Pepe the Jewish Frog: The Israelis Weaponizing 'Alt-right' Symbols

And how Prime Minister Netanyahu's own son helped them do it

Cover photo of Hebrew Facebook page: ממים צפופים נגד קקיהומושיט שמאלני

When he shared a cartoon full of anti-Semitic imagery on his Facebook page over the weekend, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have understood he would be playing straight into the hands of notorious Jew haters. After all, he discovered the image on a Hebrew-language social media site whose fans and followers appear to be Israeli.  

The cartoon, which Yair Netanyahu – known by the pseudonym “Yair Hun” on Facebook – has since removed, featured a photo of George Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature, which, in turn dangles an alchemy symbol in front of a caricature of a figure evoking the anti-Semitic “happy merchant” image.

Also featured were former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, anti-Netanyahu protest leader Eldad Yaniv, and Meni Naftali, a former chief caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who helped implicate Sara Netanyahu in a soon-to-be-delivered indictment.

The cartoon, captioned “the food chain,” suggested a conspiracy behind the Netanyahus’ legal entanglements led by Soros, a Hungarian-born Jewish-American billionaire known to support progressive causes and to oppose the Israeli occupation.

Leaders of the anti-Semitic far right in the United States couldn’t have been more delighted. David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, rushed to share the cartoon on Twitter, while The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi news website, called the prime minister’s 26-year-old son “a total bro” in an article headlined “Netanyahu’s son posts awesome meme blaming the Jews for bringing down his Jew father.”

Netanyahu, Jr. never claimed copyright on the controversial cartoon. In the online and off-line uproar that followed, he volunteered that his source was a Hebrew Facebook page whose name can be translated as “Running Memes Against Leftist CuckyHomoShit,” which had originally posted it several weeks earlier. The original appears to have been adapted from a vicious meme making the rounds in recent years on anti-Semitic and conspiracy-theory message boards.

The profile picture on this little-known Facebook page, which the younger Netanyahu described in his follow-up post as “hysterically funny,” is a cartoon of the prime minister drinking from a jug inscribed with the words “leftist tears.” Its cover photo features Netanyahu in sunglasses, his hands drawn together in prayer, beside Pepe the Frog – an image that has become associated in the Trump era with the white supremacy and the “alt-right” movement. 

Pepe the Frog turns up time and again on the page, in memes connected with Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party

So who’s behind it? A look at the memes, videos, photos and articles featured on this Facebook homepage would suggest that its creators and administrators borrow heavily from the playbook of the so-called alt-right in the United States – both in terms of whom they target and how they target them. 

The page is the brainchild of Facebook users who appear to be Israeli – only instead of the U.S. president, it’s Netanyahu they rally behind, and instead of the white supremacy and nationalism usually associated with alt-right ideology – it’s Jewish supremacy they believe in.

Far right as fair game

The apparent objective of the Israeli alt-right, based on the messages conveyed on this particular Facebook page, is to preserve and strengthen the power of the Likud and its long-serving leader. For that reason, those who threaten Netanyahu from the even more extreme right are also considered fair game. 

A case in point is former Likud Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing libertarian who recently set up his own party, hoping to draw votes away from Likud in the next election.

Feiglin features prominently in memes appearing here. Neither has Running Memes Against Leftist CuckyHomoShit spared Naftali Bennett, head of settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi. In a meme published Monday, for example, it accused Netanyahu’s main coalition partner of getting too cozy with Reform Jews and of being too sympathetic to Israeli Arabs.

Most of the venom spouted on the page, however, is directed at those whom its creators apparently identify as the true enemies of their leader and his party. That would include the Israeli press (and this publication in particular), local organizations and institutions that promote civil liberties and human rights (first and foremost The New Israel Fund), Yaniv and Naftali, and obviously the leaders of the Israeli political left.

Interestingly, former Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who has not announced any plans to run for office, draws a disproportionate amount of attention on the page, indicating that as far as the Israeli alt-right is concerned, he is perhaps considered to be a more dangerous foe than currently serving opposition leaders. 

The targets of the Hebrew-language page also include asylum seekers in Israel, transgender people and feminists. At the same time, there are certain individuals – besides the prime minister – who are held in high esteem. The late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, for example, is featured in a recent cover photo. 

Some insight into the thinking of those behind the page is provided by its responses to online questions about this unusual choice of an icon. 

“Are you aware that he was a tyrant?” asked one follower.

“It was mandated by the situation,” responded the administrator.

