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World & Nation

Benjamin Netanyahu’s not-so-secret weapon: his son Yair, the Israeli leader’s defender in chief

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and son Yair, right, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 18, 2015.
(Thomas Coex / AFP/Getty Images)

He is his father’s greatest defender and posts tweets that seem designed to infuriate the political left. “Calling him a troll or a provocateur would be to underestimate him,” one liberal columnist wrote.

In recent months, Yair Netanyahu, the 27-year-old son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has become a prominent and sometimes controversial public proxy for his father, occasionally eliciting comparisons to Donald Trump Jr.

In December, he spent four nights accompanying his parents to the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — and raised eyebrows back home by racking up a $2,560 bill at the Copacabana Hilton.

In March, he accompanied his father to Washington and addressed an event for young leaders at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, where his father gave a keynote speech. (He also had dinner with one of Trump’s more controversial, and short-lived, aides, Sebastian Gorka.)

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More recently, he was back in Washington on Thursday, where he met with Katrina Pierson, a senior aide to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

The younger Netanyahu became a lightning rod during Israel’s recent electoral campaign when he lashed out at President Reuven Rivlin for defending the civil rights of Arab citizens after the senior Netanyahu said that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” but the nation-state of the Jewish people.

More recently, as Rivlin was burying his wife of 48 years on what would have been her 74th birthday, Yair Netanyahu retweeted a satirical right-wing account mocking Rivlin for hypocrisy in defending the rule of law.

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Rogel Alpher, the columnist for the liberal daily Haaretz who cautioned Israelis not to underestimate the premier’s son, wrote that Yair Netanyahu is “becoming an online star,” and that the left ignored him, or mocked him, at its peril.

The Times requested an interview with Yair Netanyahu via a family spokesman, Ofer Golan, who declined.

The younger Netanyahu lives with his parents in the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. He is not known to have held a job apart from a short stint as social media director at a nongovernmental agency offering legal counsel to terrorism victims, which let him go in March after his comments on Rivlin.

It’s unclear whether Yair Netanyahu has any interest in following his father’s path into politics.

In December 2018, he was temporarily suspended from Facebook after posting a series of anti-Muslim posts, including this one: “Do you know where there are no terror attacks? In Iceland and Japan. Coincidentally there’s also no Muslim population there.”

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But on Twitter he has remained an unfettered voice, often jousting with Israeli media figures whom he has called “traitors.”

In late May, ahead of the European Union elections, he tweeted “Good Luck to Viktor Orban @Nigel_Farage ,@matteosalvinimi and @geertwilderspvv at the #EuElection2019!” — a list of far-right nationalists from Hungary, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands.

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He once tweeted that there was no such entity as “Palestine” because the Arabic language has no letter for “P.” (It’s pronounced Falesteen in both Arabic and Hebrew.)

In late May, he tweeted a map of Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish-held possessions in North Africa, alongside the caption “Dear Arabs and Muslims. Want to free occupied Arab Islamic lands? Here’s a good start!”

The suggestion caught the attention of Santiago Abascal, president of Spain’s nationalist right-wing Vox party, who might otherwise be a natural ally of Netanyahu.

“Before you push for an Islamist invasion of our homeland, you should know a minimum about our history,” Abascal responded. “You’re a frivolous ignoramus. And you do grave harm to your own cause.”

When he was questioned by authorities in March 2018 as part of an investigation into his father’s possible misdeeds, he told police investigators that “you’re the Gestapo police, you’re questioning me in order to put pressure on my parents, exactly like a crime organization,” according to transcripts published by Channel 13 news.

Although police exonerated the younger Netanyahu, his father is expected to be indicted on corruption charges after a hearing scheduled for October.

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent.


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