Before sitting down for dinner at the Israeli prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem in May, Donald and Melania Trump were introduced to another member of the Netanyahu family: “I want you just to meet our boy,” said Sara Netanyahu, as she called in one of her sons, Yair, who is 26 and is shaping up as the heir apparent to Netanyahu in Israeli politics. Yair shook hands with the president, then retired to the back of the room for a chat with Jared Kushner.
Just as Trump’s son-in-law has taken on a role as his top adviser, Netanyahu’s son is assuming an increasingly more prominent position alongside his father, shifting between giving behind-the-scenes advice and unleashing relentless attacks against his father’s critics. But while Kushner, at least according to White House insiders, plays a moderating role in his father-in-law’s administration, Yair Netanyahu has been drawn to controversy, and fuels them.
In his most recent Facebook post, which was removed after drawing condemnation from both sides of the political map and after raising the ire of American Jewish leaders, Yair Netanyahu may have crossed the line separating legitimate political attacks, as vicious as they may be, from anti-Semitic dog whistles. David Duke, the former head of the KKK who is one of the United States’ most rabid haters of Jews, tweeted support for the prime minister’s son.
Netanyahu posted a cartoon depicting liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros at the top of a food chain, which included three of the prime ministers political rivals, in addition to a green reptile-man and a cloaked figure, both known anti-Semitic memes. The Anti-Defamation League stated that Yair Netanyau’s post “contains blatantly anti-Semitic elements,” and that “dangers inherent in anti-Semitic discourse should not be taken lightly.”
The post reflects a deepening trend in Israeli right-wing politics, one that is willing to overlook extreme right and at time anti-Semitic views, as long as they share a common enemy. His father recently rejected calls by the Hungarian Jewish community to condemn an anti-Semitic campaign against Soros. The Israeli prime minister and his cabinet were also slow in calling out Donald Trump, during the campaign and after the elections, for comments and actions the American Jewish community felt were offensive to Jews.
For those following Netanyahu’s son’s ascent to national headlines, the Soros post came as no surprise. Last month Yair Netanyahu chose to weigh in on the Charlottesville events, writing, again on Facebook: “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.” He then added: “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 statement echoed the equivalence between “two sides” of the Charlottesville protests drawn by the president in his Trump Tower press conference.
Before expanding into American current affairs, Yair Netanyahu focused his social media wrath and backroom political advice on the Arab citizens of Israel. According to reports in the Israeli press, Yair was the driving force behind proposed legislation that would limit the Muslim call to prayer, delivered through loudspeakers from mosques, due to the noise hazard it created. In 2011, he called for a ban on Arab-owned businesses after an Arab-Israeli drove into a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur. “I’ve been boycotting those pieces of sh**t even before this happened,” he wrote.
In response to a publication describing these incidents, Yair shot back with a post arguing the group behind the publication is funded by the “Fund for the inhalation of Israel,” presumably meaning the New Israel Fund. The ad hoc organization behind the list of “5 things about Yair Netanyahu” also pointed out that even though he is 26 years old, he does not hold a job and lives with his parents at the prime minister’s official residence, enjoying the services of a driver and walking around with a security detail.
Yair Netanyahu is credited by introducing his father to social media and brought in one of his friends to serve as a Netanyahu’s aide on the issue. Even before Trump took America by storm with his tweets, Netanyahu had used Facebook to reach out directly to voters. In his most famous post, Netanyahu, hours before ballots closed in the 2015 elections, warned that the “Arabs are coming in droves” to vote and therefore his supporters should make sure they get out the vote.
Much of Yair Netanyahu’s poison is reserved for his father’s political critics, primarily former prime minister Ehud Barak. “It’s time for a geriatric doctor,” he wrote about the 75-years-old former general and politician. He also went after the sons of former prime ministers Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert.
The young Netanyahu, who was 5 years old when his father was first elected prime minister, has lived his life under the media spotlight, with reporters and paparazzi photographers following closely his childhood years, his army service at the IDF’s spokesman unit, and his personal life. When gossip columns got word he was dating a Norwegian student, ultra-Orthodox politicians were mortified by the fact the prime minister’s son is in a romantic relationship with a non-Jew, and his own uncle, Hagai Ben-Artzi, said Yair was “spitting on his grandparents’ grave.”
In late July, a Jerusalem woman wrote on Facebook about her encounter with Yair Netanyahu at the local dog park. Netanyahu, she claimed, did not pick up after his dog. “This is Kia’s poop,” she wrote in the caption to a photo showing what the First Dog left on the ground. The woman, Talia Amitay, added that when she turned to the prime minister’s son and asked him to pick up, he gave her the finger and walked away.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.