Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday chose not to distance himself from comments made by his son a day earlier branding anti-government protesters “aliens” and saying the premier was “amused” by the demonstrations.
While Yair Netanyahu backtracked and said he only meant that the protesters in costume were “aliens,” the prime minister said during a tour of a military base in Ramle that there are “bizarre phenomena” at the demonstrations, and that he assumed these were what Yair meant.
He didn’t elaborate on what those phenomena were, but repeated past claims that the protests are hotbeds of incitement to murder him.
“There are also strange phenomena there, apart from the political side, and really the relentless incitement against me, against my wife, against my family — with even direct calls for murder that are barely reported, if at all,” said Netanyahu. “I think [the demonstrations are] a political thing which also has bizarre phenomena, and I think that’s what my son was referring to.”
The Black Flag organization behind the protests reacted by saying Netanyahu was having a “panic attack.”
“‘Bizarre’ is a prime minister who gives himself a tax break of a million shekels while there are millions of unemployed at home,” the group said in a statement. “‘Bizarre’ is when a criminal defendant is prime minister while dealing day and night with his own trial.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid similarly lambasted Netanyahu.
“Let’s talk about truly bizarre things,” he said. “A government with 36 ministers during an economic crisis is bizarre. A tax break of a million shekels [granted to Netanyahu] while people have nothing to eat is bizarre. A prime minister with three serious criminal cases against him is very bizarre.
“Don’t compete with us in bizarre things, your out-of-touch government is one of the most bizarre and bad things in the history of the country.”
In an interview with Galey Israel on Monday, Yair Netanyahu said he shows his father “select clips” from the demonstrations, which have been held several times a week across the country and outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Thousands of Israelis have come out to demonstrate against the prime minister this summer, calling on him to resign over corruption allegations and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I try not to show him too-crass things from the protests, because in the end it is unpleasant, but, you know, it entertains him. The truth is that it even gives him some strength,” the younger Netanyahu said.
He differentiated between his father and the late Likud leader Menachem Begin, who stepped down amid mass protests over his handling of the 1982 Lebanon War.
“My father’s a strong man. It makes him laugh,” Netanyahu said. “He sees what we all see — these aliens at the protests. It makes him laugh, like entertainment.”
He later added on Twitter: “When I spoke about ‘aliens,’ at the left-wing protests in Jerusalem, I meant those who are dressed up as aliens and UFOs, those who strip, those who dress up as genitals, those who brandish crude signs, those who put a spaghetti pot on their heads and those dressed up as Spider-Man. There are too many of these, and it’s funny.
“The rest is really not funny — the incitement and the explicit calls for murder that are intensifying each day and breaking records in terms of the ceaseless encouragement of the media.”
Organizers of the protests, in a statement, accused the prime minister’s son of dehumanizing them.
“For the family of the accused, we are not even human — aliens. This is not a prime minister, it’s a criminal suspect for whom the plight of his people is a source of amusement. The protests will continue to grow until he resigns,” they said.
Amir Haskel, a former senior Air Force officer and one of the organizers of the protests, told Channel 12 news, “I’m not an alien, and neither are my friends at the Balfour Street protests [outside the prime minister’s residence]. We are normal citizens who care about what is happening in the country. It is sad that we have to campaign that there be someone in the prime minister’s residence who, rather than being amused at the difficulties people are facing, is motivated to work harder on the people’s behalf.”
The interview and subsequent clarification came a day after the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Yair Netanyahu to take down a tweet identifying and doxing the leaders of the protest movement against his father. The younger Netanyahu had publicized the activists’ addresses and encouraged his 88,000-plus social media followers to picket their homes.
The court also told Yair Netanyahu to stop harassing the activists for six months, “in any form,” according to Hebrew-language media reports.
Benjamin Netanyahu has several times derided the demonstrations as attracting a number of protesters equivalent to “a quarter of a Knesset seat” and accused the media of inflating their importance.
Yair Netanyahu maintains an outsize and inflammatory presence on social media.
On July 27 he apologized after facing a flurry of angry responses from Hindus who found one of his tweets offensive: He’d posted a picture of the Hindu goddess Durga with the face of Liat Ben Ari, the prosecutor in his father’s corruption cases, superimposed over the goddess’s face. Her many arms were also raised giving the middle finger.
Last month the younger Netanyahu issued a laconic apology to journalist Dana Weiss for appearing to suggest the top news anchor had attained her position through sexual favors.
In February, he was accused of employing similar tactics to shame a female supporter of Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, causing her to suffer online harassment.
He has also accused prominent politicians of engineering a coup against his father, claimed that Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut compared his dad to Hitler, and said that he wanted “all the Muslims [to] leave the Land of Israel,” which led him to be temporarily banned from Facebook.