Amidst the highly charged US political debate over the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a provocative Tweet on Saturday. “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
The backlash began with a reply on Twitter from the most recent U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro who wrote “PM @netanyahu‘s top aide’s told me a key goal in Trump’s era was keeping bipartisan support for Israel. Now this?” Shapiro also suggested another possibility. “Unless this endorsement is Trump’s demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants, the quid pro quo.” Shapiro added, “To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard.”
Many Jewish Democrats — who are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel — expressed concern about Netanyahu’s statement. “The completely unnecessary tweet by the Prime Minister on such a divisive issue that has nothing to do with Israel serves no useful purpose and alienates key constituencies from whom we need support,” Alan Solow, former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, told Jewish Insider. “This tweet also damages our ability to build coalitions to fight against the BDS movement,” he added.
Mark Mellman, President of the Mellman Group and a renowned campaign strategist, offered a similar perspective. According to Mellman, “There are only two possible explanations for that Tweet: One is Netanyahu’s pursuing a purposeful strategy designed to alienate as many Democrats and minorities as possible. The other possibility is that he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of America.”
In his tweet, Netanyahu referred to the wall constructed on Israel’s border with Egypt, also mentioned by President Trump in an interview with Fox News last Thursday. The New York Times noted that the wall has successfully reduced the number of African refugees crossing into Israel from 60,000 between 2012-2015 to only about a dozen last year.
“To insert himself in a purely domestic American political issue that affects Israel in no way, shape or form is just a pretty foolish mistake”
Among pro-Israel Democrats, the Prime Minister’s tweet arrived at a challenging time. Ann Lewis, former White House Communications Director in the Clinton Administration, told Jewish Insider, “All weekend, I’ve watched and cheered crowds with self-identified young Jews protest against Donald Trump’s appalling executive order. These are the values of the young people we work with to maintain support for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East – the country that provides medical care for wounded Syrians, and has just welcomed a number of Syrian refugees. Those are the shared values that keep the relationship strong. The Prime Minister’s tweet doesn’t help.”
“No one should be surprised by Netanyahu’s Tweet praising Trump’s border wall,” Andrew Weinstein, a Florida-based attorney and prominent Democratic donor, told Jewish Insider. “He’s been fawning over Trump since the election, and this is simply the latest episode in their budding political courtship. What is remarkable is Netanyahu impressive gift for needlessly offending Democrats, Mexicans, and a fair number of Israelis in less than 140 characters.”
Weinstein called Netanyahu’s actions a “short-sighted, ill-conceived and ego driven” attempt at cozying up to Trump “with absolutely zero concern for the collateral damage it was certain to cause.” He further cautioned that while Israel will continue to enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, “it seems abundantly clear that Netanyahu’s recent actions are causing harm to Israel’s standing in both America and the international community. That’s truly unfortunate because in these increasingly turbulent times Israel needs all the friends it can get.”
Mellman emphasized that establishing a friendly relationship with a new U.S. President should be encouraged. “But to insert himself (Netanyahu) in a purely domestic American political issue that is highly controversial and highly partisan and affects Israel in no way, shape or form is just a pretty foolish mistake,” he noted.
Speaking at the start of the Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu claimed that his tweet was misinterpreted by the media, according to The Jerusalem Post. “President Trump hailed the fence that was built under my guidance on our border with Egypt. He said that it almost entirely halted illegal infiltrations into Israel. And I said in response that he is right,” he explained, “And in reaction to my comments, he retweeted the things that I said. Analysts made mountains out of that molehill in the media.”