The Prime Minister’s Office accused former US Mideast envoy Martin Indyk of fabricating a conversation he said he had with Benjamin Netanyahu at Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995, when Netanyahu was head of the opposition.
Indyk, who in various speeches and interviews over the last few months has been sharply critical of Netanyahu and his policies, said in a PBS Frontline program on Netanyahu that aired Tuesday evening that he sat next to Netanyahu at Rabin’s funeral at the capital’s Mount Herzl Cemetery.
Indyk at the time was US ambassador to Israel.
“I remember Netanyahu saying to me: “Look, look at this,” Indyk said. “He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician...
Netanyahu was thinking, well, politically he was on the ropes before he was assassinated.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a “blanket denial,” saying that what Indyk said “never happened.”
Channel 2’s Amit Segal posted a picture from the Rabin funeral, showing Netanyahu sitting not with Indyk but, rather, with then-Likud MK Moshe Katsav and Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff.
Indyk later tweeted that “the conversation with Bibi took place on Nov 5/95 when we sat together at the Knesset ceremony to receive Rabin’s coffin to lie in state.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office denied again, however, that the conversation ever took place. “After the first lying version was proven to be false [by the picture], Indyk made up a second version which is also a lie. The prime minister never said the things Indyk attributed to him,” the PMO said.
The Likud issued a response to Indyk’s statement, saying that “this is another blatant lie by Indyk, who never stops discrediting and defaming” Netanyahu.
The Zionist Union, however, had a different take, accepting Indyk’s comments at face value and saying in a statement that they show “how low” Netanyahu could go.
“Since that time, until today, nothing has changed,” the statement said, adding that “the only thing that interests Netanyahu is Netanyahu.”
Even now, the statement read, “when he is a tired and drained citizen who is not functioning as prime minister and does not provide solutions for his citizens, he thinks only about his personal interests, and not the interests of the State of Israel.”
Rabin’s son, Yuval, said that he believed Indyk, adding that “my father’s place in history was ensured even if Netanyahu had won and even if he had lost.”
The two-hour documentary, titled Netanyahu at War, which included interviews with a number of past and present US and Israeli officials, as well as a handful of senior Israeli and US journalists, chronicled the tension between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.
A largely balanced piece that put the tension in the relationship in context, the program had a few new revelations. Among those were the following: • Former US president Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger admitted that the US administration campaigned for Shimon Peres in the 1996 election against Netanyahu. “If there was ever a time where we tried to influence an Israeli election, it was Peres and Netanyahu.”
• Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, telling of Netanyahu’s impressions of Obama after their first, icy meeting in the White House, in May 2009, where Obama called for a total settlement freeze, said: “I remember him coming back from his first meeting with President Obama with something that tells him that there’s going to be a different president: a super-intelligent lawyer, who is probably a brilliant, brilliant man, who has ideas, goals, and a vision, but something − what we call in Hebrew − the ‘neshoima,’ the soul, is too cold to be connected to Israel.”
• Top Obama aide David Axelrod and the president’s first Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, admitted the administration erred in June 2009 when Obama gave a landmark speech to the Muslim world in Cairo but did not stop, on his return back to the US, in Israel.
“I regret that. I think if we were to do that all over again, I think we should have added a stop there,” Axelrod said.
Mitchell: “I personally think it would have been wise had the president gone on to Israel from there [Cairo] and made a comparable statement of reassurance [to the Israelis].”
But Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser and one of the advocates of skipping Israel on the trip, defended the decision and revealed something about the administration’s mind-set regarding Netanyahu’s government.
“I’ve lived in this job for seven years and have learned repeatedly that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “Frankly, I see it as a loselose proposition; whatever we were going to do was not going to be the right thing for this particular Israeli government.”