Opinion

Netanyahu's Revenge: Silence and Sidestep on Nazis in Charlottesville

This is the message of Netanyahu's silence: I am not the prime minister of the Jewish people. I am the prime minister of all of the Jewish people who are right-wing, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, pro-Me

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara react to his supporters during an event by his Likud Party, in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara react to his supporters during an event by his Likud Party, in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

"The easiest task for an American president to perform – the very easiest – is to unreservedly condemn Nazism," The Atlantic Editor-in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted on Monday. "There is nothing easier."

Not for Donald Trump, apparently.

It took two long days of withering pressure from leading Republicans, heavy hints on Fox News, and a preamble paean to jobs growth, trade deals and the soaring stock market, for the president to read aloud an explicit condemnation of the white supremacist groups behind the Saturday Charlottesville, Virginia "Unite the Right" rally in which a counter-protestor was run over and killed.

And while there were many for whom the statement was too little and much too late – possibly forced on him by newly installed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – the fact that Trump opened his mouth and named "the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans" represented a significant departure from the blind-eyes and dog-whistles and suit-and-tie incitement of past practice.

Which may help to explain why, at a raucous news conference on Tuesday, Trump proceeded to entirely undo any good his "corrective" statement Monday might have done.

Which brings us to Benjamin Netanyahu.

In truth, there should be nothing more straightforward for a prime minister of Israel than to condemn Nazism and overt, unvarnished explosions of anti-Semitism wherever and whenever they appear.

But for three solid days, Netanyahu, Mr. Holocaust himself, who has something to say about just about everything, had nothing whatsoever to say about Nazis in Charlottesville. He posted about the death of the world's oldest man, he posted about his "week of works," he compared Israel's economy favorably with that of Venezuela.

And when, at long last, he decided to post something about Charlottesville, he and his staff managed to compose a tweet so mealy-mouthed, that it far surpassed Trump's outrageous original statement for sheer opacity and intentional lack of focus.

"Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism," Netanyahu tweeted, omitting any mention of where, whom, or when his message was directed at. "Everyone should oppose this hatred."

Here is the son of Benzion Netanyahu, who made it his mission to vociferously warn Americans of the dangers posed by the wartime Nazis, the coming of the Holocaust – and the perils posed by turning a blind eye, or speaking in terms too vague to be of any use to anyone.

Here is a man "who likes to say he's the Prime Minister of the Jewish people, not just the State of Israel."

Here is a man who cites the "lessons of the Holocaust" at every opportunity. Here is a man who is graphic and exacting when he says "Never Again" when he talks about Iran, Hizbollah, Hamas, ISIS, Al-Qaida, Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, and Israel's pre-1967 Green Line borders.

But with Nazis marching under the swastika in the heart of an American city, Benjamin Netanyahu can't manage to say Never Again now.

Why not?

You could certainly make the case that Netanyahu, as Trump's vassal, could not afford to be seen by the president as upstaging or undermining the Oval Office.

But as Netanyahu waited and prevaricated for a whole day even after Trump freed his supporters from their vow of silence, that theory held less and less water.

The answer may have nothing to do with Trump, and everything to do with Netanyahu. It may, in fact, have much to do with Netanyahu taking revenge and settling accounts with a range of people and groups whom he does not like to explicitly name as his enemies, deserving of his wrath.

People like the vast majority of American Jews, non-Orthodox, non-Republican, anti-settlement, pro-two-states. Progressives and liberals and Democrats who supported that horrible terror sympathizer Barack Hussein Obama instead of, say, Mitt Romney, whom Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu worked so hard to elect.

Progressives and liberals and Democrats who, yes, had the temerity to support the Iran nuclear deal. Despite Netanyahu's meddling in U.S. politics by addressing a special session of Congress.

Progressives and liberals and Democrats who refused to do their Jewish duty and vote for Donald Trump, despite the helpful instructions of Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, the Bannon-worship of the snarlingly far-right Zionist Organization of America, and
Progressives and liberals and Democrats – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, egalitarian-wing Orthodox, Havura, Independent and Unaffiliated – who all betrayed Netanyahu by daring to protest and raise their voices when the prime minister stabbed them in the back in June, surrendering without a shot to ultra-Orthodox extortion over prayer at the Western Wall and conversions performed in Israel.

Progressives and Reform Jews and moderates and others who have warned that a Netanyahu government travel ban barring entry to foreigners support settlement boycotts, will further alienate young North American Jews from Israel.

Here is a prime minister who is vindictive to the bone. He neither forgets nor forgives. He has reservoirs of rage deep and wide enough for an entire political party.

At the same time, in his mastery of dishonesty, he is much more cunning, much less in-your-face than, say, Trump.

Which is why, when Netanyahu dishes out revenge, it is nearly always served cold, in a form that may appear to be something entirely different from what it actually is.

This is the message of Netanyahu's silence regarding Charlottesville: I am not the prime minister of the Jewish people. I am the prime minister of all of the Jewish people who are right-wing, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, pro-Me.

As for you American Jews facing down those Nazis over there – Nazis who hate you Democrat liberals, along with your friends the blacks, the Muslims, the immigrants and the Left - well, you brought this upon yourselves. Yessir. All of you. You're on your own.