Amid strip joint scandal, Yair Netanyahu left out of PM’s India delegation

Amid strip joint scandal, Yair Netanyahu left out of PM’s India delegation

Netanyahu’s son was set to accompany his parents on high-profile trip; PMO won’t say if change of plans is connected to recordings aired this week

Yair Netanyahu, son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, who was expected to accompany his parents on an official state trip to India on Saturday night, is staying behind in Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Netanyahu and his wife, leading a 130-strong trade delegation, will take off later Saturday for a week-long visit to India meant to boost bilateral relations. Their son Yair was set to leave with them, after reportedly being invited by Indian PM Narendra Modi and securing a visa, Hadashot TV news said Saturday, but will not be part of the entourage.

Yair Netanyahu leaves a mediation session at a law firm in Tel Aviv on November 26, 2017.(FLASH90)

The PMO refused to say whether the sudden change of plans was connected to the emergence of a recording this week of Yair Netanyahu making disparaging comments about women during a night out at Tel Aviv strip joints with two friends, accompanied by his security guard and a driver.

The recordings, aired by Hadashot TV on Monday, have been at the top of the Israeli news cycle over the past week.

Yair Netanyahu has called the report on the tape “biased and shameful,” and claimed the recordings were illegally obtained. However, he also apologized for the behavior captured in the recordings.

“In that late-night conversation, under the influence of alcohol, I said foolish things about women, and other foolish things that would have been better left unsaid,” he said. “These words do not represent who I am, the values I was raised on, or the principles I believe in. I regret saying them and apologize if anyone was offended by them.”

While Netanyahu said his son was right to apologize, he has attacked the press for airing the tape and said Thursday that the government should take legislative action against the leaking of recordings.

Hours before his scheduled departure for India, Netanyahu issued a press release saying that over the course of the visit he intends to “further strengthen ties between the two countries,” calling the trip an “opportunity to cement cooperation with a world power in the areas of trade, security, technology, and tourism.”

“Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi is a close friend of Israel and I appreciate the fact that he will personally accompany me during portions of the trip,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu will be the first Israeli prime minister to visit the world’s second-most populous country in 15 years. The last time an Israeli prime minister came to India — a country of 1.3 billion people, 175 million of whom are Muslim — was in 2003, when Ariel Sharon arrived but abruptly cut his visit short to return to Israel to deal with a terrorist attack.

In contrast with prime ministerial visits to the US or Europe, Netanyahu’s trip, which will take him to three cities in India, will focus very little on Middle Eastern affairs such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, it will deal mostly with efforts to promote trade relations.

The visit is likely to be dominated by footage of Modi’s warm welcome for Netanyahu. The two men have developed a close friendship, congratulating each other on social media on various occasions and embracing each other heartily.

In July 2017, Modi became the first Indian leader to visit the Jewish state, dismissing criticism from many Muslims in India and elsewhere. A photo of Modi and Netanyahu strolling in the sand at Olga beach, in northern Israel, was shared widely.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi visit the water desalination plant at Olga beach on July 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Over the course of the visit, Israel and India will sign a series of bilateral agreements, including in the fields of aviation, renewable energy, cybersecurity, alternative medicine, and cinema.

Netanyahu’s entourage, which includes the largest-ever delegation of Israeli businesspeople, is scheduled to land in Delhi on Sunday. Later that day, the prime minister will have an “intimate dinner” with Modi, according to the Foreign Ministry. Netanyahu will also meet with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was in Israel in November.

On Monday, Netanyahu will lay a wreath at Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, who was a staunch critic of Zionism but who is revered in India as “Father of the Nation.” As is customary, the prime minister will also sprinkle petals on Gandhi’s grave.

During his visit to New Delhi, President Reuven Rivlin sprinkles petals on the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi, November 15, 2016. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Later that day, Netanyahu and Modi will hold a “private meeting” at the Hyderabad House.

He will also be welcomed by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind in his residence.

On Tuesday, the prime minister’s delegation is flying to Agra, a city in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state that is home to the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum.

Netanyahu and Modi will then open the Raisina Dialogue, India’s flagship annual geopolitical conference. The summit will be attended by senior statespeople from around the world, including the Russian deputy foreign minister and former US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman.

From Delhi, the Israeli delegation will head to Gujarat, Modi’s home state in the country’s west.

On Wednesday, Modi and Netanyahu are set to attend “a number of events concerning agriculture, innovation, water, and entrepreneurship” at Gujarat’s Icreate Centre, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Later that day, the prime minister and his entourage will travel south to Mumbai, where he will meet with members of the local Jewish community.

On Thursday, Netanyahu is set to conduct a “power breakfast” with senior representatives from India’s business community and attend a bilateral business seminar.

Some 130 Israeli businesspeople from the fields of agriculture, water technology, cybersecurity, defense, health, and food industries are joining the prime minister’s trip. It will be headed by the president of the Association of Industrialists in Israel.

Netanyahu will then lay a wreath at a memorial ceremony at the Taj Palace Hotel for the victims of the November 2008 attacks on the city, during which Pakistani Islamists killed 166 people and injured hundreds. From there, he will proceed to Mumbai’s Chabad House, which was one of several sites of the 2008 attack.

Moshe Holtzberg, the son of slain Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who survived the massacre as a young child, is set to accompany the prime minister to the Chabad House. He will be joined by the family’s nanny, Sandra Samuel, who saved him at the time.

Holtzberg met with Modi during the latter’s visit to Tel Aviv last summer.

On Thursday evening, Netanyahu will attend an event dedicated to Bollywood, India’s famed movie industry. “The Prime Minister will reach out to Bollywood in an exclusive ‘Shalom Bollywood’ event,” Israel’s Embassy in India said in a press release Thursday.

“Bollywood stars have a huge influence in India, and we’re trying to get some of them and some producers to come to the event,” Gilad Cohen, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific, said this week.

An agreement on joint production in cinema will be signed, he said.

On Friday, the delegation will return to Israel, making it home just in time for Shabbat.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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