Obama and Sarkozy Dis Netanyahu on Hot Mic

Obama to Sarkozy on Netanyahu: "You're sick of him -- but I have to deal with him every day!"

Not shockingly, both President Obama and his French counterpart Nicholas Sarkozy are frustrated with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The extent of that frustration was captured inadvertently at last week’s G20 Summit.

Politico’s Ben Smith (“On a hot mic (or not), no love for Bibi“):

 They’re just waking up in Paris, so it’s understandable that a White House spokesman I reached just now didn’t have any comment in the report in a French publication that Presidents Obama and Sarkozy had been overheard by a half-dozen reporters during the G20 — a hot mic, or perhaps hot interpreter, error attributed to a technical mistake on the French side. [As I read it, reporters plugged their own headsets into boxes giving them access to the interpreted conversation, to which the organizers hadn’t yet handed out headsets.]

The report is utterly believable — that’s actually the most suspicious thing about it. If you I were going to imagine, it might be about how irritating both find Benjamin Netanyahu, with Sarkozy bluntly calling him a liar, and Obama seeming to sympathize, but not quite showing his cards: “You’re sick of him — but I have to deal with him every day!”

This is, if confirmed, the sort of thing that made up most of the WikiLeaks dossier scandals: Things that are widely understood, but not supposed to be spoken aloud. It would not be likely to warm up the U.S.-Israeli relationship that’s become an election-year irritant to a White House with its eye on Florida.

The original report says a half-dozen — apparently, though not explicitly, French — reporters heard the conversation, but that they and their bosses jointly decided not to report off the glitch, on the grounds that to do so would mark some sort of ethical breach, something I don’t quite understand. The report also claims that the substance turned up in a Le Monde report asserting, without a source, Obama and Sarkozy had complained in private about their “difficult relations” with Netanyahu.

Surely, Netanyahu knows he’s regarded as a giant pain in the ass. Indeed, one imagines he revels in it. That won’t stop him from gaining whatever leverage he can out of this faux pas.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Netanyahu is more than a pain in the ass. My connection to Israel — derived in part from my ethnic background, and partly by attraction to the Israel of 1967 — has been largely broken by Likud. I doubt I’m the only American Jew who feels the same.

    The Israeli lobby has lost liberals and I suspect many Jews and replaced them with evangelicals. They’ve gone from a group of supporters who would fight for them to a group of supporters who hope to bring on armageddon. That’s what Bibi and his thugs have done.

  2. Andre Kenji says:

    Israel is unpopular as ever in Europe.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    Netanyahoo is probably so distracted by Cantor and Lieberman licking his ass that he won’t even notice Obama saying out loud what the rest of the world already knows. Of course Cantor and Lieberman will be very upset.

  4. sam says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You just hate yourself, Michael….

  5. Jeremy R says:

    This wasn’t actually being caught by a hot mic. The two leaders were having a private conversation, and the reporters were told this & that that was why they weren’t yet being handed the official headphones to plug into the translation feed. A number of the reporters who had their own personal headphones on them then used them in an unauthorized fashion to surreptitiously plug in.

  6. ponce says:

    To be thought of as a liar by politicians is quite an accomplishment.

  7. moshe says:

    @<amichael reynolds says:

    we dont need jews like you and remember in israel we vote and we love BIBI and VIVi
    Lieberman,why dont you just go spend some time with the losers at new-york or just
    go to gaza .

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Yep, that’s about the response I expected.

    Israel is a dependent nation that regularly bites the hand that feeds it. If you don’t think that’s going to hurt Israel in the end, you’re too much of an optimist to be a Jew. American loyalty to Israel is generational. You’ve already lost American youth. So who’s going to save your asses in 20 years? The Bible-thumpers who picture you burning in the fires of hell for rejecting Jesus?

    You might want to bear this in mind: Medicare was even more politically untouchable than foreign aid for Israel. And yet, it’s now being touched. Defense budget? Untouchable, and now being touched. Once American politicians start realizing that voters like me won’t attack them for cutting Israel off, how long do you think the money spigot will stay open?

    You’re being idiots.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Look…and if this does not piss you off there is something wrong with you…recently Israel cut it’s military budget by 5%. The US pays 18% of Israel’s military budget. Are we cutting our aid? Let me guess…

    FYI…Israel also agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes…those > $130,000 a year.
    Israel is acting in a conservative manner to address their economic problems. The US? Not so much. We are acting in a Tea Party manner…economic suicide.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm: Our aid to Israel (and Egypt) is fixed per the 1978 Camp David Accords. It’s a treaty obligation, not a variable annual appropriation.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Israel is unpopular as ever in Europe.

    As if that should somehow excuse destructive Likud policies…

  12. MarkedMan says:

    Israel has Universal Health Care, a mind boggling religion based welfare state (The religious avoid the otherwise universal draft and the state provides food and housing), massive protectionism of Israeli country’s and free education up through the university level. We in the US have none of these things. It doesn’t take a genius to see that eventually the American twenty – somethings we are leaving to twist in the wind are going to really, really resent those US tax dollars going to pay for such luxuries for full throated religious bigots while they go without.

    The BiBi-first-right-or-wrong crowd thinks all it has to do is “prove” that the Palestinians are more reprehensible than say, the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who spit on the Greek Christian Priests. But the real danger for Israeli subsidies and support is that the US public becomes aware of just how toxic the Israeli right has become. It’s not like we are morally obligated to give money and protection to one side or the other. We can decide not to support either side.