If you’re just tuning in to the unfolding drama surrounding the Netanyahu family, you might, understandably, be a little confused about why the prime minister’s son is posting anti-Semitic, David Duke–endorsed memes and wondering how we got from pink champagne, dog poop, and submarines to George Soros and Lizard People.
Twenty-six-year-old Yair Netanyahu posted an image Saturday, titled “the food chain,” showing Soros (a frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks); a reptilian humanoid; and a hooded, hook-nosed Elder of Zion–type dangling inducements before three of the family’s enemies: former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, anti-Netanyahu protest leader Eldad Yaniv, and Meni Naftali, a former housekeeper who has given salacious court testimony against the Netanyahus.
The image is an adaptation of an earlier, even more explicitly anti-Semitic alt-right meme. Yair took the image down after an outcry, including condemnation by the Anti-Defamation League, but not everyone was offended. Leading white nationalist and former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke tweeted in support of Yair, and the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer posted an article with the headline “Netanyahu’s Son Posts Awesome Meme Blaming the Jews for Bringing Down His Jew Father.” Yair hasn’t apologized, and the prime minister hasn’t commented on the meme, declining to answer a reporter’s question about it at a Cabinet meeting Sunday.
Yair has been making an unusual amount of news lately. After the white supremacist violence that left a woman dead in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, he wrote on Facebook that while “neo-Nazi scum” were dying out, he was more concerned that “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.” More prosaically, there’s been public outrage over his failure to clean up after the family dog in a public park, and he’s been threatened with a libel suit by a left-wing think tank that he called a “radical, anti-Zionist organization” after it criticized him.
Yair isn’t a government official, of course, but his social media outbursts come at a time when his father is also taking heat for failing to condemn anti-Semitism abroad and making a devil’s pact with the far right in the United States and Europe.
Benjamin Netanyahu has often been quick to attack foreign critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, and aides have described him as the de facto “leader of the Jewish world.” And yet, when neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” Netanyahu waited three days to issue a vague statement, doing so only after Trump had put out a statement criticizing the marchers. Netanyahu was also notably silent amid the wave of anti-Semitic vandalism that swept the U.S. following Trump’s election. What’s more, Netanyahu’s government rebuked its own ambassador to Hungary for criticizing an anti-Soros ad campaign there widely seen as implicitly anti-Semitic.
Yair’s shenanigans are just a small side story of the criminal investigations currently engulfing the prime minister and his family. One involves up to $130,000 in Cohiba cigars and pink champagne that Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, allegedly received over the course of several years from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Another involves recordings of Netanyahu offering the publisher of newspaper Yediot Aharonot, a longtime enemy, a deal for more favorable coverage of him in exchange for his arranging to curtail the circulation of one of the paper’s rivals. There are also questions involving conflicts of interest in a lucrative Israeli deal to purchase submarines and attack boats from a German company in 2015. While Netanyahu is not personally a suspect in that case, his former chief of staff and personal lawyer are among those who have been arrested so far.
Netanyahu’s former defense minister says he believes the prime minister will be indicted for at least one of these cases.
Netanyahu has responded to the scandals by blasting his political rivals and the media for peddling “fake news.” He has also been throwing more red meat to the far right, telling a crowd of West Bank settlers last month, “We are here to stay forever. … This is our land.” (While Netanyahu usually at least pays lip-service to an eventual two-state solution, he tends to drop the pretense when he’s feeling politically threatened and needs to rile up the base.)
All the same, it’s pretty jarring to see Netanyahu’s son standing up for the family by posting David Duke–approved imagery that wouldn’t look out of place in 1930s Germany.