The White House said Wednesday it was "counterproductive" for one of its own senior officials to call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickens**t.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after a meeting at the White House, Oct. 1, 2014. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
"Certainly that's not the administration's view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive," White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told the Jerusalem Post. "Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership, and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office."
The quote by an unnamed senior Obama administration official was first reported Tuesday by the Atlantic.
"The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickens**t,” the official said. Another official called the prime minister a “coward,” among other terms.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest repeated that sentiment during the press briefing Wednesday, though he began with a joke.
“My job sometimes is to take the product you described and turn it into chicken salad,” Earnest said in response to a reporter's question.
Earnest said the official's comments “do not reflect the administration’s view toward the state of Israel," but he acknowledged that the United States has been critical of Israeli settlements.
“The relationship between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever,” Earnest said. “That does not mean we paper over our differences.”
Netanyahu said early Wednesday in response to the accounts: “I am being attacked because I am willing to defend the state of Israel. The easy thing to do is to compromise when there is pressure.”
Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg called the "chickens**t" comment “representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis.”
Stressing the close relationship, Earnest pointed out Netanyahu visited the White House just a few weeks ago and that on Thursday National Security Advisor Susan Rice will meet with Israeli security officials. Earnest said he is not aware of an internal investigation to find out who the anonymous source was.
“I’m not sure there is a proper context for those comments because they are in such direct opposition to the administration’s policy," he said.
Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from White House press secretary Josh Earnest.