NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair vented about the Israeli media’s “lynching” of his family to self-proclaimed “America's Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach at a small event in Manhattan on Wednesday.
“If you think you have a problem with the media in America, in Israel it’s way more nasty,” he told the few dozen people gathered at Boteach’s Upper West Side home, which doubles as the headquarters of his World Values Network organization.
Boteach, who is a vocal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and closely associated to Netanyahu megadonor Sheldon Adelson, set the media-hostile tone for the evening with a tirade on civility and ethics, asking potential protesters to reveal themselves in advance.
“If anyone here is a journalist and feels that they’re going to have to yell out a question or be disrespectful, or if anyone is here from an organization that doesn’t like Yair Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, the Jewish people, Rabbi Shmuley — what is there not to like? — then at least be honest,” he said. “Can I have everyone’s confirmation that you will not disrupt?”
The pledge was broken midway through the event not by the Israeli and American journalists in attendance, but by activists — including Code Pink’s Ariel Gold and people associated with organizations such as IfNotNow, Jews for Racial Justice and Never Again Action — who slammed the two speakers for supporting Trump.
Yair Netanyahu, who was introduced by Boteach as “a very good spokesperson” for Israel, said he has been witnessing a “serious, vicious, vile media lynch [sic]” on his family his whole life.
“Frankly, it’s really exhausting and it never ends,” the 28-year-old said.
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“The main reason I went to social media is because I can’t tolerate injustice,” Netanyahu Jr. added. “I’ve been quiet my whole life in the face of evil and injustice, and now I have a tool to balance it, sort of.”
Yair Netanyahu has used his online presence to loyally defend his father with often incendiary social media posts, which he has had to delete on multiple occasions. His posts have attacked political opponents, police officials, TV personalities and, earlier this year, even President Reuven Rivlin, which cost him his job as a social media coordinator for Shurat Hadin, an organization that offers legal services to victims of terrorism.
The prime minister's son also told Boteach that his father was responsible for Israel having a developed economy.
“He took a country back in the 1990s that, besides the existential threat that it was in, was in horrible economic [shape], it was pretty much a Soviet-style economy, socialist primitive economy,” he said. “No exports, for example, besides oranges or something like this. It was very isolated in the world. Obviously, the main reason Israel was isolated in the world is because it was weak. Nobody wants to be friends with the weak; everybody wants to be friends with the strong. So he has changed the economy of Israel to a capitalist, free market, prosperous economy and now Israel’s GDP per capita surpasses Japan.”
Attacking the media
In 2017, Yair Netanyahu posted a meme, captioned "the food chain," featuring a photo of George Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature, who dangles an alchemy symbol in front of a caricature of a figure reminiscent of the anti-Semitic “happy merchant” image. At the time, Andrew Anglin — publisher of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website — praised Netanyahu and thanked him for his contribution to anti-Semitism.
Although some of Netanyahu Jr's posts have also earned him a temporary Facebook ban, Boteach was at pains to praise his “friend” for his “great command of social media” and his “eloquence.”
Boteach also prides himself on his use of the media, particularly the pro-Israel ads he publishes in prestigious American newspapers such as The New York Times. (The ads, individually framed, hang on the walls of his living room.) His most recent one, in the Washington Post, denouncing Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an anti-Semite, was also on display behind him Wednesday evening.
Yair Netanyahu, who has been acting as a public proxy for his father in recent times, said there is “no fair media in Israel.” He attributed the “scrutiny, lies and slander” to “a small group in Israel, but a very dominant group in Israel that controls pretty much 100 percent of the power centers in Israel — mainly the media, but other places as well.
“The problem is not with political criticism,” he continued. “It’s from a very small group of mainly radical fringes of Israeli society that took control of the mainstream media.”
The mainstream media, he said, “doesn’t represent the Israeli people. It doesn’t even represent the Israeli left: It represents a very small, extreme fringe and insignificant part of Israeli society.”
Netanyahu Jr. also had some criticism for the political left in Israel, saying they have “weaponized the word 'incitement'” to silence any conservative opinion.
Boteach, whose presentation was sprinkled with plugs for his books and name-drops, treated Yair Netanyahu as an unofficial Israeli diplomat during the talk, asking him about Israel’s foreign policy (including the Iranian nuclear threat), Trump and the conflict with the Palestinians.
“Israel created a Palestinian state — it’s named Gaza,” he said. “It’s completely independent, there is a naval blockade the same way there was a naval blockade in Cuba; nobody argued that Cuba is not a real country.”
Asked whether the prime minister scolds him for his use of social media, Yair Netanyahu, who lives at the family’s official residence in Jerusalem, insisted he is not a “proxy” of his father.
“I’m 28 years old. Sometimes he is not so happy with the stuff I said — but what can you do?” he laughed. “If I was 16 he could ground me, but we’ve reached a point where I am my own man.”