JERUSALEM — The Israeli prime minister’s 19-year-old son — a military spokesman — posted derisive comments about Arabs and Muslims on his Facebook page, drawing a slap on the wrist from his superiors and focusing new attention on the controversial first family.
Earlier this year, Yair Netanyahu posted that Muslims “celebrate hate and death,” the Haaretz daily newspaper reported Friday. In the same post, written after Palestinian assailants entered a West Bank settlement and stabbed five members of an Israeli family to death, he wrote that “terror has a religion and it is Islam.”
The defamatory comments drew an immediate condemnation from the Palestinians, who are skeptical of his father Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared willingness to make the painful concessions necessary to give them a state.
Yair Netanyahu also wrote that he hoped “there would never be” a Palestinian state, and two years prior, he ran a Facebook group of 23 people that had called for a boycott of Arab businesses and products.
Haaretz said the comments in question were removed from the Facebook page within two hours of the paper’s request for a response from the prime minister’s aides.
The prime minister’s office wouldn’t comment on the Facebook reports, referring questions to a lawyer for the Netanyahu family.
Attorney David Shimron said the comments were taken out of context, calling them “the cynical use of the words of a teenager, said in anger.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife believe in moderation and tolerance, and they respect all people without regard for their religion, origin or nationality and that is how they raise their children,” Shimron said in a statement.
Palestinian spokesman Husam Zomlot interpreted things differently.
“That’s the teaching of his father,” Zomlot said. “That’s what Netanyahu produced in terms of a family and that’s what Netanyahu produced in terms of a society.”
A military statement said commanders had spoken to Yair Netanyahu “to clarify to the soldier the military commands, outlining his mistakes, as would be done with any soldier in a similar situation.”
Some of the comments on Facebook predated his military service, the military said, adding that he had been ordered to remove political statements posted after he was drafted.
The newspaper did not say how it obtained access to the Facebook account, though profiles can be viewed publicly unless users modify their security settings.
The younger Netanyahu’s Facebook page also included comments on the Israeli version of the TV show Big Brother and a “like” directed at Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, alongside photos of himself with international dignitaries like ex-U.S. president Bill Clinton and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, according to the report.
Benjamin Netanyahu served as premier from 1996 to 1999, then returned to power more than a decade later. While he has publicly accepted the principle of a Palestinian state, he argues that the essence of the remaining conflict is the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Under his watch, peace efforts have stalled.
His son Yair was inducted into the military nearly two years ago, serving in a desirable non-combat position despite his family’s history of combat service. Israeli media have reported that unspecified health issues have kept Yair Netanyahu out of combat.
The prime minister’s revered older brother Yonatan was a hero of Israel’s fabled 1976 rescue of Jewish Air France passengers hostages held in Uganda — a raid in which he was killed.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s children largely have been kept out of the limelight during his current term, save on major occasions like Yair Netanyahu’s induction into the military and his brother Avner’s victory in the national Bible quiz.
Their mother, however — a former flight attendant turned child psychologist who is the prime minister’s third wife — has been a lightning rod for criticism. She has called the accusations against her “evil gossip,” and the Netanyahus have filed libel suits in connection with those reports.
Veteran Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea thinks despite the media attention on the Netanyahu family foibles, the Israeli public judges the prime minister “according to what he is and not according to what his family is.”
The younger Netanyahu “transgressed as a soldier, but that isn’t something that justifies sending him to jail,” Barnea said. “He’s a small-time official in the military spokesman’s office.”
Israel’s military has suffered a series of online embarrassments.
Soldiers have posted pictures on Facebook of themselves mistreating detained Palestinians and dancing on patrol. In one case, the military had to cancel an operation after a soldier revealed plans on his Facebook page.