On the Dark Side of History

With his silence over Trump’s remarks, Netanyahu chooses to cooperate with a right wing that is working to eliminate the liberal order

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Ashdod, August 13, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The president of the United States believes there’s no difference between racist, anti-Semitic, violent rabble and those who protest racism and anti-Semitism. At a press conference U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, who protested a neo-Nazi march and said there was blame on both sides. He called those protesting the neo-Nazis “alt-left,” and accused them of “charging with clubs.” Not everyone there was a neo-Nazi, he said: “Some of them were very fine people.”

Even as he later tried to backtrack from his remarks, he implied moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and the “left” and chose to give legitimacy to white supremacists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu generally interprets his role in the broadest possible fashion; as far as he’s concerned he’s the prime minister of the entire Jewish people. That’s how he acted after a terror attack in Paris, when he called on French Jews to immigrate to Israel, or when he stood beside the French president at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the expulsion of Paris’ Jews.

But confronted with the shameful pictures from Charlottesville – which led President Reuven Rivlin to write, “The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally is almost beyond belief” – Netanyahu was silent. Other than a weak condemnation – made before Trump’s remarks – of “expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism,” he chose to remain mum.

Netanyahu’s silence in the face of anti-Semitism follows his meeting in Hungary with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who during that period was leading a campaign against Jewish tycoon George Soros, and who had praised Hungary’s anti-Semitic Holocaust-era leader Miklos Horthy.

With his silence over Trump’s remarks and his meetings with nationalist leaders who harbor anti-Semitic sentiments, Netanyahu is choosing to cooperate with a right wing that believes in national and religious purity, a right wing that is working to eliminate the liberal order that fights for human rights and separation of powers and seeks a situation in which all democratic institutions – the courts, the media, cultural, educational and civil society institutions – will all be subordinate to the government. Netanyahu is putting Israel on the dark side of history.