Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he has complete confidence in Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a day after Channel 2 reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had told him to "get rid" of Lieberman.
"[He] is fully committed to peace and security," said Netanyahu. "Lieberman constitutes an important part of the elected government of the democratic State of Israel."
The premier made the comments before a group of over 20 European ambassadors at Jerusalem's King David hotel. Netanyahu noted that he had consulted with Lieberman prior to a major foreign policy speech he delivered two weeks ago, in which he declared support for a demilitarized Palestinian state.
"Foreign Minister Lieberman will play an important role in implementing the policy presented in the speech," he said.
During the premier's visit to Paris last week, Sarkozy urged Netanyahu to "get rid" of hard-line Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Channel Two reported on Monday.
Earlier Tuesday, Sarkozy's unusually blunt request sparked a political backlash among Lieberman's allies in Jerusalem.
The second-in-command of Lieberman's Yisrael Beteinu party said Netanyahu should have "banged on the table" in response to Sarkozy's attack on Lieberman.
"It is hard to believe that the leader of a friendly country would express himself in such a way," Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told Army Radio.
"If I was the prime minister, and those statements were made in my presence, I would have banged on the table and protested," Landau told Army Radio. "That is how a prime minister who preserves his country's dignity should behave."
Foreign Ministry blasts Sarkozy's 'intolerable intervention'
The Foreign Ministry responded to the report by lambasting the French leader for his "intolerable intervention in internal Israeli affairs."
Sarkozy spent a good portion of his meeting with Netanyahu last Wednesday discussing the composition of the Israeli official, according to the report. The presence of three other Israeli officials at the meeting did not deter the French leader from expressing his true opinion of the foreign minister, said Channel Two.
The French president reportedly told Netanyahu that while he usually scheduled talks with Israel's top foreign envoys on visit to Paris he could not bring himself to meet with Lieberman. According to Channel Two, this statement was accompanied by disparaging hand gestures.
Sarkozy then advised Netanyahu to fire Lieberman and bring former foreign minister Tzipi Livni back into the coalition, according to the report. Netanyahu reportedly told Sarkozy that Lieberman came across differently in private than his public appearances would suggest.
French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen also comes across as a nice person in private, Sarkozy reportedly responded, to which Netanyahu replied that Lieberman was not Le Pen and that there was no basis for comparison. Sarkozy then responded that he did not intend to compare.
The prime minister's bureau did not respond to Sarkozy's remarks nor deny them, but the office of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did respond with a strong condemnation.
"If the words attributed to the president of France are correct, the interference of a president of a respected democratic state in the matters of another democratic state is a grave and intolerable thing. We expect that that regardless of political stance, every political body in Israel will condemn this callous attack by a foreign state in our domestic affairs."
Meanwhile MK Ahmed Tibi welcomed Sarkozy's comments, saying that he hopes "the international community has started to absorb the danger of the fascism" being taught by Lieberman.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now