Criticism is growing over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s limited response to a US white supremacist rally and US President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about it, with calls for him to speak out against anti-Semitism.
The issue highlighted Netanyahu’s reluctance to be seen as criticising Trump, who has expressed strong support for Israel and whose rise to the presidency was welcomed by the premier, some analysts said.
Netanyahu regularly speaks out against anti-Semitism in other countries, but the US is Israel’s most important ally, providing it with more than US$3 billion per year in defence aid and important diplomatic backing.
Netanyahu had a testy relationship with Barack Obama, a Democrat who often pressured him over Israeli settlement building, but he has repeatedly praised Republican Trump.
So far, Netanyahu’s only response to the weekend white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that ended in bloodshed was a tweet on Tuesday that many saw as vague.
“Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred,” Netanyahu posted.
A Facebook post by Netanyahu’s son Yair further raised eyebrows. He denounced “neo-Nazi scum”, but added that they were “dying out” and seemed to suggest left-wing counter-protesters “who hate my country” were a growing threat.
Criticism of Netanyahu among opposition politicians and others has grown louder over the last couple of days, particularly on Tuesday after Trump said there was “blame on both sides”.
Harsh criticism came from Shelly Yachimovich, a parliament member and former leader of the opposition Labour party.
“You, the prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, the man who constantly warns us about a Holocaust, with excessive portions of fear and bombast and promises of ‘never again’, what about you?” she wrote on Facebook. “Was it too trivial, an anti-Semitic march in Charlottesville with Third Reich memorabilia?”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, also from Labour, said “an Israeli leader should have said within six hours our position as Jews, as Israelis, as brothers of a large community, the American Jewish community … who live under threat.”
Israeli papers devoted their front-pages to Trump’s comments, with the top-selling Yedioth Ahronoth running a photo of him under the headline “shame”.
Some commentators pointed out that free sheet Israel Hayom, owned by Netanyahu and Trump backer Sheldon Adelson, buried the story deep inside.
For Abraham Diskin, emeritus political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Netanyahu had no choice.
“You cannot fight on every issue,” he said. “You cannot clash with someone who is that important to Israel on issues like that.”