The supporter closest to home: Yair Netanyahu’s most incendiary tweets
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The supporter closest to home: Yair Netanyahu’s most incendiary tweets

As PM waits to see if Gantz can oust him, he can count on one ultra-reliable defender: the son who has made a name with controversial, often conspiratorial, posts on social media

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an election event in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an election event in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battles to remain prime minister and extricate himself from legal difficulties, he has no more loyal defender than his son Yair. Too loyal, some have said, given the content of his social media messaging.

On Thursday, a day after Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, was given the mandate by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government, Yair Netanyahu, 28, offered his take on the yet-to-start coalition negotiations via his preferred platform, Twitter.

“I think Blue and White have gotten confused,” he goaded, tweeting a link to an article saying that the Joint List would not carry out negotiations without its Palestinian nationalist Balad faction.

“The problem is the entire Joint List and not just Balad,” continued the prime minister’s son. “It also consists of Ra’am, which is more or less the Muslim Brotherhood of Israel (Hamas also belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood), and Maki, a communist party that opposes the existence of Israel.”

It was certainly not his most incendiary tweet but it contained many of the elements his Twitter profile has come to represent: conspiratorial, sectarian and geared to cause controversy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City with his son Yair, a day after winning Knesset elections, on, March 18, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the most prominent example of the controversy he has stirred, in late 2017, Yair made international headlines for posting a cartoon attacking critics of his parents — one that at the same time appeared to adopt anti-Semitic themes.

The image, posted on Yair Netanyahu’s private Facebook profile, featured Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, the Illuminati and a reptilian overlord — all of them seen controlling a host of his parents’ adversaries including former prime minister Ehud Barak, lawyer and Labor party activist Eldad Yaniv, and Menny Naftali, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who was at the heart of allegations of wrongdoing against Yair’s mother, Sara Netanyahu.

The response to the image came hard and fast. US Jewish leaders decried the cartoon and its posting by the prime minister’s son. The Anti-Defamation League said it contained “blatantly anti-Semitic elements.” Political leaders in Israel also lashed out, calling on the prime minister to tell his son to remove the post immediately.

Yair Netanyahu was suddenly embraced by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, the very people his father has sworn to protect the Jewish people against. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi websites, called him a “bro” and later declared itself “The World’s #1 Yair Netanyahu fansite.”

Screenshot of the cartoon posted by Yair Netanyahu, September 8, 2017. (Facebook)

Following the widespread criticism, Yair, who has denied reports that he harbors political ambitions of his own, removed the meme and significantly cut back on his use of the site. But, embracing Twitter instead, he has increasingly used social media to attack opponents of his father, often inviting controversy in the process through his brash and aggressive style.

Here, after his father failed a second successive time to muster a Knesset majority, and is now standing aside to see if Blue and White’s Benny Gantz can fare better, The Times of Israel highlights 10 of the younger Netanyahu’s most incendiary posts since that infamous meme:

1. Coup attempt by the Knesset Speaker

In August, just weeks before the September election and after Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman mentioned Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein as a possible alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister, Yair Netanyahu accused Edelstein of attempting to engineer a coup against his father.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a state ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem as Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, 2018. (Noam Moskowitz/POOL)

“Liberman just revealed by mistake on live TV the coup he has been planning with Edelstein… And they say I can’t keep my mouth shut,” the tweet read.

Yair Netanyahu later deleted the tweet. When other users claimed he was making the accusations on behalf of his father, he denied it. “I’m an adult and I write on my iPhone what comes to mind in the moment,” he tweeted in response.

2. Coup attempt by the president

In February, shortly before April’s national vote, Yair Netanyahu accused President Reuven Rivlin of orchestrating a similar coup, repeating unproven claims that Rivlin would task a Likud party rival of his father’s with forming a government after the elections.

President Reuven Rivlin (left) greets Gideon Sa’ar at a conference in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono, on August 22, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

“I remind you that my father warned about… Rivlin and no one on the right understood why, but in the end it turns out he was right,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Accusing Israel’s main evening news broadcasts and the “left-wing media” of backing popular ex-Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, Yair said Rivlin would seek to give his “good friend” Sa’ar the responsibility of forming a new government instead of his father, the Likud leader. “We won’t let them,” he concluded.

Both Rivlin and Sa’ar denied the claims. Asked about the comments in an interview with Channel 12 news, Sa’ar called them “sad.” Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government after the elections. Netanyahu failed to do so.

3. Mocking the president

In March, Yair Netanyahu sniped at Rivlin on Twitter after the president criticized the prime minister over statements denigrating Arab Israelis.

In a speech Rivlin had condemned the “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel” made by some politicians. He did not mention any names, but he was likely referring to right-wing parties, including Netanyahu’s Likud, that repeatedly claimed their center-left rivals planned to rely on Arab parties’ backing in a future government coalition.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference organized by Israel Democracy Institute in Tel Aviv on March 14, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger)

Yair Netanyahu responded by invoking a phrase uttered by the president in 2015 that angered many in the right wing due to its ambiguity. Speaking after a deadly case of Jewish terror, in which several members of a Palestinian family were killed in a firebomb attack on their home, Rivlin said then he was pained that “from my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity.” In Hebrew, the phrase could also be understood as a general statement on all Israeli people, rather than a specific statement on the attackers.

