US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to apologize for the remarks of anonymous senior government officials, calling Israeli prime minister “chikenshit”.
Kerry and Netanyahu had a “good conversation” that included a discussion of ways to improve relations between US and Israeli leaders, American officials told the Times of Israel. The two men also discussed other regional issues, including efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The thing about Bibi [Netanyahu] is, he’s a chickenshit,” a senior Obama administration official told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who published the quote in an article Tuesday on the “crisis in US-Israeli relations.”
“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 anonymous source continued.
The White House and Kerry moved quickly to distance themselves from the quotes.
The president’s press secretary Josh Earnest said the anonymous officials’ remarks do not reflect the US position or President Barack Obama’s views.
“We condemn anybody who uses language such as was used in this article. That does not reflect the president, it does not reflect me,” Kerry said at the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday. “It is disgraceful, unacceptable, damaging, and I think neither President Obama nor I – I’ve never heard that word around me in the White House or anywhere – I don’t know who these anonymous people are who keep getting quoted in things. But they make life much more difficult, and we are proud of what we have done to help Israel through a very difficult time.”
On Wednesday, Netanyahu made the unusual move of responding directly to the quotes, using them to his political advantage, according to Newsweek. Israeli leaders usually do not acknowledge comments made anonymously.
“Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in opening a memorial ceremony in parliament for an Israeli cabinet minister assassinated by a Palestinian in 2001.
“Despite all of the attacks I suffer, I will continue to defend our country. I will continue to defend the citizens of Israel,” he added.
Regardless of the crassness of the comments in the Atlantic, many Israelis agree with the characterization of the country’s leader, as he is considered to be one of the most risk-averse Israeli prime ministers in history, Newsweek reported.
Yet the man nicknamed Bibi is being attacked on the homefront as well. On Thursday, left-leaning paper Haaretz published a political cartoon that depicted Netanyahu flying a plane labeled “Israel” into New York City’s Twin Towers, which is flying the American flag. Cartoonist Amos Biderman offered no caption to explain the drawing.
In a phone interview with the Times of Israel, Biderman explained that the cartoon implied Netanyahu was leading to “a disaster in Israel-US relations on the scale of 9/11,” pointing to the prime minister’s “arrogance” and unchecked settlement construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.