news website Mida, and on staff at the Ein Prat Academy outside Jerusalem. A resident of the West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim, Baratz formerly taught Greek philosophy at Hebrew University.
He said in a statement after the announcement that public relations was the “main factor in the struggle over Israel’s standing.”
“The challenges that face us are many and include expanding public diplomacy activity in the new media in the international arena, as well as providing Israeli citizens with more effective access to the work of the prime minister and the government,” he said.
In addition to his posts disparaging Obama and Rivlin, Baratz also took aim at US Secretary of State John Kerry on October 18, 2014, after Kerry linked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the rise of the Islamic State terror group.
“I went to see Kerry’s speech, where he linked Israel and the Islamic State, and it was pretty hilarious, so I summed it up for you: After his term as secretary of state, Kerry can look forward to a flourishing career in one of the comedy clubs in Kansas City [where a gunman shot and killed three people at Jewish sites in April 2014], Mosul or the Holot detention facility,” where Israel confines many of the African migrants who have entered the country on recent years, Baratz wrote. It was not clear what connection he drew between these three locations.
“This is the time, then,” Baratz also wrote, “to wish the secretary of state success and count down two years on the calendar with the hope that someone in the State Department will then wake up and begin to see the world through the eyes of a man with a mental age above 12.”
Senior Zionist Union Knesset member Tzipi Livni said Baratz’s statements were accurate reflections of Netanyahu’s own opinions.
“Why are people surprised that the person speaking for Israel holds the same views as Netanyahu?” she said in a statement. “The problem is with the real policy of the person who appointed him, and its implications for Israel, not with the person explaining it” to the media.
“A person comes to a role not only with their academic and professional experience; they also come with their views, and this is his view of President Rivlin, of the American secretary of state and of other issues,” Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, a former IDF spokesman, said in a statement.