US Ambassador daniel shapiro benjamin netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

A criticism of Israel's West Bank settlement policies by the US ambassador has resulted in a small diplomatic storm, with a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the envoy a "little Jew boy" in Hebrew. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro said the US was concerned and perplexed at its ally's continued expansion of settlements, and denounced what he said were double standards in legal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

"Too much vigilantism goes unchecked, and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians," Shapiro told a conference on Monday (18 January 2016). The comments touched a sensible nerve in Israel, as the country has been engulfed by almost-daily episodes of violence over the past four months.

Netanyahu, who later discussed the issue in a private meeting with the US envoy, said the remarks were unacceptable. "The ambassador's comments, on a day when a mother of six is being buried and a pregnant woman is stabbed, are unacceptable and untrue," said the PM. "Israel enforces the law on Israelis and Palestinians. The one responsible for the diplomatic stalemate is the Palestinian Authority, which continues to incite and refuses to negotiate."

A heavier reprimand came from Aviv Bushinsky, a former advisor to Netanyahu, who, speaking on Israel's Channel 2, used the term "yehudon", translating as "little Jew boy", to describe Shapiro. The slur is often used in a derogatory way to attack Jewish left-wingers or liberals whose stance is perceived to be in contrast to the country's interests. Former US ambassadors, Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, have also been the target of the offensive term in the past by Israeli lawmakers, who later apologised. Bushinsky, who last served as Netanyahu's chief of staff in 2004, has not publicly commented yet.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has backed Shapiro's initial remarks. "We've consistently made clear our concerns about violence on both sides, and we obviously have strongly condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, including the attacks over the weekend," said State Department spokesman John Kirby. "We also remain concerned and deeply concerned, and we've not been bashful about saying this and neither was he, about Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank."