Yair Netanyahu, the 24-year-old son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is playing a central role in pushing for the controversial appointment of a media spokesman who has called President Barack Obama anti-Semitic, a TV report said Monday.
Channel 2 said the Prime Minister’s Office had rejected the bizarre claim as “not true,” but insisted that several senior officials were adamant that Yair is pushing hard for the appointment, including via “lots of calls” to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Months after shelving the planned appointment of Ran Baratz as his media czar amid a storm of outrage over the candidate, the prime minister revived Baratz’s candidacy last week, by submitting the nomination to the state commission in charge of vetting candidates for high-level public posts.
The Channel 2 report did not explain why Yair Netanyahu is purportedly so determined to see Baratz get the key job. It said the prime minister had revived the candidacy of the hawkish Baratz in part because he feels he is losing sections of his right-wing base at present, including because last month he publicly and quickly condemned an IDF soldier who allegedly shot dead a Palestinian assailant long minutes after the attacker had been disarmed and badly wounded.
Yair Netanyahu last made major headlines two years ago when his uncle accused him of “spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother” by dating a non-Jewish Norwegian woman with whom he was studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
A government official said last week it remained “highly doubtful” that Baratz, who is on record deriding Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, would pass the commission’s vetting process.
Channel 2 said Monday that appointing Baratz would be a case of “spitting in the face” of Obama, and would also revive simmering tensions between Netanyahu and his former Likud colleague Rivlin.
Defending his choice, Netanyahu said last week that 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 Rivlin, Ya’alon and Kerry.
“Allow me to diverge from my usual moderate ways and be a bit blunt,” Baratz wrote in a March 3, 2015, 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 November 9 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 and is still vacant. 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.”
For months after that, Netanyahu’s office had remained mum on the status of the appointment.
Last week, Netanyahu backed off supporting another controversial appointee, former settler leader Dani Dayan, announcing he would make Dayan 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.