Foxman: Netanyahu Should Distance Himself From Baratz Appointment

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Ran Baratz, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi and Lior Mizrahi

Former Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman is calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “distance himself” from the appointment of Ran Baratz as head of the Israel's public diplomacy (hasbara) department in the Prime Minister's Office. “No apology or explanation can now repair the damage,” Foxman said.

“When Netanyahu didn’t know about Baratz’s statement, that was one thing, though it pointed to faulty vetting. But now that he knows that his intended appointee has expressed such views about the president, the secretary of state and President Rivlin, the appointment becomes untenable. A person who says such things does not belong in the prime minister’s entourage,” Foxman told Haaretz.

Foxman added: “This whole affair is unfortunate because it comes at a very critical and sensitive moment in U.S.-Israeli relations, a time that was meant for repair. If it was a U.S. official saying similar things about Israeli officials, we would be demanding that he be fired.”

Foxman was expressing publicly what several Jewish leaders said privately on Thursday following the revelations about Baratz’s Facebook diatribes: they were harshly critical of the appointment but even more exasperated by its timing. The officials said Baratz and his statements had shifted focused away from the largely positive expectations in advance of Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama in Washington on Monday.

“It released all the Obama-Netanyahu demons that officials on both sides have been trying to return to the bottle in recent weeks,” one official said. “It’s just meshuggene” (crazy in Yiddish).

The White House on Thursday reacted calmly to Baratz’s description of Obama as an anti-Semite, saying his apology “was warranted”. Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke to Netanyahu about the affair, said Baratz’s comments were “troubling and offensive”. The prime minister’s office said Netanyahu would review the appointment upon his return from Washington.

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."

Baratz has since apologized for his statements, saying they were made lightheartedly and as a private citizen. "I'm sorry for not briefing the prime minister on these things beforehand," he wrote on Facebook, adding that it is clear to him that when holding public office one must act accordingly. 

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