A White House spokesman said a U.S. official’s anonymous attack describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as cowardly was inappropriate.
“Certainly that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive,” Alistair Baskey, a National Security Council spokesman, said Wednesday when asked by JTA to comment on a story in the Atlantic this week that quoted a senior administration official as describing Netanyahu as “chickensh*t.”
“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,” Baskey said.
The anonymous official was characterizing White House reaction to Netanyahu’s tendency to work around the White House in lobbying Congress and the media against a prospective nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers, and recent announcements of new building in eastern Jerusalem.
The charge of cowardice had to do with what the administrations sees as Netanyahu’s unwillingness to face down hawkish coalition partners and the settlement movement.
Baskey said differences inevitably arise between allies.
“Obviously, despite the extremely close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, we do not agree on every issue,” he said. “For instance, we have repeatedly made clear the United States’ longstanding view that settlement activity is illegitimate and complicates efforts to achieve a two-state solution. The U.S.-Israel relationship remains as strong as ever, our security bonds have never been greater, and the ties between our nations are unshakable.”
Netanyahu earlier Wednesday said he believed he was attacked because of his determination to defend Israel.
Israeli reporters, in turn, faced their own challenge: How to translate “chickensh*t” into Hebrew.
Modern Hebrew is rich with phrases alluding to the Bible and rabbinic literature. Swear words, not so much. A 2004 song by Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash says “Here, everyone speaks Hebrew/And curses in Russian, English and Arabic.”
So Israeli papers, reporting the anonymous comments Wednesday morning, had to settle on something less evocative than “chickensh*t.” The consensus translation that emerged among major news sources was “pachdan,” or coward. Haaretz did a little better, using “pachdan aluv,” or “lowly coward.”
Israeli news articles also put the word, in English, in their articles, such that “chickensh8t” is clearly visible in the opening paragraph, running counter to the Hebrew text.