Image: Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Netanyahu, Avner Netanyahu
Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads from a prayer book as he stands with his sons Yair, right, and Avner in 2009 at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City.
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updated 6/24/2011 4:08:40 PM ET 2011-06-24T20:08:40

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.

Story: Israel's leaders hole up in nuclear bunker

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.

A global backlash
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.

Power player of the week: Israeli PM Netanyahu

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.

Netanyahu's family in the spotlight
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 held hostage 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.

Story: Hezbollah accuses US of spying for Israel

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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Netanyahu: ‘I will accept a Palestinian state’

  1. Closed captioning of: Netanyahu: ‘I will accept a Palestinian state’

    >>> and president obama continued his hard line on middle east peace , taking a firm line during a press conference with british prime minister david cameron . the two of them earlier today.

    >> my goal, as i said out in the speech i gave last week, is a jewish state of israel that is safe and secure and recognized by its neighbors and a sovereign state of palestine.

    >> the prime minister endorsed what the president had to say by but while he's broad support in yurng the political points were scored here at home by israel 's prime minister, benjamin netanyahu , he captured republicans and key democrat in his address with a joint meeting of congress yesterday. i sat down with the prime minister after that speech and asked him about his differences of opinion with president obama .

    >> i think the president shares with me and i desire to share with him had the desire to move the peace process forward. i said there is one may way to move thing forward. president abbas, the palestinianen authority has to do what i did two years ago two years ago, i spoke to my people and i said i will accept a palestinian state , i think the president abbas has to say these same six words to his people. "i will accept the jewish state ." you know he what i will give him a break, five words, "i accept the jewish state ," because i think if he says that, then that will move the process forward. people will say, okay, with avenue real peace partner and for real peace , we are willing to move and move quickly.

    >> prime minister, the palestinians have already said that what you said today in congress, they have said that your speech was a declaration of war . bus from their perspective, you ruled out any division of jerusalem. you are keeping the west bank . you're not negotiating on refugees they call that a declaration of war . does that leave you and the palestinians completely at odds, stalemated?

    >> i think that's unfortunate, and i think could you see from the reaction of both houses of -- both sides of the aisle and both houses of congress, people were excited. you know why? because i said the truth. because deep down, i mean, the reason we don't have peace is the palestinians have refused to accept the jewish state alongside a palestinian state . i agreed to do that i side my people, i'm willing to do it the palestinian leadership can asked to say these simple words, i will accept the jewish state . believe me, he says that all the walls, all the fences, all the problems will be swept aside and we can negotiate a real peace . i want to have a real peace with somebody who will make peace with me. i don't want to give a state for him to continue the battle against israel way. this conflict to be ended.

    >> all due respect, you in affect, had home court advantage with the united states congress . you have a long record. you are a great politician. you know every button to push with american, democrats and republicans, but that's not the world. the wider world is in upheaval, isn't israel at risk of being isolated, of the u.n. taking action in september to declare a palestinian state ? that's what president obama and his aides said they were trying to ainvestment.

    >> the world is changing. we want to make sure that when we make peace we not only have somebody who will recognize us but that we know that we have a secure border to defend ourselves, not only to defend the peace but to defend ourselves if peace unravels. and i think that we are seeing what is happening in syria. we are swheeg is happening in other places, in egypt. we don't even know whether our peace part flesh there tomorrow, really, tomorrow, not in an abstract notion, so when we say we want mutual recognition and defensible borders for israel , that's really the meat and potatoes of peace . that's what i said today in congress. i was absolutely gratified by the -- really, the universal positive response there, because i think these are the right elements for peace and especially if a changing world. in a changing world, an uncertain world, we have to have anchors of security and recognition to fortify the peace .

    >> prime minister, there was a moment in the oval office on friday, you and the president of the united states and some of your own supporter, friends of israel 's, said that you were lecturing him, that it went too far. you disagree about borders zpurk not like what he did but, in fact, what he said was implicit in what previous presidents have said, they just haven't said it as explicitly and that you seemed to be lecturing and taking such a hard line with the president of the united states . in retrospect, do you think you went too far?

    >> i'm sorry it was interpreted that way, it wasn't my intention. i wasn't lecturing anything anyone. i was speaking about the basic things that requires us to have peace and security and survival. i'm the leader of an old nation. a great nation i said the president a leader of a great nation, the american people and i have the greatest respect for america and for the office of the presidency. believe me, i spent my high school years in philadelphia, i visited the liberty bell many times. america 's a great nation and i have complete respect for it and for its president. i was speaking about those things that the palestinians have to accept, a jewish state , the fact that the refugee problem will be resolved outside israel . we are not going to sent great grandchildren of palestinian refugees , it's crazy. everybody knows it i think it's time to say t and i think we don't want hamas. and the president said as much.

    >> he agrees with you about hamas.

    >> i think it was very important.

    >> why do you think he disagrees with you about the borders? he believes that with land swaps that israel can be well defended, going back to the '67 borders. what is it that divides you and barack obama ? why do you think he has a different vision of what is requireded for israel 's security ? you don't think that he wants israel to not be able to defend himself?

    >> absolutely not. i think he is committed to israel security and said as much, cooperating in security areas in ways the public doesn't know, in many ways and i also appreciated the fact that he spoke about the ironclad commit tonight israel 's security not only before the israel / america lobby but before the arab world twice and i think that's important. i was talking about something that he actually spelled out in the subsequent speech that he gave that israel cannot go back to the '67 lines because those lines rine defensible. israel would be nine miles wide. that's half the width of the washington beltway . we couldn't defend ourselves there and i was glad that the president emphasized this point that we are not going back to the june 4, 1967 --

    >> he thinks those borders can be defended with appropriate land swaps.

    >> if you listen to his statement the next day, he said the line would be different from the 1967 line and i think that was an important emphasis on the president's part.

    >> why were you so angry when you first heard about what he said? issuing a statement before you even got on your plane?

    >> i issued statement that gives our position. i haven't changed my position. it is not a question of anger. usually you don't make decisions in an emotional state . i don't do it i didn't do it this time. i reiterated our positions. i have to make sure that israel can defend itself. we don't have -- we have this tiny country. i said yesterday, today in the congress to vice president biden, an old friend, i said -- i said it's bigger than delaware, but that's about it. so we have to have solid security arrangements, israel has to be able to defend itself to defend the peace and to defend its life and i think the president agrees with that.

    >> prime minister, thank you so much. safe travels.

    >> thank you, andrea. it's good to be with you.

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