The Conversation

Is the Obama-Netanyahu Transcript Fake?

Both President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that a purported transcript of their telephone call on Sunday, which was leaked to Israel's Channel 1 and reported on television, is a fake.

But is it really? 

Statements by both sides, quoted by Politico on Tuesday, said that the transcript does not have "any resemblance to reality." The problem, however, is that it strongly resembles the White House's readout of the call, in which he called for an "immediate, unconditional" ceasefire. There is nothing new in the supposed transcript except the tone of the exchange, in which Obama is depicted as rather rude and condescending.

I actually watched the segment on an online Israeli news feed (the relevant portion is from 8:30 to about 10:07), and was able to catch most of the Hebrew. While the transcript did not have the ring of speech, that was no surprise. Remember that the two men would likely have spoken in English. So the transcript has been through at least one translation--though it was likely composed in English first, since the source is said to be American.

Given that there is nothing of substance that is new in the transcript, what would have prompted anyone to leak it? The Israelis had an interest in showing that they are not, as the U.S. had been suggesting Monday, carrying out a "disinformation" campaign--that they are really being abused by the administration. The White House has a constant desire to show the Muslim world and Europe that they really are being tough with Netanyahu. 

The denials are standard for both. More than that, Israel seems eager to prove its friendship by helping the Obama administration save face: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer recently defended Secretary of State John Kerry, for example. And the Obama administration wants to play up the sense that it is the victim of a propaganda campaign by its critics--not a victim of its own misguided policies and incompetent execution.

In that regard, it is possible that both Israel and the U.S. are taking advantage of the fact that the transcript is inexact--that it is just an excerpt, as conceded by the Israeli journalist who reported it (and who is sticking to the story), or that it leaves out some of the back-and-forth of the actual conversation. In the cloak-and-dagger of international diplomacy, we may not know the truth for a while--but the "fake" charge is yet unproven.


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