ADL Calls Sarkozy and Obama ‘Unpresidential’
Jewish Daily Forward
The Anti-Defamation League called a reported exchange between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama disparaging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “decidedly unpresidential.”
According to reports of their conversation at the Nov. 3 G20 summit in Cannes, which was overheard by reporters via an open microphone, the French president said, “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.” Obama reportedly replied, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.”
“President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement issued Tuesday. “In light of the revelations here, we hope that the Obama Administration will do everything it can to reassure Israel that the relationship remains on a sure footing and to reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which clearly is not what it should be.
“What is sad is that we now have to worry to what extent these private views inform foreign policy decisions of the U.S. and France – two singularly important players in the peace process,” he said.
The Arret sur Images website said Sarkozy was responding to Obama’s concern that the French leader had not warned him about France’s surprise vote in favor of Palestinian UNESCO membership. The website also reported that Obama asked Sarkozy to try to “convince” the Palestinians to slow down their bid for U.N. membership.
“You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately,” Obama said of the membership bid, according to Reuters.
Sarkozy confirmed that France would not take any unilateral decisions during the forthcoming Security Council debate on the subject.
“I am with you on that,” Obama replied, according to Reuters.
AFP and Reuters both confirmed the initial Arret sur Images report, and AFP reported that it interviewed several journalists who said they heard the private conversation right before a joint news conference by the two leaders.
Several journalists overheard the exchange, which was captured by a live microphone unbeknownest to the two leaders, but it was not immediately reported.
According to Arret sur Images, Obama and Sarkozy were speaking in a room equipped with microphones normally used to facilitate translation during public speaking. An event organizer did not distribute the headphones typically used to connect to the translation boxes, but several journalists plugged in their own earphones and could hear some three minutes at the end of the conversation.
French President Sarkozy overheard telling President Obama that Prime Minister Netanyahu ‘a liar’ when microphone accidentally left on after G20 summit press conference.
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
If a remark by French President Nicolas Sarkozy publicized Tuesday is any indication, not much is left of what was once a strong friendship between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dating back to when both men were finance ministers.
The French president, unaware last Thursday that a mic in the meeting room at the G20 summit at Cannes was on, was heard calling Netanyahu “a liar” in what he thought was a private exchange with U.S. President Barack Obama. “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, who was also unaware that the mike had been turned on and was being monitored by reporters via the headsets used for simultaneous translations.
Obama didn’t exactly defend Netanyahu, either.
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to wire service reports.
Obama also complained to Sarkozy about France’s vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, and asked him to tell the Palestinians to stop their unilateral moves at the United Nations.
“We’ll have to impose economic sanctions on the Palestinians,” Obama said.
Several journalists, including a few from large media organizations, heard the exchange but did not initially report it, agreeing among themselves that to do so would be a violation of journalistic ethics. The remarks appeared Tuesday on a relatively obscure French website that deals with media criticism.
A Reuters reporter, however, confirmed that he had heard the exchange, and neither the White House nor Elysee Palace issued any denials.
It is not the only time recently that Sarkozy has expressed his frustration with Netanyahu.
During a French cabinet meeting a few weeks ago, he told his ministers, “Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is a statesman, but Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to disappoint us,” according to a report in Le Canard Enchaine. “Just now he approved the construction of 1,100 apartments in the Arab section of Jerusalem.”
And while Obama has been restraining himself so as not to alienate voters before the 2012 presidential election, his disdain for Netanyahu is well-known.
Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates reportedly called Netanyahu “ungrateful” in a meeting with Obama before the former left his post this summer, adding that the prime minister was “endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation.”
The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on Tuesday. At the Foreign Ministry, whose head, Avigdor Lieberman, has gotten his own share of insults from Sarkozy, there were some amused responses.
“It’s a good thing the microphones didn’t catch what Merkel told Obama about Sarkozy,” said one senior official, who refused to be named.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom played down the episode: “Everyone talks about everyone. Sometimes even good friends say things about each other, certainly in such competitive professions,” Shalom told Army Radio. “So you have to consider the main things. Is Obama a friend of Israel’s? Is Sarkozy a friend of Israel’s? Is their policy a consistent policy of support for Israel? The answer to all of these questions is affirmative and, as far as I’m concerned, that is what’s important.”
The exchange between Sarkozy and Obama is not exceptional; it represents the increasing contempt and frustration many world leaders feel for Netanyahu and the wavering position of the Israeli government in the international arena. Though Netanyahu promised nearly three years ago that he would deliver “surprises” with regard to the peace process and implement historic measures, many world leaders have stopped believing him.
“I don’t believe a word he says,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said recently, in a closed conversation.
Earlier this year, Merkel confronted Netanyahu directly, saying, “You’ve disappointed us. You haven’t taken a single step to advance peace.”
Other world leaders, such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, have simply taken to avoiding Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, two of Netanyahu’s only friends of late, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou have both vowed to resign in the face of their respective countries’ economic collapse.Next week Netanyahu will be visiting the Hague, one of the few major cities in which the Israeli prime minister is still received cordially.
Reuters contributed to this report.