Obama reiterated his concerns about the Israeli prime minister during an interview with the Atlantic published Thursday. His comments referred to Netanyahu’s frantic message to Israeli citizens on the eve of the March elections, in which he warned of the "threatening turnout" of Israel’s Arab citizens who were streaming to the polls "in droves."
Netanyahu later apologized for the comments, but of course, only after his Likud Party won the elections.
"It appeared that Arab Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against," Obama told the Atlantic.
Obama also referenced another statement made by Netanyahu during the elections, in which he promised a Palestinian state would not be established if his party maintained control.
"When something like this happens," Obama said in his interview, "that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking on these issues."
Once again, Netanyahu retracted the controversial statement immediately after his victory. And while one might indeed be inclined to describe the prime minister as hypocritical, based on his pre- and post-election flip-flopping, Netanyahu’s confidant saw fit to instead assign the term to Obama.
Tzachi Hanegmi, a senior Likud official, and chairman of the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was quick to come to Netanyahu’s defense and hit back at Obama.
"I think his approach is totally unjustified and there’s no small measure of hypocrisy," Hanegbi told Israel Radio on Friday morning, a day after Obama’s interview was published.
The Likud official based his criticism on Obama’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Israel’s long-time foe, Iran.
"It’s amazing that the US president, the president of Israel’s most powerful ally, thinks it’s appropriate to voice criticism against us when not a word of criticism is heard [from Obama] on neighboring countries in various issues, like the country with the most executions – Iran, with whom he is making great efforts to reconcile."
He added that Obama’s criticism "causes discomfort and unease and bears an iota of hypocrisy," particularly as the US president tries to "win over the admiration of US Jews ahead of the Iran issue."
However, Obama has maintained that his political disagreements with Netanyahu and the broader right-wing Likud party have not impacted his “unshakable” commitment to Israel.
On Friday, the president gave a speech at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington to mark Jewish American Heritage Month. He spoke about his admiration of the Jewish American people and support of the Jewish state, but also added that he feels "a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland."