At a major training exercise of the Israeli military’s brigade-level elite Commando Formation on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s military prowess was the Jews’ “best answer” to anti-Semitism.
Netanyahu’s comments followed the publication Monday of a poll by CNN that showed over 20 percent of Europeans believe Jews have “too much influence” across the world.
“The best answer to anti-Semitism is the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces,” Netanyahu, who has also been serving as defense minister since the resignation earlier this month of Avigdor Liberman, told the soldiers. “Once we were a leaf driven by the wind; they could slaughter us. Today, we have the power to respond.”
Netanyahu’s visit coincided with a 10-day training exercise the brigade is conducting throughout the country, practicing its responses to various complex attack scenarios against Israel and Israeli civilians by different enemies.
“We are on the eve of Hannukah. The spirit of the Maccabees is here – you are the Maccabees. We overcome our enemies with the extraordinary strength and extraordinary spirit that I see here, that I see in the IDF and all our warriors,” Netanyahu said.
During the visit, the prime minister, received a briefing from Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and brigade commander Col. Kobi Helleron on the brigade’s capabilities and the threats it is expected to face. He was also given a demonstration of the various commando units’ advanced new weapons systems.
Netanyahu’s comments followed an interview he gave the day before to CNN discussing the anti-Semitism poll findings.
In that interview, he accused the extreme left and radical Islam of perpetuating the world’s oldest hatred, but refrained from criticizing right-wing leaders accused of using anti-Semitic tropes.
“I’m concerned because I think anti-Semitism is an ancient disease that rears its ugly head. It first attacks the Jews, but it never stops with them. It then sweeps entire societies,” he said.
Despite this concern, Netanyahu commended “most of the European countries’ governments” for working to combat anti-Semitism, specifically naming German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Netanyahu focused much of his criticism of European anti-Semitism on what he dubbed “new anti-Semitism,” which he differentiated from the “old anti-Semitism in Europe that came from the extreme right.”
“There’s also new anti-Semitism that comes from the extreme left and also the radical Islamic pockets in Europe that spew forth these slanders and lies about Israel, the only democracy in this entire region, the only one that has the courts, human rights, rights for all religions, gays, everything, I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” he said.
Asked about Hungary and Poland, whose right-wing leaders have been accused of employing anti-Semitic imagery, Netanyahu said he did not believe the two countries’ governments were doing so and said the real problem is calls for Israel’s destruction.
“I don’t think they do and I think that ultimately the real issue is can we tolerate the idea that people say that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, which I think is the ultimate anti-Semitic statement,” he said.
“Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli policies, the idea that the Jewish people don’t have the right to a state, that’s the ultimate anti-Semitism of today,” Netanyahu added.