Netanyahu’s New Head of Public Diplomacy Is a Terrible Diplomat

Why can’t Israel’s prime minister hire someone who hasn’t called Obama an anti-Semite?   

Ran Baratz
Ran Baratz in 2013.

Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Reuters

Ran Baratz, the man chosen by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead Israel’s office of public diplomacy, isn’t much of a diplomat. In the months prior to his recent appointment, Baratz insulted Israeli President Reuben Rivlin, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But Baratz has saved his sharpest words for President Obama.

In 2012, after Obama won re-election, Baratz wrote a column calling Obama “a pro-Arab, anti-Israel president.” Baratz excoriated American Jews who supported Obama, asking “how exactly they can define themselves as pro-Israel.” Last March, after Obama rebutted Netanyahu’s speech before Congress—in which Netanyahu had argued against the Iran nuclear deal—Baratz wrote:

Obama’s attitude toward Netanyahu’s speech—this is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in liberal modern Western countries. Of course it comes with a lot of tolerance and understanding toward Islamic anti-Semitism. So much tolerance and understanding that they are even willing to give them a nuclear bomb.

In June, Baratz said Obama “threw us under the wheels of the bus.” And in August, he wrote that Obama “must know he’s feeding a years-long nest of anti-Semitism, which blames American Jews for dragging the United States into wars.”

As a statement of fact, the allegation that Obama is anti-Semitic is garbage. As a gesture between allies, it’s destructive. And as a cultural message, it’s corrosive. Like bogus claims of sexism and racism, casual attributions of anti-Semitism teach the public to assume that anyone who accuses anyone of bigotry is just playing politics.

Baratz is a hawkish ideologue. He lives in a West Bank settlement and has a doctorate in Greek philosophy. Sen. Marco Rubio thinks you can’t get a good job with a degree in Greek philosophy. But apparently, you can. A week ago, Netanyahu announced that he was appointing Baratz as his “Media Adviser and head of Public Diplomacy and Media at the Prime Minister’s Office.”

According to Israeli reports, Netanyahu has been considering this appointment for at least three months. In his press release announcing Baratz’s appointment, Netanyahu cited Baratz’s website, Mida, and linked to it. But soon after the appointment, when reporters began to quote Baratz’s insults—many of which were published on Mida—Netanyahu expressed surprise. “I have just read Dr. Ran Baratz’s posts on the Internet, including those relating to the president of the State of Israel, the president of the United States, and other public figures in Israel and the United States,” said the prime minister.

At first, Baratz shrugged off the controversy. “I’m an opinionated person who uses humor and satire in combination with criticism,” he argued. “I’ve done so for the last 20 years and there’s no reason to be offended by every joke on Facebook.” Then Baratz conceded that he would have to be more polite: “I wrote those posts as a private citizen, and now I’m obligated to be diplomatic and statesmanlike. It was just Facebook humor.” Eventually, in a statement published by the prime minister’s office, Baratz said his comments “were written hastily and sometimes humorously, in a manner appropriate for a private person writing on the Internet.”

Officials in the Obama administration weren’t amused. But according to Haaretz, they decided not to rebuke Netanyahu, who was about to arrive for a visit seeking billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Instead, they settled for “extracting a promise from Netanyahu that he’ll put the appointment on hold and re-examine it when he returns from Washington.” On Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters:

We obviously expect government officials from any country, especially our closest allies, to speak respectfully and truthfully about senior U.S. government officials. The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and we understand that the prime minister will be reviewing this appointment when he returns from his visit to the United States.

Initially, Netanyahu termed Baratz’s insults “totally unacceptable.” He said Baratz had “asked to meet me to clarify the matter following my return to Israel.” But on Friday, responding to the State Department’s report that Netanyahu would “review” the appointment, the prime minister posted a clarification on Twitter: “I did not say that I will reconsider the appointment of Dr. Ran Baratz, but rather that I will deal with the situation when I return to Israel.” Netanyahu’s office posted this rejoinder in Hebrew, not on his English-language feed—the same evasive linguistic maneuver for which he often denounces Arab politicians as dishonest.

There’s nothing here to agonize over. Baratz is wrong about everything. He’s wrong about Obama betraying Israel. He’s wrong to abuse and cheapen the name of anti-Semitism. He’s wrong that it’s fine to sling such aspersions on the Internet as long as you’re a private citizen. And he’s spectacularly wrong for the job of running an office of public diplomacy. Netanyahu, having linked to Baratz’s website—and having bragged repeatedly about Israel’s cyber prowess—says he didn’t know about Baratz’s incendiary comments. OK. But now that the prime minister knows everything, why is he dragging his heels?