Monday, January 4, 2016

Two months on, PM’s controversial appointment for spokesman still pending

Raphael Ahren,

Ran Baratz, who called Obama ‘anti-Semitic,’ still hopes to head information directorate; post has been vacant since August

Two months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped Ran Baratz as his new communications chief, the appointment is still pending. One of the government’s most senior positions, carrying with it the responsibility of explaining the prime minister’s policies and coordinating the country’s public diplomacy strategy, has been vacant since August. 
On November 4, Netanyahu nominated Baratz to become the head of the National Information Directorate, a position that had been unfilled for two months. But soon after the appointment was announced it emerged that Baratz had previously made a series of controversial Facebook posts attacking senior figures in Israel and abroad. Most notably, he called US President Barack Obama anti-Semitic, which led Netanyahu to freeze his nomination. 
Baratz quickly apologized for his “hurtful remarks,” arguing they were “written hastily and sometimes humorously” and vowing to express himself differently once he became a government official. He did not withdraw his candidacy and it appears that he is still hoping to get the coveted job.
Baratz’s Facebook posts “are totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the Government of Israel,” Netanyahu stated on November 5, four days before he headed to Washington for a meeting with Obama in the White House. At the time, Netanyahu said he would meet with Baratz upon his return from the American capital to “clarify the matter.” Since then he has not said anything about the affair.
US President Barack Obama, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)
US President Barack Obama, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)
The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday said there were no new developments regarding Baratz’s appointment, which needs cabinet approval. Baratz declined to be interviewed for this report.
A former philosophy professor and the founder of the Conservative Hebrew website Mida, Baratz was set to replace Liran Dan at the head of the National Information Directorate, tasked with not only formulating the prime minister’s communications strategy but also coordinating Israel’s message to the world with other government spokespeople.
Dan announced his intention to leave the post in March 2015, after three and a half years on the job, but continued serving until August. Since then, the post has been vacant (although the PMO’s official website still lists Dan as National Information Directorate head). 
Boaz Stembler, a former spokesperson for the Finance Ministry, is Netanyahu’s spokesman for Hebrew media and is currently filling Dan’s position on a temporary basis.
Last month, Stembler told Haaretz in an interview that he did not know if and when Baratz would become his new boss. “I have no idea. I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t ask the prime minister every day, ‘Well, when are you bringing him in?’ Because in the meantime, I’m enjoying doing this job as the acting communications director,”Stembler told the paper. “I don’t have a good answer. He hasn’t told me that he’s dropped the appointment.”
PMO spokesman Mark Regev (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
PMO spokesman Mark Regev (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
So long as the top job in the prime minister’s communications team remains vacant, Netanyahu apparently does not want to live without his spokesperson for the foreign media, Mark Regev, who is slated to become Israel’s new ambassador in Great Britain.
The cabinet confirmed Regev’s appointment in early September and his wife and youngest son moved to London soon thereafter (so he could start the school year there) but Regev stayed in Jerusalem at Netanyahu’s request.
Israeli officials say the Australian-born Regev will leave for the UK soon, as the prime minister is expected to name a replacement for him in the coming days.

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