As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gears up for a new election campaign, his son Yair has been on a highly partisan U.S. tour of pro-Trump media and right-wing political activists, carrying a message of enthusiastic support for the U.S. president.
The 27-year-old’s high-profile trip to the United States last week earned him headlines in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, which billed him as his father’s “not-so-secret weapon” and “defender in chief.”
The younger Netanyahu also grabbed attention back home as he enthusiastically sang Donald Trump’s praises in an unprecedented television interview on BlazeTV, calling the U.S. president a “rock star” in Israel. Despite being a constant presence on Twitter, Netanyahu Jr. has never submitted to an on-camera interview in his homeland or spoken extensively at an Israeli public event.
The extremely friendly U.S. outlet he chose is even more closely identified with the conservative and populist right wing of the Republican Party than Fox News. BlazeTV was founded in late 2018 after a merger between a network owned by former Fox host Glenn Beck and Conservative Review.
As his interviewers smiled and nodded in agreement, Netanyahu Jr. told them that “President Donald Trump is the best friend that Israel and the Jewish people ever had in the White House.”
Appealing to Trump’s pro-Israel evangelical base, Yair Netanyahu then invoked their favorite comparison between the U.S. president and an ancient king.
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“The Jewish people still remember King Cyrus the Great from Persia who recognized Jerusalem 2,500 years ago ... so we have a long-term memory and the vast majority of Israelis adore America and adore President Trump. He’s a real rock star in Israel,” he gushed, to the evident delight of his hosts.
The interview was but one stop on Netanyahu Jr.’s meetings with Trump’s most loyal supporters.
On June 7, he visited Fox News host Tucker Carlson, posting photos on social media of himself and Carlson in his office, and sitting on the Carlson’s Fox set. Netanyahu Jr. wrote that the two had a “great meeting” and calling Carlson a “big supporter of Israel!”
On the same day, he met with Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party activist and national spokesperson for Trump during the 2016 campaign. She is currently working on Trump’s 2020 reelection effort.
“It’s so great to have our friend Yair Netanyahu in town,” Pierson tweeted as she posted a picture of herself alongside the premier’s son.
On June 8, a photo of Netanyahu Jr. appeared in another political strategist’s tweet: Elise Rhodes, vice president of client relations at X Strategies, who said she had hosted him at an event the previous evening.
“Great event tonight with ASTI a wonderful organization who brings US first responders to Israel to receive counter terrorism training,” she wrote. (The Advanced Security Training Institute is a group that received tax-exempt status in 2016 and describes itself as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing advanced security and medical training based on battle-tested methods and techniques that have been perfected by decades of conflict in Israel.”)
While no names of board members or staff appear on the organization’s website, articles in the media report that the organization was founded and is headed by Yisroel Stefansky, an Israeli who holds American citizenship. Last year, the group’s Jerusalem awards dinner featured U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman along with “Israeli government ministers and Knesset members.”
In March, while accompanying his father to Washington, Yair Netanyahu attended an ASTI dinner held during the AIPAC policy conference, together with Pierson, Sebastian Gorka and other Trump stalwarts.
Rhodes’ firm calls itself “politically incorrect and unapologetic,” and its social media feeds are full of pro-Trump messaging and fierce attacks on Democratic Party leaders and members.
Netanyahu also met with school safety activist Hunter Pollack, whose sister Meadow Pollack was killed in the Parkland shooting last year.
Pollack’s father, Andrew, attended last year’s White House Hanukkah celebration, where he lauded the president as a “fighter” who had “retaken Washington for the American people.” He also called Trump “the greatest friend that the Jewish people have ever had in the White House, not only because you recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and followed through on your promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but because you understand the spirit of Hanukkah, within your heart.”
Netanyahu’s U.S. junket has revived speculation that the prime minister’s eldest son has not ruled out following in his father’s footsteps.
Apart from his strong social media presence — both during his father’s election campaigns and between them — Netanyahu Jr. has not formally held a job aside from a short stint at Shurat Hadin — the Israel Law Center, where he served as their media director. He was reportedly put on leave from that job in March after controversially posting criticism of President Reuven Rivlin on Twitter. News reports at the time said his unpaid leave would end following the April 9 election, but he never returned to the job.
Yair Netanyahu’s U.S. itinerary seemingly reinforces the belief in Israeli political circles that his politics are far more sympathetic to the far right than those of his father.
While operating in the U.S. political arena, Benjamin Netanyahu has always worked hard to maintain at least a modicum of a warm relationship with pro-Israel Democrats and at least paid lip service to the importance of bipartisan support for Israel — a central tenet of pro-Israel organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But Yair Netanyahu has been far more openly scathing and dismissive of politicians and operatives who are not members of the most extreme, pro-Trump Republicans.
His aggressive style on social media has even drawn comparisons to the offspring of his hero: Donald Trump Jr.
Last December, Facebook blocked Netanyahu Jr.’s account for 24 hours after he shared previously banned content: The social media site removed a post by the prime minister’s son in which he called for “avenging the deaths” of Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian gunmen. Facebook also deleted a post in which Netanyahu Jr. said he would “prefer” it if “all the Muslims leave the land of Israel.”
That same month, he came under fire for labeling left-wing organizations and politicians as “traitors who always side with the enemy and always against Jewish interests.”
This trip was well timed for Netanyahu Jr., after a May 30 tweet threatened to cause his father real damage during the heated showdown between the prime minister and former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (which ultimately led to the do-over election in September).
Yair Netanyahu asserted on Twitter that, back in 2009, Lieberman had only agreed to join the government coalition if his father promised to name an attorney general who would exonerate Lieberman from his criminal charges of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. Yair wrote that his father “had no choice” but to appoint Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to the post. Weinstein later acquitted Lieberman of one charge and closed the other cases, citing insufficient evidence.
Following that tweet, Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg called on current Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to open an investigation into Lieberman and Netanyahu, based on the online testimony provided by the prime minister’s son.
Both Weinstein and Lieberman fiercely denied the accusation, derisively dismissing Yair Netanyahu. Weinstein said: “I don’t know the prime minister’s son, but I have the impression that he has seen better days.” Lieberman hit back even harder, with a party statement recommending that “Likud headquarters urgently bring onboard a well-known psychiatrist with proven experience.”
Netanyahu family spokesman Ofer Golan did not respond to queries from Haaretz about Yair Netanyahu’s U.S. itinerary and the funding for his trip.