First Published: 2017-08-17

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism
Criticism of Netanyahu among opposition politicians and others has grown louder since Israeli ally Donald Trump's comments on white supremacist rally in Virginia.
Middle East Online

Birds of a feather.

TEL AVIV - Criticism grew Thursday over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's limited response to a US white supremacist rally and President Donald Trump's controversial remarks about it, with calls for him to speak out against anti-Semitism and neo-Nazis.

The issue highlighted Netanyahu's reluctance to be seen as criticising Trump, who has expressed strong support for Israel and whose rise to the presidency was welcomed by the Israeli premier, some analysts said.

Netanyahu regularly speaks out against anti-Semitism in other countries, but the United States is Israel's most important ally, providing it with more than $3 billion per year in defence aid and important diplomatic backing.

Furthermore, many proponents of the so-called 'alt-Right' have openly expressed their admiration for Israel's Zionist project as well as their support for Trump, equating Israel's treatment of Palestinians with white Americans' fears of being 'disenfranchised' by growing minorities.

White supremacist leader Richard Spencer recently told Israel's Channel 2 News, "you could say that I am a white Zionist – in the sense that I care about my people, I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel."

Netanyahu had a testy relationship with Barack Obama, a Democrat who often pressured him over Israeli settlement building (considered illegal under international law), but he has repeatedly praised Republican Trump.

So far, Netanyahu's only response to the weekend white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that ended in bloodshed was a tweet on Tuesday that many saw as vague.

"Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred," Netanyahu posted in English.

A Facebook post by Netanyahu's son Yair further raised eyebrows.

He denounced "neo-Nazi scum," but added that they were "dying out" and seemed to suggest left-wing counter-protesters "who hate my country" were a growing threat.

Criticism of Netanyahu among opposition politicians and others has grown louder over the last couple of days, particularly after Trump's comments on Tuesday in which he said there was "blame on both sides."

Perhaps the harshest criticism came from Shelly Yachimovich, a parliament member and former leader of the opposition Labour party.

"And you, the prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, the man who constantly warns us about a Holocaust, with excessive portions of fear and bombast and promises of 'never again,' what about you?" she wrote on Facebook.

"Was it too trivial, an anti-Semitic march in Charlottesville with Third Reich memorabilia?"

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, also from Labour, said "an Israeli leader should have said within six hours our position as Jews, as Israelis, as brothers of a large community, the American Jewish community, including in Charlottesville, who live under threat."

- 'Aren't two sides' -

Others issued more forceful denunciations of the rally than Netanyahu, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Opposition member Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, pointedly said in reference to Trump's comments that "there aren't two sides."

Israeli papers devoted front-page coverage to Trump's comments on Thursday, with top-selling paper Yedioth Ahronoth running a photo of him and the headline "shame."

Some commentators however pointed out that freesheet Israel Hayom, owned by Netanyahu and Trump backer Sheldon Adelson, buried the story deep inside the paper.

A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to comment on Thursday.

After Netanyahu's post on Tuesday, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that "the tweet is unequivocal and states his revulsion at the scenes of bigotry that the world has witnessed."

But for some, it has not been nearly enough.

Gideon Rahat of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank said the Israeli government should be expected to respond to such events as a state founded as a "safe haven" for Jews.

"You know we always have the Holocaust on our minds, so you take this and you see that Jews are attacked somewhere," Rahat said.

But he said of Netanyahu that "I think that his concerns are his relationship with Trump."

For Abraham Diskin, an emeritus political science professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, Netanyahu has no choice but to be "cautious."

"You have to choose your fights," he said.

"You cannot fight on every issue. You cannot clash with someone who is that important to Israel on issues like that."

Whether Netanyahu could see a wider political backlash at home over the issue is an open question.

For Rahat, denunciation of such anti-Semitism is part of the "consensus" in Israel and opposition figures "can clearly use it against" Netanyahu.

Diskin said however that he believed most Israelis, incredibly, would not focus on the issue of resurgent Nazism for long.

"Altogether, I think the vast majority of people will not remember the issue a week from now," he said.

 

Baghdad refuses talks with Kurdistan about referendum results

Three Israelis killed at West Bank settlement

Seven arrested in Egypt for raising rainbow flag at concert

European ambassadors to US strongly back Iran nuclear pact

Dubai set to become first city with flying taxis

Saudi establishment spreading Shiite hate speech

Madrid hails Rabat’s collaboration in fighting terrorism

Regional tensions rise in Kurds’ independence vote

Iraq Kurds start voting in historic independence referendum

UAE announces plans for region’s first nuclear reactor

Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with border closure, oil block

Putin to visit Erdogan this week for Syria, Iraq talks

Sudan vows to step up efforts to improve US ties

Turkey to launch intervention into Syria — and maybe into Iraq

Egyptian ‘world’s heaviest woman’ dies in Abu Dhabi

Palestinian unity government remains unlikely

Emirati man fights his employer to serve in country’s army

Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week

Saudi advisory body to tackle female driving ban

Turkey denies closing Iraqi border in response to Kurdish vote

US air strikes kill 17 Islamic State militants in Libya

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria's Raqa

Yemen's Hadi says military solution 'most likely'

The high cost of Syria’s destruction

Palestinian negotiator awaits lung transplant in US

Kurds ready for contentious vote in Iraq

A Kurdish state: Reality or utopia?

Saudi intercepts missile fired from Yemen

Saudi Arabia marks national day with fireworks, concerts

Iran defies US, tests missile

Turkey warns of 'security' steps in response to Iraqi Kurd vote

Barzani delays Kurdish independence vote announcement

Syria's war off the radar at UN assembly

For many Iraqis, tradition trumps police

Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing