The son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed this week that leftists are more dangerous than neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
In a Facebook post published Tuesday, Yair Netanyahu wrote that antifascist protesters and members of the Black Lives Matter movement were “thugs” and that neo-Nazi “scums” were less threatening in 2017.
“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazis scums in Virginia hate me and my country,” the younger Netanyahu wrote. “But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”
His comments stood in stark contrast to the events they referenced, a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, where three people died. White supremacists and neo-Nazis had gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate monument, and clashed violently with counter-protesters, using mace and pepper-spray. On Saturday, one of the alleged white supremacists drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Two state patrol officers who were assisting police were also killed when their helicopter crashed on the outskirts of town.
Yair’s comments, which also equate Black Lives Matter, an anti-racist movement, with white supremacists, seemed to ignore much of the anti-Semitism that played out in Charlottesville during the rally. Prior to Heyer’s death, white supremacists marched through the town chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil”—a nod to the Nazi phrase “blut und boden.” One of the groups attending the rally, Vanguard America, has a manifesto calling for “[a]n economy that is self-contained, and free from the influence of international corporations, led by a rootless group of international Jews, which place profit beyond the interests of our people, or any people.”
Yair’s post also appeared to mimic statements by U.S. President Donald Trump, who claimed on Saturday—and then again on Tuesday—that the violence at the Charlottesville rally was the fault of “many sides.” But the prime minister’s son took things a step further by arguing that counter-protesters were actually doing more damage than those whom they opposed.
Yair’s statement was in stark contrast with the larger international response to Charlottesville; world leaders who weighed in on the tragedy generally denounced the “hatred” and “racism” present at the event, many of them singling out white supremacists. Nonetheless, his comments still garnered support from at least a few public figures.
Sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Times of Israel that Yair was “an adult and his views are his alone.” Likud member Oren Hazan even echoed Yair’s comments, stating on Tuesday that Trump’s approach to Charlottesville was “right” and that “extremism and violence on all sides are prohibited and should be denounced.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, for his part, remained notably absent from the conversation for three days, finally breaking his silence with a tweet on Tuesday. In it, he stated that he was “outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism” at the rally. “Everyone should oppose this hatred,” he wrote.
Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) August 15, 2017
Others remained more critical of the events in Charlottesville. “When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides,” said former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. “There’s good and there’s evil. Period.”
The mixed response from Israeli politicians, coupled with Yair’s comments, are part of a larger pattern alarming many U.S. Jews.
Netanyahu, a steadfast Trump ally, has previously defended the U.S. administration against allegations of anti-Semitism on several occasions, each time prompting widespread concern. While Jewish cemeteries and synagogues have faced an uptick in vandalism and violence since Trump’s election, the U.S. president has repeatedly showed an unwillingness to condemn hate crimes against Jews. And despite a reported 86 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents from 2016, Trump has vigorously defended his decision to keep White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and national security adviser Sebastian Gorka—both of whom have been accused of anti-Semitism—on the payroll.
Rather than addressing these issues, the president has instead pointed to the Jews surrounding him—namely his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner—as proof of his positive relations in the community. Netanyahu has echoed that defense.
“I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” the prime minister said in February. ” I think we should put that to rest.”
Netanyahu has also seemingly ignored Jewish concerns in other parts of the world. The prime minister recently defended Hungary’s right-wing government in its attempts to discredit philanthropist George Soros. A Hungarian-born Jew, Soros has spent much of his fortune funding human rights and democracy efforts in areas around the world, including Hungary. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose Fidesz party has been accused of anti-Semitism, has repeatedly targeted Soros, even backing a poster campaign with alleged Nazi imagery that labeled the investor an enemy of the state. Israel’s ambassador to Hungary initially denounced the campaign, pointing to Hungary’s role in deporting 500,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
The Israeli government later reiterated its anti-Soros stance. “In no way was the [ambassador’s] statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments,” foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said at the time.
Domestically, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has also come under frequent fire for its failure to listen to concerns from Jews of color, especially African Jews, who have long complained of discrimination and prejudice in Israel. Progressive Jewish Israelis speaking out against the country’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories have also been targeted by Netanyahu’s administration, facing threats and censorship.