Netanyahu refuses to apologize for ex-ambassador’s criticism of Obama

By William Booth

The Washington Post

June 19, 2015

JERUSALEM — If there was any lingering doubt that President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are estranged, now comes fresh evidence the two leaders and their proxies are engaged in a remarkably nasty, seriously personal tit-for-tat about who did whom wrong over the past six years.

On Tuesday, Michael B. Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that said the failed relationship between Obama and Netanyahu was all Obama’s fault.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro told Israel Army Radio, essentially, that Oren is a know-nothing fabulist trying to hawk his new book.

On Thursday, Israeli officials told local media that Shapiro had called members of the Netanyahu cabinet, as well as the prime minister himself, to request that they distance themselves from Oren’s commentary, in which the former ambassador accused the U.S. president of “abandoning Israel.”

On Friday, a senior official in the prime minister’s office told The Washington Post that Netanyahu had no intention of apologizing for anything Oren wrote.

“Michael Oren, who is not a member of the government, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal and a book, which reflect his own views,” the official said.

“It is curious that the U.S. administration is concerned about remarks by a former Israeli government official but is silent when former U.S. government officials,” such as former peace negotiator Martin Indyk and former Obama adviser David Axelrod, “have been critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the official said.

Indyk served two tours as U.S. ambassador to Israel and most recently was a top negotiator in Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s failed brokering of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indyk has not exactly attacked Netanyahu personally. In a speech in May 2014, the Brookings Institution scholar singled out Israel’s settlement building in the occupied West Bank as a key reason for the failure of the peace talks.

After Netanyahu promised Israeli voters on the eve of his reelection that there would never be an independent Palestinian state on his watch, Axelrod called the message “very divisive” and said the prime minister would do anything to stay in power. Netanyahu later walked back his remarks and also said that he did not mean to be divisive when he warned his political base to get to the polls because Arab Israelis were voting “in droves.”

In his Journal opinion piece, Oren charged that Obama personally undermined U.S. relations with Israel by allowing private quarrels to become public.

Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador, suggested on Army Radio that Oren did not know what he was talking about.

Calls for an apology to Obama have met with some success in Israel. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who leads the political party to which Oren belongs, apologized to the White House for his colleague’s remarks.

So did Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who said Oren’s observations “do not match the reality.”