WASHINGTON – Mideast experts are dismayed, GOP and Jewish leaders are enraged and the White House is conducting damage control while not actually apologizing, after a pair of senior Obama administration officials used an obscenity to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as cowardly.
This latest foreign policy crisis for the Obama administration was sparked when one White House aide anonymously told the Atlantic, using the prime minister’s nickname, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickensh-t,” and another aide concurred.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the remarks “pitiful” and tweeted, “The president should find out who said this, and fire them immediately. Anything else would be … well, the unnamed official put it best.”
Middle East expert and Iran specialist Clare Lopez of the Center for Security Policy told WND, “Such personal attacks on the leader of one of America’s closest allies are petty and very much beneath the dignity of America’s senior leadership.”
“It is foolish of the Obama administration to so alienate an ally like Israel. The vicious personal attacks on Netanyahu are beyond the pale and frankly unseemly, if coming from an administration official as reported,” she added.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was livid, releasing a lengthy and blistering statement that read, in part: “When the president discusses Israel and Iran, it is sometimes hard to tell who he thinks is America’s friend and who he thinks is America’s enemy … Over the last several months, I have watched the administration insult ally after ally. I am tired of the administration’s apology tour. The president sets the tone for his administration. He either condones the profanity and disrespect used by the most senior members of his administration, or he does not. ”
When given the opportunity Wednesday, neither the White House nor the State Department apologized for the remarks.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki simply answered “no” when asked if officials were trying to identify the sources of the Atlantic article. She rejected the suggestion the U.S. apologize to Netanyahu, saying, if the issue comes up, Secretary of State John Kerry would merely tell the prime minister, “[T]his isn’t the position of the administration.”
Employing ample diplomatic reserve, Psaki did acknowledge the president and Kerry did not see the remarks as “accurate or appropriate,” and that they were “not productive and not constructive.”
White House National Security council spokesman Alistair Baskey also stopped well short of an apology, calling the remarks “inappropriate and counter-productive,” while insisting the president and the prime minister have “forged an effective partnership.”
But it wasn’t just the crude obscenity that shocked many political observers. It was also the reasoning behind the insults, especially the depiction of Netanyahu as a coward.
In the interview, one official expressed a belief that, “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars … The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
Another anonymous senior White House official agreed with the “chickens–t” assessment of Netanyahu, calling him a “coward” who would not launch a preemptive strike on Iran to stop its nuclear threat, adding, “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
The unnamed sources also accused Netanyahu of having more interest in keeping his office than reaching accords with Palestinians and Arab states. Additionally, the article’s author, Jeffrey Goldberg, claimed Obama had mentioned to him Netanyahu’s “lack of political courage.”
The comparison baffled some observers who noted Obama himself has come under heavy criticism for indecisiveness and lack of leadership by even his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, who was wounded twice in battle and served in the Israeli forces elite unit Sayeret Matkal, has a reputation as someone willing to withstand intense international condemnation for pursuing what he believes to be Israel’s national security interests, including the recent military incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks and building Jewish housing in a disputed area of Jerusalem.
Two Israeli supporters questioned which leader really had political courage.
Jennifer Dekel of the Endowment for Middle East Truth told WND, “It is baffling that the administration would characterize the leader of the U.S.’ greatest ally in the Middle East using profanity, but refrains from speaking out against leaders who slaughter innocents and/or support terrorism such as (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani, (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip ) Erdogan.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called it “rather ironic that a senior American official is prepared to curse his friends, yet when it comes to the mortal enemies of the United States – as the Iranians discovered during the recent nuclear negotiation – praise is heaped on them.”
He also called on Obama to “name, apologize for, and repudiate” whoever made the remarks.
For his part, Netanyahu publicly responded to the comments with diplomatic restraint, telling the Knesset Wednesday, “I respect and appreciate our deep ties with the U.S. Since the foundation of our state, we have had disagreements with the U.S. and we will yet have them. But this is not at the expense of the deep ties between our peoples and countries.”
But, he also showed no sign of backing down, adding, “[T]he attack on me comes only because I am defending the state of Israel. If I did not defend the state of Israel, if I did not vigorously uphold our national and security interests, they would not attack me. And despite all the attacks against me, I will continue to defend our state.”
Despite the prime minister’s reference to Israel’s deep ties with the U.S., Lopez told WND she thinks relations between the countries have never been so strained, and she indicated the source of that tension has come from the president.
“The Obama administration came into office with a strongly pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian Authority perspective that backed Islamic uprisings everywhere but Iran, because that regime was already in the hands of jihadis.”
She bemoaned how “from the start” the administration “came down hard against longtime anti-jihad governments in Egypt, Libya and Israel that were actually fighting against the forces of Islamic jihad.”
Lopez called Israel the one and only thriving pro-West democracy and steadfast ally in the Mideast, standing between Western Europe and jihadist forces such as Hamas, Hezbollah and even ISIS.
But despite the profane comments toward the U.S. ally, Lopez told WND, “I think it worth noting that the majority of the American people and our congressional representatives do not at all share the White House antipathy for Israel and her leadership.”