Netanyahu's son Yair draws fire after posting 'antisemitic cartoon'

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
Benjamin Netanyahu with his son Yair in 2015. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

An attack by the son of the Israeli prime minister on his family’s critics has backfired after he posted a cartoon on social media that contained elements described as “blatantly antisemitic”.

Yair Netanyahu had already gained a controversial reputation for crudely trolling his parents’ enemies before his latest intervention, which has spawned days of hostile media coverage.

On Saturday the 26-year-old posted a cartoon on his Facebook account depicting the American-Hungarian investor George Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature, as well as a figure highly reminiscent of the antisemitic “happy merchant” image.

The cartoon, which has been circulated by antisemitic websites, was posted a day after Israel’s attorney general announced that he was minded to prosecute Sara Netanyahu, Yair’s mother and the prime minister’s wife, for misappropriation of state funds. Benjamin Netanyahu is also under pressure as a result of several overlapping corruption investigations, which have gained pace in recent weeks.

Also depicted in the cartoon were prominent critics of the Netanyahus, including the former prime minister Ehud Barak and Meni Naftali, who ran the Netanyahus’ official residency and successfully sued Sara Netanyahu for wrongful dismissal, alleging abusive and erratic behaviour.

Four days of non-stop controversy have ensued, the flames fanned by the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who shared the post, and the US neo-Nazi hate site the Daily Stormer, which endorsed it and Yair.

For its part the Israeli press has published daily stories examining the source of the image and its meaning, as well as the role of the “alt-right” in the country. Commentators have questioned why Benjamin Netanyahu – usually quick to condemn any hint of antisemitism – has remained silent.

Prominent political figures and NGOs have been forthright in their criticism of Yair.

“The caricature posted by Yair Netanyahu includes explicit antisemitic elements,” the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League wrote on Twitter. “One cannot belittle the danger inherent in an antisemitic discourse.”

In 2015 Netanyahu his son Yair visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Avi Gabbay, the new leader of Israel’s Labour party, wrote: “It’s a particularly sad day for Israel when a caricature that’s endorsed by the head of the KKK emerges.”

Barak asked: “Is this what the kid hears at home? Is it genetics, or a spontaneous mental illness? It doesn’t matter. In any case, we should fund his psychiatrist instead of security guards and a driver” – a reference to the fact that Yair has a driver and security detail funded by the state.

Israel’s opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog was even stronger in his condemnation: “Every Jew must feel horror and shame that a Der-Stürmer-style cartoon [refering to the German Nazi-era propaganda sheet] came out of the Israeli prime minister’s residence and was embraced by one of the most extreme of antisemites. Erase, apologise, and condemn!” he wrote.

Complicating matters politically for Israel’s prime minister is the prominence that he has afforded his son. Yair was introduced on camera to Donald Trump when the US president visited this year. He is also reported to have advised his father on social media strategy. Persistent reports suggest his parents have been grooming him for a career in politics.

Even rightwing columnists usually sympathetic to Netanyahu have weighed in against Yair.

“The neo-Nazis couldn’t have done a better job drawing that cartoon,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth Ahronoth. “When an antisemitic cartoon gets posted there, that is no longer just the problem of the people who reside in the [PM’s] residence. It is the state of Israel’s problem.”

Yair Netanyahu has form in drawing attention to himself for views that are often obnoxious. In recent weeks he has made an allegedly homophobic, dog-whistle reference to a former prime minister’s son, hinting at untrue claims of a gay relationship with a Palestinian man, and he attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist activists in the US after the violence in Charlottesville.

“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo-Nazis scum in Virginia hate me and my country,” he wrote on Facebook. “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.”

An editorial in the leftwing newspaper Haaretz said Yair was emblematic of the tactics used by the Israeli right to target its opponents under his father.

“The antisemitic meme is not Yair Netanyahu’s first public outrage, but it is his worst,” the paper wrote. “This time silence in light of such an alarming message cannot be interpreted as anything but consent to the ongoing demonisation of anyone who doesn’t get in line with the Israeli right, which is becoming ever more extreme.”

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