Minister says US President Donald Trump is best American leader Israel has ever had and should not be 'harmed'
An Israeli cabinet minister has said relations with US President Donald Trump take priority over condemning neo-Nazis, justifying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's muted response to events in Charlottesville.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of being slow to condemn extremism and anti-Semitism at US far-right protests, having only done so in a single tweet - three days after the rally in the Virginia town that ended in bloodshed.
Ayoub Kara, the communications minister and a vocal Netanyahu supporter, said in remarks published on Friday in the Jerusalem Post that backing Trump was a strategic must for Israel's right-wing government.
"Due to the terrific relations with the US, we need to put the declarations about the Nazis in the proper proportion," Kara told the English-language newspaper.
"We need to condemn anti-Semitism and any trace of Nazism, and I will do what I can as a minister to stop its spread. But Trump is the best US leader Israel has ever had.
"His relations with the prime minister of Israel are wonderful, and after enduring the terrible years of (Barack) Obama, Trump is the unquestioned leader of the free world, and we must not accept anyone harming him."
We need to condemn anti-Semitism and any trace of Nazism, and I will do what I can as a minister to stop its spread. But Trump is the best US leader Israel has ever had
- Ayoub Kara, communications minister
Netanyahu regularly speaks out against anti-Semitism in other countries, but the United States is Israel's most important ally, providing it with more than $3bn per year in defence aid as well as key diplomatic backing.
Detractors have accused him of sacrificing his moral responsibility, especially to the US Jewish community, for strategic interests.
Kara, who is Druze, was criticised by members of the Knesset, the paper reported.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit said, “Kara, Netanyahu and their government lost their way: Israel has to condemn Nazis, period, and it should insist that the US president and the administration should condemn Nazis and any form of anti-Semitism categorically and unequivocally."
“What Kara said was nonsense,” said Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai.
“Our relations with the US and with the president are important, but Israel also has a deep obligation to the American Jewish community. This is the time to prove our shared values and make unequivocally clear that Israel will fight anti-Semitism at any time and any place.”
The protests last weekend saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists protesting outside a synagogue, chanting anti-Semitic slogans and giving the Nazi salute.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu released his only response so far to the rally.
"Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred," the premier posted in English.
Trump has since reiterated earlier controversial claims that there was fault on "both sides", but Netanyahu has not commented further.
Trump's arrival in office in January was saluted by Netanyahu's government, considered the most right-wing in Israel's history, after a testy eight years with his predecessor Obama who often pressured the prime minster over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.