In his tweet, he told Rivlin: “Why are you surprised [at the anti-Arab rhetoric]? It’s all because members of your people have chosen the path of terrorism.”

In response, Blue and White released a statement urging the prime minister to “control” his son and accusing the family of incitement against Rivlin.

A day later Yair Netanyahu was put on leave from his job as a social media coordinator for Shurat HaDin — the Israel Law Center, an organization that offers legal representation and advocacy for terror victims.

4. Accusing the chief justice of comparing dad to Hitler

In May, Yair Netanyahu slammed Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut for allegedly implying a comparison between the prime minister and Adolf Hitler.

Chief Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut addresses a legal conference in Eilat on May 27, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

Hayut said at a conference in the German city of Nuremberg that the Nazis’ rise to power demonstrated that democratic institutions were fragile, and that judicial independence “is one of the most important guarantees that the individual has an address to turn to to protect their rights.”

As proof that institutions protecting democracy could not “withstand every attack,” Hayut cited a 1933 editorial in a German Jewish newspaper that argued that Hitler and his newly elected Nazi party would not be able to carry out their stated plans due to the country’s checks and balances on government power.

“Did I miss something, or does the chief justice believe that the prime minister of Israel is Hitler in the late 1920s?” demanded the younger Netanyahu in tweet.

His tweet spurred a number of right-wing politicians and organizations to release their own statements slamming Hayut and the Supreme Court.

Hayut’s comments were a “warping of history,” according to the Movement for Governance and Democracy, a right-wing activist group critical of the Supreme Court’s powers. Likud MK Miki Zohar responded that “the independence of the Knesset is also among the cornerstones of democracy.”

5. No terror without Palestinians, Muslims

In December last year, Yair Netanyahu was temporarily banned from Facebook over a number of posts, which were also removed from his account.

“There will never be peace with those monsters in the form of men that have called themselves ‘Palestinians’ since 1964,” he wrote, calling on readers to “avenge the deaths” of Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, 20, and Sgt. Yosef Cohen, 19, who were killed in a shooting attack at the Givat Assaf Junction a day earlier.

A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade who were killed on December 13, 2018, in a terrorist shooting attack near the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)

In another post, he wrote: “There will not be peace here until: 1. All the Jews leave the land of Israel. 2. All the Muslims leave the land of Israel. I prefer the second option.”

And in a later post he added: “Do you know where there are no terror attacks? In Iceland and Japan. Coincidentally there’s also no Muslim population there.”

In response to his posts being removed, Yair Netanyahu wrote in another post that Facebook was “trying to shut our mouths in the only place where we have the right to express our opinions.

“The thought police of the radical progressives at Facebook have reached me as well! Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime have official pages on Facebook. There are also endless pages calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Thousands of violent and extreme left-wing posts against me and my family, including threats of physical violence and immoral murder threats,” he charged.

6. Father appointed AG to exonerate Liberman

In May, Yair Netanyahu claimed in a tweet that in 2009, his father appointed an attorney general based on the understanding that he would fudge and close criminal cases against Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman, at the latter’s request.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hand with newly appointed Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 14, 2010. (AP Photos/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)

In a first tweet, he shared a screenshot from a 2013 article by the Haaretz daily chronicling the disappearance and death by suicide of several witnesses in an investigation against Liberman, before the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, closed the case without charges. (Liberman had been suspected of maintaining ties with, and illegally continuing to benefit from, private companies he had founded as a private citizen, even when he was a public official, via a series of shell companies.)

In response to the younger Netanyahu’s tweet, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken replied: “Yair, the problem is probably that your father chose Yehuda Weinstein as attorney general so that he would fudge and close the cases against Liberman.”

“Here is a scoop for you,” the prime minister’s son responded. “That was [Liberman’s] most important coalition demand in 2009. He [Benjamin Netanyahu] didn’t have any other choice.”

Weinstein rejected the allegation, saying in a statement that he hadn’t known Liberman or been in any contact with him until he was appointed attorney general. Calling Yair Netanyahu’s claim “nonsense,” Weinstein told Kan public radio that he had closed the case on its merits and would do the same again. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party also vehemently rejected the claims, calling them “lies and paranoia.”

The prime minister, for his part, said all appointments had been made for “entirely professional reasons.”

7. Traitors all

In December last year, Yair Netanyahu accused left-wing politicians, the media, and left-wing groups of treason, saying he was giving voice to “what everyone in the nation thinks.”

During a tumultuous court appearance in a libel lawsuit against a left-wing activist, he was greeted by protesters who called him and his family “corrupt” and “garbage” and at least one referred to the prime minister as a “traitor.”

He later uploaded a Facebook post in which he noted some politicians’ accusations of treason against his father — mainly surrounding the so-called submarine probe, in which police investigated corruption in the army, government, and other influence positions. (The prime minister is not a suspect in the case; critics have accused him of complicity.)

