3 days later, Israeli leaders still conspicuously silent on Charlottesville
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Analysis 'I've had a hard time explaining to Israelis how neo-Nazis and white supremacists could march in American streets,' says former US envoy Dan Shapiro

3 days later, Israeli leaders still conspicuously silent on Charlottesville

Critics charge that Jerusalem prioritizes ties with America's right wing over its responsibility to the Jewish people

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A white nationalist demonstrator with a helmet and shield walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other, after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia, on August 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A white nationalist demonstrator with a helmet and shield walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other, after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia, on August 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not only comment on Israeli politics and security affairs. In September 2014, for instance, he issued a statement mourning the death of American-Jewish comedian Joan Rivers. He also weighed in on Bruce Springsteen saying he wants to play a show in Israel, and, controversially, on US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico.

And when it comes to Jew hatred, Netanyahu is not usually reserved, often condemning anti-Semitic incidents that occur in the Muslim world or in Europe.

But three days after neo-Nazis marched in broad daylight through the streets waving swastika flags and chanting “Jews will not replace us,” the leader of the Jewish state had still not publicly commented on the matter as of Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s silence in the face of images that send chills down the spines of Jews worldwide has raised eyebrows among analysts and experts.

“Since its establishment, Israel rightly claims to protect Jewish communities anywhere in the world. This includes a rigorous battle against any form of hate, anti-Semitism and discrimination,” said Eytan Gilboa, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and an expert on US-Israeli ties. “I think that it is the duty of any prime minister to speak loudly and forcefully against any hate events. Netanyahu hasn’t done so and thus he has failed in this crucial task.”

Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, who has written extensively about the Middle East, agreed.

“It is surprising and disappointing that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not been more forthcoming and explicit in his condemnation” of the event in Charlottesville, he said. Netanyahu’s silence is likely connected to the fact that the Trump administration “is his biggest international supporter, and perhaps [Netanyahu] didn’t want to get ahead of them, if you will, in terms of condemnations,” Zunes added.

“I’ve had a hard time explaining to Israelis how neo-Nazis and white supremacists could march in American streets with swastika flags and chanting slogans against Jews, African-Americans, and other minorities, and our President [Trump] was so slow to clearly condemn it,” former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-US ambassador to the US Dan Shapiro in April 2013. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-US ambassador to the US Dan Shapiro in April 2013. (Flash90)

“It would also be hard to explain the Israeli government’s own silence in the face of such outrages. Israeli leaders have an opportunity to speak out against this kind of hate, as they traditionally have, and I assume they will.”

According to Yaakov Malomet, who is responsible for Israel-Diaspora relations at the Tel Aviv-based Reut Group, the Israeli government is “prioritizing its relationship with [the American] far-right over its responsibility for the Jewish People,” he said in an apparent reference to members of the Trump administration like Steve Bannon.

Jerusalem should seek to “defend” Diaspora communities against anti-Semitism, also speaking up against Jew hatred also when it comes from the right, not only the left, he posted on his personal Twitter account.

While most of the criticism was directed against the prime minister, Netanyahu was not the only Israeli leader who failed to denounce the events in Charlottesville.

President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) have likewise remained mum on the matter.

‘Israeli leaders should never shy away from speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism wherever it is in the world’ – Yair Lapid

Contacted by The Times of Israel, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who initially had also remained silent about the neo-Nazi march, on Tuesday afternoon said he was confident that most Americans condemn Saturday’s “disgraceful” event. “We were shocked to see swastikas on the street and unashamed racism shouted out loud. I’ve spoken to friends in the United States who share our sense of outrage,” Lapid said.

“The US-Israel relationship is built on values of democracy, freedom, tolerance and respect. Israeli leaders should never shy away from speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism wherever it is in the world,” he added.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) on Monday harshly condemned two signs put up in a Swiss hotel that asked “our Jewish guests” to shower before entering the pool and not to use the staff’s refrigerator at certain hours.

The signs were eventually removed, but Hotovely still described the episode as “an anti-Semitic act of the worst and ugliest kind.”

A sign put up at a Swiss hotel calling on Jewish guests to shower before going swimming (Courtesy)
A sign put up at a Swiss hotel calling on Jewish guests to shower before going swimming (Courtesy)

In a statement released Monday, Hotovely said the woman who put up the signs “should be brought to justice” since removing them was not enough. “Unfortunately anti-Semitism in Europe is still a reality and we must make sure that the punishment for incidents such as these will serve as deterrents for those who still harbor the germ of anti-Semitism.”

As of the publication of this article, she had not said anything publicly about the events in Charlottesville.

The only senior Israeli politician who rushed to vocally denounce the Charlottesville march was Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” said Bennett, who is also Diaspora Affairs minister. “The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”

US President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
US President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

Trump himself was harshly criticized by American politicians and pundits from both sides of the aisle for failing to forcefully and speedily condemn Saturday’s neo-Nazi march and the subsequent suspected terror attack that killed one and injured 19 people.

On Monday — two full days after the rally — he finally denounced racism, adding that those “who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Some observers thought that once Trump condemned the Charlottesville march, Netanyahu would feel more comfortable doing the same. They were apparently mistaken.

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