Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is amused and even emboldened by the protests against him, his son said Monday, branding the demonstrators “aliens,” before backtracking.
In an interview with Galey Israel, Yair Netanyahu said he shows his father “select clips” from the anti-Netanyahu 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.”
Likud coalition chairman Miki Zohar, asked in a TV interview later Monday if he shared Yair Netanyahu’s “aliens” assessment, said: “I’ll say one thing about those demonstrators. They’re not gathering… to shout about their difficulties and their problems. They are anarchists, most of them funded [to demonstrate]…. They are prepared to infect the entire state of Israel with coronavirus for the sake of their exhibition of hatred. They are very dangerous people. And some of them speak very violently, very dangerously.”
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.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said he was backing the protests because they are “the most legitimate demonstrations by the most beautiful Israelis in the state, who are saying to Netanyahu, Enough. Go. Leave us. We won’t be lectured by the greatest promoter of hatred in the history of the state of Israel.”
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.
The prime minister has also condemned the demonstrations.
“I see an attempt to trample on democracy. There is a distortion of all the rules. Nobody restricts the demonstrations. On the contrary — they are accommodating toward them,” he said on Sunday. But, he added, “it’s a coronavirus incubator, there are rules that are not enforced, no one restricts it and no one has even tried to restrict it.”
Netanyahu has also 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.
Earlier this 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.