Netanyahu Promised Kerry He'll 'Review' Tapped Spokesman's Appointment, State Department Says

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Kerry speaks with Netanyahu during a meeting in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2015.Credit: AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and promised to “review” Ran Baratz’s appointment as head of the National Information Directorate after returning from his visit to the United States, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a daily briefing for reporters on Thursday.

Netanyahu will meet with President Barack Obama during this visit.

Kirby termed Baratz’s statements about Obama and Kerry “troubling and offensive,” adding that making derogatory statements of this kind is simply rude.

"We obviously expect government officials from any country, especially our closest allies, to speak respectfully and truthfully about senior U.S. government officials," Kirby said. 

Israeli officials later said that Netanyahu didn't say that he will review the appointment, but only that he will handle the issue once he returns to Israel from his U.S. visit.

Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) unapologetically backed the decision to appoint Baratz, however, and was adamant that "only Israel will decide who will head its National Information Directorate."  

Baratz posted the remarks about Obama on Facebook a few hours after Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress on March 3. The harsh comments come to light days before Netanyahu is slated to meet with Obama at the White House. The two will convene on Monday for the first time in over a year, in the aftermath of the showdown between the White House and the prime minister's bureau over the nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu seeks to reach an agreement with Obama over a defense aid package worth tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. would transfer to Israel over the course of the next decade.   

"Allow me to be harsh, contrary to my moderate habits," Baratz wrote in the March 3 post. "Obama's reference to Netanyahu's speech – this is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in Western and liberal countries. And it comes, of course, alongside much tolerance and understanding toward Islamic anti-Semitism. So much tolerance and understanding that they are willing to give [Iran] an atom[ic bomb]."

Baratz's controversial social media comments came to light earlier in the week when, on Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin's bureau sent a request to the Prime Minister’s Office asking for explanations of Baratz's posts directed against Rivlin.

“We view this gravely” wrote the president’s office, “and demand an explanation of whether the words written by Baratz were known to the prime minister when he made his decision to appoint Baratz to this job.”

Likud MKs also question his consideration in light of these posts. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel on Thursday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider the Baratz's appointment, after it emerged he made harsh comments about Rivlin and Obama.

Gamliel said that Baratz's comments against Rivlin and Obama "undermine the symbols of our government and those of our greatest ally, and may be misconstrued as an official stance." She asserted that she trusts Netanyahu's judgement completely, but added that she is "certain he will reconsider the question of Baratz's appointment for the position."

Minutes after Gamliel's statement, Minister of Welfare Haim Katz said that he would oppose Baratz's appointment if the government is called to vote on the decision. "The way Baratz expresses himself indicates that he isn't suitable for the position," he said in an interview with Israel Radio. "Even he wrote those remarks for fun, it doesn't detract from their severity." Earlier, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog called for Baratz's immediate dismissal.

Baratz since apologized on his personal Facebook page Thursday for the posts against President Obama and President Rivlin, as well as about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other government ministers.

"I apologize for the hurtful things I posted," wrote Baratz. "I am sorry I did not update the prime minster for these things in advance. The things I posted were written recklessly, and sometimes in jest, in a language that befits the social networks and a private individual. It is very clear to me that in my official role I have to behave and express myself differently. I asked the prime minister for an opportunity to clarify things in the coming days."

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