(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League called a reported exchange between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama disparaging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "decidedly unpresidential."
According to reports of their conversation at the Nov. 3 G20 summit in Cannes, which was overheard by reporters via an open microphone, the French president said, “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.” Obama reportedly replied, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.”
"President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader," ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement issued Tuesday. "In light of the revelations here, we hope that the Obama Administration will do everything it can to reassure Israel that the relationship remains on a sure footing and to reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which clearly is not what it should be.
"What is sad is that we now have to worry to what extent these private views inform foreign policy decisions of the U.S. and France — two singularly important players in the peace process," he said.
The Arret sur Images website said Sarkozy was responding to Obama’s concern that the French leader had not warned him about France’s surprise vote in favor of Palestinian UNESCO membership. The website also reported that Obama asked Sarkozy to try to “convince” the Palestinians to slow down their bid for U.N. membership.
"You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately," Obama said of the membership bid, according to Reuters.
Sarkozy confirmed that France would not take any unilateral decisions during the forthcoming Security Council debate on the subject.
"I am with you on that," Obama replied, according to Reuters.
AFP and Reuters both confirmed the initial Arret sur Images report, and AFP reported that it interviewed several journalists who said they heard the private conversation right before a joint news conference by the two leaders.
Several journalists overheard the exchange, which was captured by a live microphone unbeknownest to the two leaders, but it was not immediately reported.
According to Arret sur Images, Obama and Sarkozy were speaking in a room equipped with microphones normally used to facilitate translation during public speaking. An event organizer did not distribute the headphones typically used to connect to the translation boxes, but several journalists plugged in their own earphones and could hear some three minutes at the end of the conversation.