“I’d be happy for an explanation,” the follower persisted. “There were elections, a certain candidate won, and then he and his military junta decided that the election results and the will of the people don’t interest them, and that he is now the sole ruler.”

“Correct,” responded the administrator. “And look at how the country has taken off since then.”

‘Goings-on in Zion’

Elor Azaria, the Israel Defense Forces soldier convicted of shooting dead a subdued Palestinian attacker in Hebron last year, is also the subject of some flattering memes posted here.

Running Memes Against Leftist CuckyHomoShit describes itself as “a satirical page about goings-on in Zion.” At latest count, it had about 4,300 followers (hundreds of them added over the weekend, clearly in response to the publicity they received through Netanyahu, Jr.). A request for an interview with Haaretz elicited the following response from the page administrator: “We don’t cooperate with anti-Semites.”

The page is currently promoting an event scheduled for November 4, the 22nd anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which is being billed as an “alternative memorial day to the victims of Oslo” – a reference to the Oslo agreement signed by Rabin, which was supposed to have paved the way to the creation of an independent Palestinian state and an end to the Israeli occupation.

The event organizer, according to the information provided on the page, is a young Likud activist from Haifa named Nimrod Zuta. During the recent U.S. presidential election, Zuta created the pro-Trump Israeli Facebook group called Trump White & Blue, which coincidentally or not, is a big provider of “likes” on the Leftist CuckyHomoShit page. 

Coincidentally or not, Zuta is also signed on various posts on a pro-Netanyahu Hebrew-language website that goes by the name Conspil, and bills itself “Israel’s conspiracies site.”

The 25-year-old Likudnik told Haaretz that he wouldn’t have a problem describing himself as a supporter of the alt-right “if it were not for the fact that this term has already been hijacked by certain types I’d rather not associate with.” He thus prefers to label himself “a patriotic right-winger.”

Zuta is not a personal friend of Yair Netanyahu, but says he has absolutely no problems with the meme posted by the prime minister’s son last weekend. “It may be provocative, but there’s nothing problematic about it,” he says. “After all, it’s just satire.”

Asked how he compares himself and his fellow activists in Israel to Trump supporters in America, Zuta says: “We are made of the same DNA.”

“What is going on here is something very similar to what happened in America with Trump last summer,” notes Ami Pedahzur, an expert on the Israeli radical right, from the University of Texas in Austin. “It’s an attempt to rally the base around the leader and identify those who are harming the leader.”

In this context, he notes, “Yair Netanyahu has become a front man for all kinds of toxic ideas, and maybe the best thing that could have happened to those who oppose him is the endorsements he got from David Duke and The Daily Stormer.”

Social media outbursts

This is not the first time the Netanyahu’s older son, who still lives with his parents and is known to advise his father on media strategy, has gotten himself in trouble with his outbursts on social media. Over a month ago, after a neighbor reported that he given her the finger when she asked that he clean up his dog’s poop, he went on a tirade on Facebook.

On Monday morning, less than a day after he removed the offensive anti-Semitic cartoon, Netanyahu’s son shared another post by the Leftist CuckyHomoShit. This one was a screenshot of David Duke’s website, dating back more than a year. In it, the former Ku Klux Klan leader had shared a statement made by former IDF deputy chief-of-staff Yair Golan comparing 1930s’ Germany and Israel today. 

“So now should Yair Golan be demoted?” the post asked, alluding to the backlash Netanyahu’s son suffered for being mentioned by Duke. 
Prof. Zeev Sternhell, a leading Israeli expert on fascism (and a regular contributor to Haaretz), says that Yair Netanyahu “constitutes an excellent example of how Zionism has progressively deteriorated into rotten nationalism.”

“Our Israeli alt-right,” represented by the prime minister’s son and his supporters, says Sternhell, is not a totally new phenomenon, but rather rooted in the old radical secular right as well as in religious Zionism. “We don’t need Trump or Breitbart for this,” he says.

What is unprecedented, though, is the openness with which “a nobody like Yair Netanyahu” expresses himself. “This we owe to Trump and Trumpism,” Sternhell observes. “Now everything is legitimate.”

In its basic principles, he says, the Israeli alt-right is very similar to its American counterpart. “It is violently nationalistic, racist, opposed to human rights, hateful of free and critical media, and in favor of a strong executive branch. The two varieties have a cult of force and admire vulgarity as an expression of strength.”

But in Israel, the professor maintains, this movement poses a greater threat to society. “In America you have a Constitution that nobody can imagine could be changed,” he says, “while here we you can do what you want as long as you get a majority in the servile Knesset.”