"Chickenshit": Public Feud Erupts Between Named (and Unnamed) US-Israeli Officials

Reporting by The Atlantic‘s Jeffery Goldberg published late Tuesday, in which he offers anonymity to a “senior Obama administration official” who called Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit,” has set off a public relations firestorm in both Tel Aviv and Washington, DC.

Goldberg reports that U.S.-Israel relations are in tatters and uses the anonymous quote to illustrate the “red-hot” anger felt by White House officials over the Israeli government’s continued expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. The comment, writes Goldberg, “is 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.”

Critics of the reporting, however, were quick to point out the troubling decision to allow such an intentionally provocative statement to be published without identifying the source. No stranger to covering U.S.-Israeli relations in the wider context of the Middle East, prior to becoming a journalist focusing on the region Goldberg himself served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) while living in the country more than two decades ago.

Dan Murphy, a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor, responded to the reporting by tweeting:

The National Interest‘s Jacob Heilbrunn characterized the impact of Goldberg’s reporting by writing, “If there wasn’t a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations before the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s explosive new article in the Atlantic, then there is one now.”

And independent journalist and commenter Marcy Wheeler wondered publicly if the timing of Goldberg’s scoop wasn’t suspiciously timed:

Other reactions on Twitter:

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Tweets about “netanyahu chickenshit”

Despite these various interpretations, what did these unnamed U.S. officials even mean when they call the Israel PM a “chickenshit”? According to Goldberg (h/t MotherJones) :

In Israel on Wednesday, in response to the story, Netanyahu forcefully defended Israel’s policies. As the Guardian reports:

However, following Goldberg’s report, U.S. National Security Spokesperson Alistair Baskey downplayed the level of acrymony between the two U.S. and Israeli governments. “We do not believe there is a crisis in the relationship,” Baskey said. “The relationship remains as strong as ever and the ties between our nations are unshakable.”

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