After growing up under public scrutiny, and with both parents under criminal investigation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, Yair Netanyahu, seems to be cracking under the pressure, taking to Facebook to express his anger.
“He’s just a regular person with opinions, like anyone else, who just happens to be the prime minister’s son,” a longtime friend said Sunday, on condition of anonymity. “People go after him, because they don’t like his dad. I don’t think he would choose this. It’s not easy.”
Whether he seeks it or not, Netanyahu’s political opinions and his colorful way of sharing them have gotten him a lot of attention during August’s slow news cycles. But he didn’t just start making headlines this summer.
The most recent Yair-centered scandal is his outrage-sparking post of what he called “the food chain.” The diagram featured antisemitic tropes such as Jewish billionaire George Soros
, who funds left-wing causes and organizations in several countries, controlling the world, via other conspiracy theory figures like lizard people, known as Reptilians, and the Illuminati or Freemasons. Those figures, according to the graphic Netanyahu shared, control former prime minister Ehud Barak, who controls failed Labor candidate Eldad Yaniv and former Prime Minister’s Residence superintendent Meni Naftali, leaders of the weekly anti-Netanyahu protests in Petah Tikva.
The prime minister has thus far declined to comment. Asked about it after he made an unrelated statement to the press on Sunday, he said: “This isn’t a press conference.” At about 9 p.m., Netanyahu Junior deleted the post from his Facebook page with no explanation.
Last month, Yair Netanyahu commented on the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white supremacist killed one woman. He wrote on Facebook: “To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo-Nazis scum in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”
Earlier this summer, there was “dog poop-gate,” in which a neighbor of the Prime Minister’s Residence accused Netanyahu on Facebook of not cleaning up after the family’s pooch, Kaya. Progressive think-tank Molad used one of its Facebook pages to essentially call him entitled and corrupt. Molad said Netanyahu is not officially employed, lives with his parents at the Prime Minister’s Residence, and is protected by a round-the-clock security detail provided by the state wherever he goes, despite not holding any state position of any kind.
Netanyahu responded by lashing out at Molad and the New Israel Fund, accusing former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s son Ariel of having “interesting relations with a Palestinian that has significance for national security,” bringing up an incident in which former president Shimon Peres’ son killed someone in a training accident in the IDF, and former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s son Omri went to prison on corruption charges. Olmert denied the rumors and slammed Netanyahu on similar counts as Molad. Netanyahu has since sued the think tank.
Netanyahu, 26, was only five years old when he and his brother Avner, then two, became the youngest-ever prime minister’s children. (The prime minister also has an older daughter, Noa, from a previous marriage.) The towheaded boys made for cute photo-ops on the campaign trail and in the Jerusalem snow. When Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister’s Residence in 2009, they were teenagers, and their distinct personalities began to show.
Most of what we know about Avner can be summed up in one paragraph: He finished third in the International Bible Contest in 2010, and was said to be close to his now-deceased grandfather Shmuel Ben-Artzi, a Bible scholar. It was Avner’s idea to adopt the family dog, Kaya, after he heard she was going to be put to sleep. He’s a combat soldier, who recently accompanied a Birthright group on a tour here, as a select group of soldiers do each year, and he has a girlfriend, whose photo he posted on Instagram. His social media photos paint a wholesome picture of a young man who loves his family and his dog, and does normal things with his friends like hanging out at springs and in the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Yair Netanyahu, however, has spent more time in the public eye, involving himself in politics. He first sought out a spotlight of a different kind in the Arts High School in Jerusalem, where he majored in theater.
In July 2009, Netanyahu enlisted in the spokesman’s unit, dealing with the international press. There were multiple media reports at the time of him seeking special treatment. One report said he left his post to eat dinner with his family, and was told he has to stay on base for 21 days, including missing his family’s Passover Seder. However, in the end, he was allowed to be with his family for the holiday.
After his service, Netanyahu enrolled in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, studying in the prestigious interdisciplinary history, philosophy and international relations program, and was an active member of the campus Likud group, where his peers said his opinions were “just like his father’s.” He made headlines at a campus event in which he heckled Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah.
In 2014, during his university studies, Netanyahu dated Sandra Leikanger, a non-Jewish woman from Norway, who was studying in Israel. Following a report in a Norwegian newspaper that the prime minister had talked about the relationship with his counterpart from Oslo, several religious lawmakers spoke out against the relationship.
“As the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, he must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household,” said then-Shas lawmaker Nissim Ze’ev at the time. After he broke up with Leikanger, Netanyahu dated model Lee Levy.
In the 2015 election, Netanyahu played a role in the Likud campaign. One party insider said they were in a campaign meeting together in which he gave intelligent possible talking points in response to criticisms of his father’s handling of Operation Protective Edge.
Since then, there have been persistent reports of Netanyahu’s influence on the prime minister. Two of the prime minister’s spokesmen served in the IDF with his son – though they have proven to be professionals worthy of their posts. He reportedly pushed his father to back the “muezzin bill,” originally meant to ban the Muslim call to prayer from being played on outdoor loudspeakers, which was later amended to limit the time. Some political analysts also attribute the premier’s harsher tone against the media to his son. There have also been reports that the Netanyahus are grooming him to enter elected office.
“I’m always reading about his influence,” the Likud insider said. “I haven’t experienced that, but there are other people who are closer to the family... What disturbs me is that the Netanyahus are treated one way and everyone else is treated another way. Look at Ivanka Trump or Chelsea Clinton or Olmert’s family. I think part of what makes the Netanyahus so popular is that people see through the double standard.”
As for whether Netanyahu Junior has a chance in a Likud primary, the party source said: “Let’s see. If he’s good, I’d vote for him. If not, then not. I know his background, and the Netanyahus and Ben-Artzis [Sara’s family] are a good family.”
Netanyahu is not just embroiled in the family’s politics, but also their corruption allegations. Channel 10 reported in 2016 that he went on vacation on Australian billionaire James Packer’s dime and stayed at his homes in the US. Packer, who owns a home near the Netanyahus’ in Caesarea, is a person of interest in Case 1000, in which the prime minister is being investigated for allegedly accepting gifts worth more than the permissible amount. Following the report, the prime minister released a statement that his son is a private citizen and Packer is a close friend of the family.
Between his scandals and rumored influence, is Netanyahu good or bad for the Likud?
“The Left will have a problem with him no matter what he does,” the party source said. “It doesn’t impact the Likud. Whoever liked [Benjamin] Netanyahu will still like him. And the pace of events is so dynamic that everyone will forget about [the Soros meme]. [Benjamin] Netanyahu will give his speech in the UN next week and everyone will forget it.”