New Netanyahu media czar in hot water over Obama comments

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new top media adviser was under fire Thursday for controversial comments attributed to him, including those accusing US President Barack Obama of anti-Semitism.

The controversy surrounding Ran Baratz erupted only days before Netanyahu is to meet Obama in Washington as part of efforts to heal rifts over the Iran nuclear deal, among other issues.

Netanyahu’s office announced Baratz’s appointment Wednesday night as the premier’s head of public diplomacy and media, and Israeli news sites have since dug up a string of comments he has made.

Baratz’s appointment is to be submitted for cabinet approval, and some ministers have said they will oppose it.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said the comments “undermine the symbols of our government and those of our greatest ally, and may be misconstrued as an official stance,” according to Haaretz newspaper.

Baratz has also spoken harshly of US Secretary of State John Kerry, whose “mental age” he reportedly wrote was no older than 12, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who he said even the Islamic State would not want as a hostage.

In addition, the 42-year-old resident of a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank supported calls in 2004 for the construction of a new Jewish temple at the extremely sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Both Jews and Muslims revere the compound as sacred. Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the compound in September preceded a recent wave of deadly violence that has provoked fears of a full-scale Palestinian uprising.

Baratz wrote about Obama on his Facebook page in March, after Netanyahu addressed the US Congress to express his opposition to the Iran deal. The speech drew heavy criticism from Obama.

“Obama’s way of speaking about Netanyahu’s speech — that is the modern face of anti-Semitism in Western and liberal countries,” the post said.

“And that comes, of course, with much tolerance and understanding toward Islamic anti-Semitism.”

Also on Facebook, Baratz wrote recently that Rivlin, whose position is mainly ceremonial, was “such a marginal figure” that he had nothing to fear.

“We could send him by paraglider to the Syrian Golan controlled by ISIS” and they would want to send him back, he wrote.

Rivlin’s office has reportedly asked Netanyahu’s office for explanations regarding the comments about him.

Netanyahu is due to meet Obama in Washington Monday after months of tense relations between the two traditional allies.

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