U.S. profane comment on Israel roils relations
Washington – — Anonymous White House criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that drew condemnation in Israel is roiling Washington politics, putting the U.S. administration on the defensive and prompting congressional demands for President Barack Obama to repudiate the remarks.
The Atlantic quoted an unidentified administration official who used profanity to assail Netanyahu and complained about his settlement policies in the West Bank. The official also questioned the prime minister's commitment to Middle East peace efforts as well as his resolve to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to thwart its nuclear program.
The incendiary comments come six days before elections with Democrats struggling to hold onto their Senate majority and taking steps to boost voter turnout in typically low-interest midterm contests. The remarks also come against the backdrop of negotiations involving the United States and other Western powers to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran.
The high-profile diplomatic flap, all based on anonymous opinion, underscored the already tense relationship between Obama and Netanyahu despite decades of close ties between the United States and its Mideast ally.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest insisted Wednesday that the remarks did not reflect the administration's view and were counterproductive.
"The prime minister and the president have forged an effective partnership, they consult closely and frequently and did so as recently as this month right here at the White House in the Oval Office," Earnest said. "That close relationship does not mean that we paper over our differences. The fact is the United States has repeatedly made clear our view that settlement activity is illegitimate, and only serves to complicate efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the region."
National Security Adviser Susan Rice maintained that the U.S.-Israel relationship "is not in crisis." Rice was meeting on Thursday with her Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen, and senior delegation of Israeli officials for the US-Israel Consultative Group Meeting — a biannual event.
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu dismissed the comments and insisted he was "not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state."
"Our supreme interests, with security and the unity of Jerusalem first and foremost, are not among the top concerns of those anonymous elements that are attacking us and me personally," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans and some Democrats pounced on the anonymous comments and criticized the administration.
"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," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "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. It is time for him to get his house in order and tell the people that can't muster professionalism that it is time to move on."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said "responsible presidents ensure their advisers work through policy differences with our closest partners respectfully and through the appropriate channels."
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the comments "counterproductive" and "unprofessional."
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in a tweet: "The administration's attack on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu damages our efforts in a critical region at a critical time."