US officials, Jewish Dems scramble for distance from ‘chickenshit’

State Department spokeswoman promises that Kerry will speak to Netanyahu to clarify administration’s stance

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Former US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (AFP/Paul J. Richards)
Former US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (AFP/Paul J. Richards)

WASHINGTON – Democrats and administration officials rushed to distance themselves Wednesday from profane anti-Netanyahu remarks attributed to a senior administration official one day earlier  – and argued against the conclusion that US-Israel relations were in an unprecedented crisis.

“The relationship is not in crisis,” countered National Security Adviser Susan Rice during a talk on Wednesday afternoon. “The relationship is fundamentally stronger in many respects than it has ever been.”

Dispelling reports that relations between the two leaders had reached new lows, Rice said that US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “have a constructive and effective relationship,” going on to highlight the frequency of meetings between the two leaders.

Rice didn’t directly comment on the particular choice of words deployed by an unnamed official quoted by columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. In the article, published in The Atlantic, the “administration official” described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “chickenshit” and Goldberg said previous officials had called him “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery’.”

Rice is set to host a large Israeli security delegation in Washington starting Thursday morning. The meeting is part of a biannual framework in which the national security teams of both states meet to coordinate and consult on pressing regional topics.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, however, directly addressed the language cited by Goldberg. In a statement released early Wednesday afternoon, the group registered its “surprise and disappointment.”

Describing the language used as “inappropriate,” the organization emphasized that use of the word “chickenshit” was “unprofessional and does not meet the standard of civility and deference that has typified the administration even in disagreement with its long-time ally.”

“The personal frustration that is reflected in the anonymous source’s ad hominem attack should be channeled to constructive engagement rather than rhetorical flourishes,” the statement suggested. Despite repeated media reports to the contrary, the organization argued that “cooperation between the two countries has never been stronger.”

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki also distanced her boss – Secretary of State John Kerry – from the comments, as well as the conclusions of the article. She said the remarks were “not productive and not constructive.”

Psaki said that Kerry will speak with Netanyahu personally to “make clear” that the comments did not express the administration’s viewpoint, and emphasized that the unnamed official had spoken to Goldberg without authorization to do so from the White House.

“President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry don’t see them as accurate or appropriate,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“If this issue comes up we will make sure it is clear it’s not reflective of the secretary’s views,” the State Department spokeswoman said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that the remarks made by the anonymous American officials to The Atlantic “do not reflect the administration’s view and we do believe that they are counterproductive.”

“The prime minister and the president have forged an effective partnership. They consult closely and frequently and did so as recently as this month here at the White House in the Oval Office,” Earnest said. “I will say that as a general matter that I am not aware of who made those comments to Mr. [Jeffery] Goldberg. I do not know if the president knows who made those comments. I would be surprised if he did.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, though, argued that the comments reflected what it described as “a spate of troubling expressions of hostility toward Israel coming from the Obama administration in recent days.

“Last week, the Obama administration went out of its way to ‘humiliate‘ a top Israeli official in retaliation for private remarks for which that official had publicly apologized. Yesterday, the State Department accused the Netanyahu government of lacking a commitment to peace because it had the temerity to authorize housing construction in the capital of Israel. And today, top aides to the president attacked Israel’s prime minister in coarse, insulting language from behind the veil of anonymity,” complained RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks.

“Americans expect their commander-in-chief to keep faith with critical allies in perilous times. This administration is dangerously off-course and its apparent determination to provoke a crisis in US-Israel relations is the latest disastrous evidence,” he continued. “We urge pro-Israel Americans to register their reservations about President Obama’s naïve and petty foreign policy next week by supporting Republican candidates and electing a Congress that will stand up to him.”

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