The appointment of a new public diplomacy chief by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked up a storm of controversy on Thursday when it emerged that the nominee had suggested President Barack Obama was anti-Semitic and derided Secretary of State John Kerry in Facebook postings.
The revelations about the appointee, Ran Baratz, who lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank and is a founder of a right-wing website, came on the eve of Netanyahu’s planned visit to Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with Obama next week in an effort to patch up strained relations.
Netanyahu’s office said he was unaware of Baratz’s statements and considered them “unworthy,” but Netanyahu made no immediate move to rescind the appointment, which is subject to approval by the Israeli cabinet.
Baratz, 42, who has a doctorate in philosophy and founded Mida, a rightist website, lives in the settlement of Kfar Adumim, near Jerusalem, and has a professional background in high technology, according to an announcement from the prime minister’s office.
He was officially named as media adviser and head of public diplomacy and media at the prime minister’s office.
In a Facebook post in March, Baratz criticized Obama’s reaction to Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress on the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. “This is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in Western liberal countries,” he wrote.
In a subsequent post in June, he wrote that in making the deal with Iran, Obama has “thrown us under the bus, even if he did it with a winning smile, while supplying us with plenty of Band-Aids.”
In another posting last year, Baratz lashed out at Kerry, whose efforts to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been ridiculed as naive by some Israeli right-wing commentators.
“After his tenure as secretary of state he is assured a prosperous career as a standup comic,” Baratz wrote.
Responding to comments by Kerry on a Muslim holiday, Baraz commented: “This is the time to wish the Secretary of State good luck, and to count the days with the hope that someone over there at the State Department will wake up and start seeing the world through the eyes of someone whose mental age is more than 12.”
In a more recent posting, Baratz derided Israel’s popular president, Reuven Rivlin, for flying economy class and shaking hands with other passengers. Baratz called Rivlin “such a marginal figure” that he was at no risk of assassination, suggesting that “we could even send him by paraglider” to Syria, where the Islamic State would beg Israel to take him back.
Rivlin has angered some ultra-nationalist Israelis with his condemnation of anti-Arab racism and his vocal advocacy of equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens. His office said it viewed Baratz’s comments with “grave seriousness” and demanded an explanation from the prime minister’s office.
Two cabinet ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party expressed opposition to Baratz’s nomination, with one saying he would vote against it.
Baratz told Israeli media that he wrote his Facebook posts in a humorous tone as a private citizen and that he would express himself differently while in an official position.
Rafi Mann, a professor of communication at Ariel University in the West Bank, called the distinction hollow. “Whoever is about to be appointed head of public diplomacy should know that there is no such thing as a private page,” he told Israel Radio.
Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent