Nov 7, 2019

The Israeli Donald Trump Jr. comes to New York

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara Netanyahu and son Yair Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2013. Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

In a rare public appearance in New York, Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defended his father's legacy, claiming "Israel had nothing but oranges" before he became PM in 1996 and attacked what he called the "extreme left-wing media."

Why it matters: In the past year, he's been trying to position himself as a leading populist right-wing voice in Israel and abroad. Through his Twitter account and growing number of public speeches to conservative audiences, he is trying to be the Israeli version of President Trump's eldest child, Donald Trump Jr. Indeed, on many days it seems both men are using the exact same talking points.

Details: Yair Netanyahu was hosted Wednesday by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at his organization’s headquarters in New York. Boteach is an ultra orthodox ultra conservative who is close to Netanyahu and his former patron, casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

  • During the 90-minute event, Yair Netanyahu complained a lot about the Israeli media — which he described as being worse than the American media. He said his father had been "lynched" by the media for as long as he can remember.
  • "There is a small group which controls the Israeli media… thanks to social media there is finally freedom of speech in Israel," he said.

The big picture: Benjamin Netanyahu has pending indictments on three cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Most parts of the indictments have to do with his attempts to control the Israeli media. The prime minister has direct and indirect control and influence over big parts of the Israeli media today.

What he's saying: In his remarks in New York, Yair Netanyahu claimed he gets daily death threats that are not reported in the Israeli media. He did not mention the fact that unlike any other child of an Israeli prime minister in the past, he has around-the-clock government security detail.

  • "When I tell the truth they say it is incitement," he said. "The left uses the word incitement to silence every conservative opinion."
  • A big part of his lecture was about praising his father’s legacy during his 13 years in office. Yair Netanyahu claimed that before his father first became prime minister, Israel was a backward country.
"Israel has a communist economy. Until my father arrived Israel exported nothing but oranges and was isolated and weak… the security situation is the best it has ever been. Buses are not exploding anymore."
— Yair Netanyahu

Reality check: A large part of this claim is false. Netanyahu did promote many reforms and deserves credit for improving the economy, but its growth and rise in exports started during his the term of his predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, partly as a result of the Middle East peace process.

Political impact: He denied claims that he has a huge influence on Benjamin Netanyahu's political strategy and said that his father has been unhappy with his opinions and statements on many occasions.

What's next: Boteach asked Netanyahu if he has political ambitions. Yair said that while he is a political person, he has no ambitions to become a politician. He stressed he wants to influence politics through civil society.

Go deeper: Kushner calls on Gantz and Netanyahu to form government

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