After a man participating in a white nationalist protest over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia rammed his car into a crowd of demonstrators, killing a 32-year old woman, and hundreds more paraded through the streets chanting epithets against Jews and people of color, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stunned many by remaining silent for three days. When he finally made a statement responding to the fatal demonstration and overt displays of racism, he did so on social media on August 15, which appeared after a tweet celebrating India’s 70 years of independence.
On Tuesday Netanyahu posted:
Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) August 15, 2017
The car attack killed Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal from Charlottesville. Police arrested James Alex Fields, 20, of Ohio for the killing, which was partially recorded on video.Netanyahu’s delay in condemning a resurgence of public displays of Nazism, at an event that hosted David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right, was harshly criticized in Israel.
Bradley Burston wrote in an op-ed for Haaretz, “This is the message of Netanyahu’s silence regarding Charlottesville: I am not the prime minister of the Jewish people. I am the prime minister of all of the Jewish people who are right-wing, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, pro-Me.”
Burston cited the fact that Netanyahu had once labeled a Palestinian leader as a Nazi. In 2015 Netanyahu stated, “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews.” Netanyahu said that the idea of exterminating the Jews came from the Mufti of Jerusalem. “What should I do with them [the Jews]?” Hitler asked. “And the mufti replied: ‘Burn them,'” Netanyahu said. The remarks sparked outrage from Jewish organizations, and the government of Germany.
What’s more, many neo-Nazi and white nationalist leaders have praised Israel. In a 2016 interview with Richard Spencer, Haaretz explored the alt-right’s founders reverence for Israeli policy as a model for his vision of an “ethno-state” of whites in the U.S. “[I]f Sheldon Adelson would promote the same immigration policy in the United States that Israel has, I would think that is a good thing,” he said. In the same interview Haaretz pointed out that Spencer acknowledged the Holocaust and disavowed Nazism for his own brand of nationalism–“I think it’s clear that Jews underwent tremendous suffering during World War II. I don’t deny the Holocaust”–and he said he supported cutting U.S. aid to Israel.
Months later when Donald Trump issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Spencer wrote positively on his website for the alt-right of the president’s remarks that did not mention anti-Semitism or Jews. Spencer called this the “‘de-Judification’ of the Holocaust.”
Other officials in Israel did issue explicit and more timely condemnations of the attack.
Naftali Bennett on Monday implored Donald Trump to “condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.” On Tuesday after Trump said violence in Charlottesville was blame on “both sides,” and defended white nationalists for protesting the removal of Confederate statues and insisted there were “good people” among the crowds who chanted “Jews will not replace us,” the leader of the opposition Zionist Union Tzipi Livni chided:
In Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism there are never two equal sides – only one side is evil. Period
— ציפי לבני (@Tzipi_Livni) August 16, 2017
Yet not all figures in Israel who released statements on the protests were disparaging to white nationalists and their apologists alone.
On Tuesday Netanyahu’s son Yair posted on Facebook that the true threat visible last weekend was the anti-racist protesters, specifically labeling the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa, militant anti-fascists:
“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazis scums in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”
The younger Netanyahu is currently being sued in a libel case for postings on the Facebook page of the Israeli think-tank Molad earlier this month. He called Molad “The Fund for the Destruction of Israel, funded by Soros and the European Union, is threatening me in the style of the Sicilian mafia. Actually, the term Bolsheviks suits them better.”
In another translation of the same post, Yair is quoted as labeling the group the “Fund for the Extermination of Israel.” The comments were made during a public exchange of insults with the son of another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who is gay and has a Palestinian partner. Yair insinuated the relationship harmed Israel’s security and said the couple is among “the members of the Fund for the Extermination of Israel and their metastases.”