Netanyahu apologizes to U.S. lawmaker for praising Fidel Castro

Israel - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to a Republican congresswoman two weeks ago for having praised Fidel Castro after the former Cuban leader made positive remarks about Israel.

In a September interview with The Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, Castro defended Israel and Jews and criticized Iran, leading to praise from Netanyahu and a friendly letter from President Shimon Peres.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a legislator since 1989 and the most senior Republican woman in the U.S. House, is incoming chairwoman of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representing Florida's 18th Congressional District - which includes part of Miami-Dade County, with its large Cuban-immigrant community - she is known in Washington for her hard line against the Cuban regime as well as her unflinching support for Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, and as a girl came to Florida, where her father continued the anti-Castro campaign among Cuban expatriates. Over the past few years she has sponsored several legislative measures against the island's Communist regime and has gone as far as to call for Castro's assassination.

On hearing about Netanyahu's praise for Castro's remarks, Ros-Lehtinen contacted several Israeli officials asking them to urge the prime minister to retract his comments. On his visit to the U.S. two weeks ago, the prime minister called the lawmaker by phone and apologized.

The prime minister's bureau said Tuesday that Netanyahu's remarks "referred only to a specific article," adding, "the prime minister made clear he hasn't changed his position on a number of other things Castro said over the years, including over the past year, on the State of Israel."

The website Politico reported Tuesday that Ros-Lehtinen said she had told Netanyahu, "I just said look, this guy has been an enemy of Israel, just because he said something that a normal person would say - after 50 years of anti-Israel incitement, it's one phrase from an old guy who doesn't even know where he's standing."



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