Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under mounting pressure Thursday to speak out against President Donald Trump’s response to the racially charged violence and anti-Semitic outpouring in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Netanyahu’s near silence on the march staged by anti-Semitic white nationalists — and Trump’s assertion that “both sides” were responsible for the violence — appears to reflect the Israeli leader’s desire to remain in the good graces of the embattled U.S. president.
But Netanyahu’s reluctance to speak out on such an important issue has set him apart from the growing ranks of Israeli leaders who have been outspoken in their anger, and risks alienating Jewish American leaders already estranged by certain Israeli policies.
A growing chorus of opposition politicians, commentators and even coalition partners has urged Netanyahu to take a stronger stance, even at the risk of antagonizing the president.
Trump has acknowledged there were some “very bad people” at Saturday’s rally, where a woman was killed when a car slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters. But he also said there were “very fine people” on both sides. The president’s equation of extremist hate groups and left-wing demonstrators brought condemnation from across the American political spectrum.
Though Netanyahu, who views himself as a leader of world Jewry, is ordinarily quick to rail against anti-Semitism, he waited three days to react to the violence in Charlottesville with a relatively tepid statement on Twitter.
“Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred,” he tweeted, avoiding any mention of the president or Charlottesville. No such statement was issued in Hebrew, the state’s official language and the first language of most Israelis.
Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes said the prime minister’s statement was “unequivocal,” adding that he didn’t expect any further comment.
“I think he made his view on the repugnancy of any neo-Nazism abundantly clear,” Keyes said.
After clashing with President Barack Obama for eight years, Netanyahu welcomed the election of Trump, and he has worked to cultivate a strong relationship with the White House. Trump was warmly welcomed during a brief visit to Israel in May.
Sima Kadmon, with the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote Thursday that after Netanyahu turned Trump “into the greatest friend of Israel in history — how can Netanyahu now issue a condemnation and…