Monday, June 27, 2016

PM taps controversial would-be media czar as lower-level adviser

Raphael Ahren, The Times of Israel [original article contains links]

Baratz image from article

Ran Baratz, whose appointment was frozen in November, to join Netanyahu media team ‘soon’; top job at National Information Directorate remains vacant

Ran Baratz, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his new communications chief over half a year ago, will soon be entering the Prime Minister’s Office as a lower-level media adviser, an Israeli official confirmed Sunday.

Baratz will not serve as the head of the National Information Directorate — the position for which he was initially tapped — due to a series of controversial statements he made about US President Barack Obama and senior Israeli officials. Rather, he is set to join the prime minister’s spokesperson’s office in the capacity of “adviser,” an official in Netanyahu’s office told The Times of Israel.

The official refused to reveal Baratz’s exact title or when he will take up the post, merely stating that Baratz will start “soon.”

The position of head of Israel’s National Information Directorate will not be immediately filled. 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. But soon after the appointment was announced, it emerged that Baratz had previously published a series of controversial Facebook posts attacking senior figures in Israel, including President Reuven Rivlin and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and abroad. Most notably, he called 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 he was apparently 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.”

In April, Netanyahu revived his bid to appoint Baratz, presenting his candidacy to the Civil Service Commission, which is tasked with vetting candidates for high-level public posts. However, government officials were quoted at the time as saying it was “highly doubtful” Baratz would pass the commission’s vetting process.

A former philosophy professor and the founder of the Conservative Hebrew website Mida, Baratz was set to replace Liran Dan as the head of the National Information Directorate. Dan served until August, although the PMO’s official website still lists him 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.

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