A large campaign poster showing senior TV journalists and the message “They won’t Decide, You will Decide. Only Netanyahu., Likud” on January 21, 2019. (FLASH90)

“Now that we can finally use this word, I’ll say what everyone in the nation thinks,” Yair Netanyahu said. “Left-wing associations funded by foreign and hostile governments, left-wing politicians and the media who always side with the enemy and against the Jewish interest — who care nothing for terror victims… while showing such compassion for every Palestinian rioter hurt on the Gaza border — are traitors!

“It’s time to say the simple truth. By any basic agreed human standard in any nation across history. They are traitors for all intents and purposes.”

Hours later, the prime minister’s Facebook account issued a statement according to which “Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects the use of the term ‘treason’ by any side of the political discourse.”

However, the premier’s post also included a video of various figures making accusations of treason. It went on: “Sadly, others use it all the time. Ever since the submarine probe that the prime minister was never a suspect in, Ehud Barak, leftist protesters and others have accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of ‘treason.’ The media hasn’t said a word. Apparently they believe the term ‘traitor’ is acceptable as long as it’s directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu. That which is forbidden for the right is also forbidden for the left. Enough with the double standard.”

8. Vulgar beast

In October 2018, Yair Netanyahu went on the attack against an Israeli TV talk show host who criticized his father for berating a heckler whom the prime minister had called “boring” during a speech in northern Israel.

Netanyahu was speaking in Kiryat Shmona to inaugurate a new emergency room when a local woman, Orna Peretz, interrupted his address to protest the closure of another ER in the area. In response, Netanyahu told her: “Look, you’re simply uninteresting. You’re boring us. We want to discuss things that interest us. Come back when you have something interesting to say.”

Ofira Assayag, left, and Eyal Berkovic, right, on their show. (Screenshot)

Peretz was subsequently interviewed on the popular Hebrew-language talk show “Ofira and Berkovic” hosted by TV personalities Ofira Assayag and former soccer star Eyal Berkovic. At one point in the interview, Assayag turned to the camera and asked, “Is this how a prime minister speaks?”

The question earned her a scathing Facebook post written by the younger Netanyahu, who said she was a “vulgar beast who only got to where she is due to an affair with a married man” — apparently referencing Assayag’s relationship with sports personality Eli Gutman, which was widely covered locally.

“The only reason ‘Keshet’ [the broadcasting operator] airs this sub-par [show] is because of the incitement against my father and our family, and against the right-wing public,” Netanyahu charged, adding that Assayag was “kowtowing to the Left in order to be embraced [by it].”

Assayag responded on Instagram by contrasting Yair Netanyahu with his father — and taking a shot at his mother, as well.

“It’s amazing to me the huge gap between the high intelligence, sharpness and eloquence and the early career of a younger Benjamin Netanyahu, with the idleness and boredom of Yair Netanyahu,” she wrote. “At the age of 27, his father was already commanding a [military] team in Sayeret Matkal in daring operations, Yair Netanyahu lives at the expense of the public, is bored, unemployed and expresses himself insanely.”

“No doubt he inherited his genes from his mother,” she concluded.

Yair Netanyahu later replaced his original Facebook post with one that employed language that was relatively more moderate: “Ofira doesn’t seem to get enough screen time every Friday in order to incite and spread poison against me, against my family, and against the Israeli right.”

9. An autistic Tony Soprano

Days later, he mocked Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich, who oversaw the investigations that concluded in indictment recommendations against his father, comparing the outgoing commissioner to a mafioso and a person with autism.

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks at a press conference at the police headquarters in Jerusalem, April 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Alsheich is a cross between Tony Soprano and Rain Man,” Yair Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.

The quip likened Alsheich to mobster Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini in the HBO series “The Sopranos,” and Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond Babbit in the 1988 US film about an autistic savant with social interaction issues.

The apparent joke came in response to the police’s conclusion, published a day earlier, that there was enough evidence to bring Netanyahu to trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in the co-called Bezeq probe.

Several organizations working for rights for disabled people lambasted the Facebook post as insensitive and discriminatory.

10. Fu*k Turkey

In May 2018, Yair Netanyahu waded into the diplomatic spat between Jerusalem and Ankara over Israel’s response to violent protests at the Gaza border by sharing an image saying “Fu*k Turkey” on Instagram.

He shared the image, replacing the letter “c” with the crescent and star of the Turkish flag.

In response a spokesperson for Netanyahu’s family said “Yair Netanyahu is a private individual and his Instagram account is private.”

In March this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared Yair Netanyahu to the self-described white supremacist who gunned down 50 Muslim worshipers at a New Zealand mosque a week earlier, after Yair said on Twitter that Istanbul — formerly Constantinople — was under Turkish occupation.

“Watch out, the statements of the son of the person who is the leader of Israel and those of the New Zealand terrorist are the same. They are fed by the same source,” Erdogan said during a speech in the northwestern city of Çanakkale, according to Turkey’s ATV News.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 (AP Photo/Ali Unal)

Brenton Tarrant, the Australian national who has been charged with the Christchurch killings, referred to Constantinople in a manifesto in which he threatened that Christianity would prevail once more in Istanbul and that mosques there would be destroyed.

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