Jerusalem: An Israeli political cartoon depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu piloting an airplane heading for New York's Twin Towers has set off a firestorm of criticism and focused new attention on the troubled relationship between Israel and the United States.
The cartoon had appeared yesterday in Haaretz, Israel's leading liberal newspaper, and elicited strong words both in Israel itself and from Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman.
Foxman called on Haaretz to apologize for printing a "grossly offensive cartoon." He said it misrepresents "any tensions which may currently exist between the US government and Netanyahu" and "disrespects the memories of thousands of innocent Americans and others who tragically perished on 9/11."
The cartoon appeared a day after the Atlantic quoted an unidentified administration official who used the word "chickens" to assail Netanyahu for his alleged cowardice and pettiness.
The official also complained about his settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and questioned the prime minister's commitment to Middle East peace efforts, as well as his resolve to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to thwart its nuclear program.
Since the Atlantic story appeared, National Security Adviser Susan Rice has pushed back hard against its message of a crisis in bilateral relations, while Netanyahu himself declined to get embroiled in a new mud-slinging match with Washington, insisting that his main concern was defending Israel's interests.
Ties with the United States constitute one of Israel's most important diplomatic and security assets, and few Israelis want to see them undermined. That desire for harmony is particularly acute now, with the country facing a dangerous brew of regional challenges among them, the Iranian nuclear program and the presence of hostile Islamic fundamentalists on its southern and northern borders.
But the Obama administration has long had a tense dynamic with Netanyahu, mostly for his close relationship with the Republican Party and for what is sometimes seen as a lecturing tone toward the US president.