Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu dodged answering whether he supported former US president Donald Trump’s planned bid to retake the White House Sunday, citing both appreciation for the one-time ally and disapproval of his recent dalliance with antisemitic figures.
Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu pointedly refused to back Trump, marking a stark but predictable departure from his previously vocal and unabashed allegiance to the former American leader.
“Keep me out of it,” Netanyahu joked when asked by Chuck Todd about whether he wanted to see Trump back in the Oval Office, calling the question a “landmine.”
“I’ll deal with anyone who’s elected president, those that I worked with in the past, and anyone new who comes to the plate, because the bond between Israel and America … it really is a bond between peoples and a civilizational bond, and it’s strong,” added Netanyahu, who is expected to return as premier backed by far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies.
His comments came as Trump has been buffeted by criticism due to a recent dinner at which he hosted antisemitic rapper Kanye West and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, which has caused a number of past Trump backers to publicly distance themselves from the ex-president. He is also accused of fomenting the violent storming of the US Capitol by his supporters in 2021, and continues to reject the outcome of the elections that ousted him.
Netanyahu — who was accused over the past decade of favoring Republicans over Democrats, with whom he often disagreed — fostered close ties with Trump during his presidency.
As premier, Netanyahu lavished praise on Trump, calling him Israel’s greatest-ever friend in the White House and saying ties between Jerusalem and Washington were never better than under the real estate mogul, who won plaudits by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and downgrading ties with the Palestinians.
He repeated that praise during the NBC interview but also criticized the dinner with West and Fuentes, saying it was “wrong.”
“On this matter, on Kanye West and that other unacceptable guest, I think it’s not merely unacceptable, it’s just wrong. And I hope he sees his way to staying out of it and condemning it,” Netanyahu said.
Though allowing that West’s recent outbursts may be down to “personality” issues rather than views, Netanyahu stressed that “whoever says it for whatever reason it is wrong. You don’t praise Hitler. Hitler was the greatest mass murderer of all time.”
“Anybody who praises him is wrong. Anybody who meets with him and gives it legitimacy is wrong,” he said.
Netanyahu added he doubts that Trump will continue to fraternize with open antisemites “because he probably understands it crosses a line.”
In his recent autobiography, which he plugged during the interview, Netanyahu described the challenges he had in getting Trump to see his point of view on the Middle East and peace with the Palestinians, including convincing the president that he does want peace and that it is the Palestinians who don’t, rather than the other way around.
Trump, at one point, when meeting then-Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, “blurted out, ‘Bibi doesn’t want peace,’” Netanyahu wrote. “This was not ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ This was ‘Houston, we are the problem!’”
Trump, meanwhile, called Netanyahu “disloyal” for congratulating US President Joe Biden on his election victory, which ousted the Republican.
Trump said Netanyahu’s congratulatory message to Biden came too quickly after the election results were announced, results he continues to contest to this day.
“He was very early. Like earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. Fuck him,” Trump said in a 2021 interview with journalist Barak Ravid.
Netanyahu was also quizzed in the Sunday interview about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said addressing the Ukraine issue is one of the first things he will look at if he becomes prime minister, but noted the importance of balancing the concerns of Ukraine with security relations with Russia on Israel’s operations in the Middle East.
Netanyahu said he was approached to mediate a resolution between Russia and Ukraine “about a year ago,” but he declined because he was not the prime minister of Israel at the time. He did not say who approached him.
“I can tell you that I was approached, about a year ago, to enter this and I said ‘No,’ there’s one prime minister at the time. Our prime minister tried his hand at it at the time, unsuccessfully, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” Netanyahu said.
Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett made a number of attempts to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow shortly after the start of the invasion in February.
On internal Israeli politics, Netanyahu vowed he would not allow harm to come to LGBT rights in Israel amid growing concern over his coalition deal with the homophobic Noam party, which granted the faction’s chairman authority over the Education Ministry unit responsible for informal education at Israeli schools.
“I just won’t accept any of that. It’s not something I’m saying now — I have a record now and a record in general of having two hands on the wheel… I ultimately decide policy,” Netanyahu said when asked about Noam MK Avi Maoz, who is set to become a deputy minister with some control of education programs for students.
The interview was one of three Netanyahu has given in recent days to the US press. A number of American outlets have highlighted fears over the hardline lawmakers slated to take up key positions in Israel’s next government.
The Likud leader has yet to give similar interviews to the Israeli press.
I joined The Times of Israel after many years covering US and Israeli politics for Hebrew news outlets.
I believe responsible coverage of Israeli politicians means presenting a 360 degree view of their words and deeds – not only conveying what occurs, but also what that means in the broader context of Israeli society and the region.
That’s hard to do because you can rarely take politicians at face value – you must go the extra mile to present full context and try to overcome your own biases.
I’m proud of our work that tells the story of Israeli politics straight and comprehensively. I believe Israel is stronger and more democratic when professional journalists do that tough job well.
Your support for our work by joining The Times of Israel Community helps ensure we can continue to do so.
Tal Schneider, Political Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel ten years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel