Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night froze Ran Baratz’s appointment as his new media chief after past Facebook posts he had written insulting US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry became headline fodder around the world.
Baratz had described Obama actions as “modern anti-Semitism,” referred to Kerry as someone “whose mental age doesn’t exceed 12” and charged that President Reuven Rivlin is unworthy to hold office.
The posts threatened to cast a pall on Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week, when he is scheduled to hold his first face-to-face meeting with Obama in a year.
The two leaders are expected to attempt to heal some of the wounds from their acrimonious battle over the Iran deal, which both men now want to put behind them.
Netanyahu said he had not known about Baratz’s comments prior to announcing his appointment as his new head of public diplomacy and media.
“Those posts are totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the government of Israel,” the prime minister said.
He agreed to meet with Baratz after his return from Washington and said that no more decisions would be made until then. The cabinet needs to approve any prime ministerial appointee for that position.
Baratz posted an apology on his Facebook page, which was welcomed by White House press secretary John Earnest. Such appointments are “decisions that [Netanyahu] will rightfully make on his own. It is readily apparent that that apology was warranted,” Earnest told reporters.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu on Thursday about Baratz’s comments and understood that Netanyahu “will be reviewing” the appointment, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The comments “were troubling and offensive. We obviously expect government officials from any country, especially our closest allies, to speak respectfully and truthfully about senior US government officials,” he said.
“Insults, certainly, aimed at individuals doesn’t do anything to help advance and deepen the relationship. … We learn in kindergarten about name-calling, and it’s simply not a polite thing to do, ‘ Kirby said.
On his Facebook page Baratz explained: “The things that I published were written thoughtlessly, and sometimes in jest, in the kind of language a private citizen uses when posting on social media.
“Clearly those in governmental positions speak and behave differently.
“I apologize for the harmful things I published with regard to the president [of Israel], the president of the United States and other public figures,” he said.
Baratz also apologized for failing to inform Netanyahu about the posts and said he hopes to clarify the issue with the prime minister.
The 42-year old resident of the Kfar Adumim settlement in the West Bank has a doctorate in philosophy from the Hebrew University, served in Israel Air Force intelligence and has a background in hi-tech.
But he was previously best known for his pointed commentary on Israeli politicians, diplomats, and current events both, on his Facebook page and in the column he writes for the online Hebrew-language journal MIDA, which he founded.
In March of last year, after listening to Obama’s negative reaction to Netanyahu’s speech against the Iran deal before a joint session of Congress, Baratz wrote on his Facebook page: “This is what modern anti-Semitism in a liberal Western country looks like. And, of course, it comes with a great deal of tolerance and understanding for Islamic anti-Semitism.
The tolerance and understanding is so great that [Obama] is willing to give it a nuclear bomb.”
After Obama’s reelection in 2012, he wrote in a column for MIDA: “For the next four years, a pro-Arab, anti-Israel president will continue to rule. His upcoming term will be even more extreme, and he has nothing more to lose or to hide. The Jews have once again voted for Obama by a wide majority, and this just shows how wide the gap has become between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the US.
“The Jews in America who see Obama as pro-Israeli are the most extreme in their criticism of Israel,” he wrote. “The irresponsible Israeli policy which they seek raises the question of how exactly they can define themselves as pro-Israel.”
In June Baratz wrote that the Jerusalem Post Conference’s audience in New York was right to jeer US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew during his speech.
“It certainly was not polite [of the audience to jeer],” Baratz wrote sarcastically. “Lew was talking about all of the ways in which Obama is helping Israel.
And Obama, a brilliant public relations person, has given quite a bit. So what’s all the fuss about? “It quite simple,” he wrote.
“While Obama is helping us on tactical issues like threats from Hamas and Hezbollah, he is instituting a global strategy of compromise with Iran, all the while creating for us (and other countries in the region) a huge, strategic, nuclear problem.
“Obama certainly threw us under the wheels of the bus, even if he did it with a winning smile, as he gave us abundant gypsum plasters and sung the hallelujah of the Jewish leftwing chorus in Israel and the United States.”
In a column for MIDA last year, Baratz wrote: “To Kerry’s credit, it should be noted that there is no Miss America around who could say what he said any better. This is the time to wish the secretary of state good luck, and to count down the days with the hope that someone over there at the State Department will wake up and begin to see the world through the eyes of a person whose mental age exceeds 12.”
He also had plenty to say about Israeli politicians. After President Reuven Rivlin flew economy class for an official state visit, Baratz wrote, “It mainly says that he is such a marginal figure that there’s no need to fear for his life. It seems that we could even send him paragliding over the Golan Heights and into ISIS-controlled territory. They’ll return him the next day with a request for negotiating their return to Iraq, if only we take him back.”
In another post over the summer, Baratz charged that Rivlin was motivated by self-interest and that his behavior was not that of a public servant or a president.
Upon hearing of the appointment, Rivlin’s office sought clarification from Netanyahu.
“The comments are even more serious in view of the fact that [Baratz] would be a senior civil servant in a representative capacity and would reflect the positions of the State of Israel at home and abroad,” a spokesman for Rivlin said.
He surmised that in the future anyone who wanted to be employed in a government ministry would have to be very careful about what they posted on social media, because after this episode, potential employees are likely to be scrutinized much more carefully.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said, “A person who slings mud at President Obama, defames US Secretary of State Kerry, and, most serious of all, humiliated the beloved president of our country, our most important symbol, has to be sent home immediately, even before he arrives."
"It’s an act of flawed judgment to think that a man like this can hold governmental office. “I insist that Netanyahu stop this man's appointment immediately,” Herzog added.
Greer Fay Cashman, Jerusalem Post staff, Reuters, and Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.