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It’s a very sad day when the son of the Israeli prime minister spreads well-known anti-Semitic memes and images on his Facebook page. It demands serious reflection about how the politics of Israel have changed in recent years and where they might be heading.
By now, many of us will have read about Yair Netanyahu’s Facebook post from last week, which featured a photo of philanthropist George Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature holding an alchemy symbol in front of a third figure of a conniving merchant rubbing his hands.
Yair Netanyahu came across these images on an extreme Israeli Facebook page, and similar memes have been widely disseminated on racist and conspiracy-theory message boards for years. His post was welcomed with open arms by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and the “Daily Stormer” neo-nazi website. In an article titled “Netanyahu’s Son Posts Awesome Meme Blaming the Jews for Bringing Down His Jew Father,” the website wrote, “Yair Netanyahu is a total bro.”
This incident is tremendously disturbing – but what should alarm us all much more is that it seems to be part of an emerging pattern. Selective acceptance of anti-Semitism is becoming normal for Netanyahu. For example, in July, the extreme right-wing government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed an anti-Semitic poster campaign against the Hungarian-born Soros, a Holocaust survivor. Israel’s ambassador to Hungary issued a statement denouncing the campaign. But hours after the ambassador made his comments, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a “clarification” saying that Soros was a “legitimate target for criticism.”
Then, there was Netanyahu’s begrudging and belated condemnation of the neo-Nazis and racists who marched in Charlottesville last month which made no mention of President Trump’s praise for some of them as “fine people.” It took several days for Netanyahu to issue his bland and unconvincing tweet at a time when Jewish-American organizations across the political and religious spectrum were almost unanimous in criticizing Trump.
Over time, the ideological as well as tactical links between Trump and Netanyahu have become increasingly clear. The close ties between Israel’s government and members of the Trump administration have been well established, but Netanyahu has taken to emulating Trump’s methods for dealing with political enemies as well. Netanyahu has been denouncing any and all criticism of him as “fake news.” He uses racist dog whistles and extreme statements about his political opponents to rile his base amidst mounting political scandals. Now, he too is remaining silent while those around him — including members of his own family — shamelessly spread xenophobia, falsehoods and alt-right memes.
When it comes to anti-Semitism, Netanyahu is always quick to pounce on any examples that emanate from Iran or the Arab world, especially if he can use them to smear Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Palestinians in general. Such occurrences, when they happen, do need to be denounced – but Netanyahu’s credibility as an opponent of anti-Semitism is fatally weakened by his apparent tolerance, if not tacit approval, of anti-Semitism aimed at those he perceives as his political enemies. The elder Netanyahu has yet to speak about his son’s outrageous posting.
Soros is well-known as a funder of human rights organizations that have been critical of Israeli actions, especially in its behavior toward Palestinians who have been living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank for the past 50 years. Netanyahu’s government has also been working hard to pass laws aimed at muzzling Israeli human rights groups that try to shine a light on the reality of the occupation. His political and media allies continuously smear and try to intimidate even prominent Israeli intellectuals, like authors David Grossman and Amos Oz, suggesting that they are traitors to Israel because they speak up against the occupation.
The bottom line, is that Netanyahu and his son seem to find neo-Nazis less threatening to them than human rights campaigners. That’s a sad conclusion – and the subject for much reflection among Jews worldwide.