NEW YORK — American billionaire and television personality Donald Trump made his views on the Israeli election known on Tuesday when he released an online video with a glowing endorsement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“My name is Donald Trump and I’m a big fan of Israel,” Trump tells the camera in the 36-second video.
“And frankly, a strong prime minister is a strong Israel,” Trump continues, echoing almost perfectly the Netanyahu campaign slogan: “A strong prime minister, a strong Israel.”
“You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu — there’s nobody like him,” he opines. “He’s a winner. He’s highly respected. He’s highly thought of by all. And people really do have great, great respect for what’s happened in Israel.
“So vote for Benjamin,” Trump urges. “Terrific guy, terrific leader. Great for Israel.”
Trump famously endorsed Mitt Romney for US president in February 2012, a commendation that may have actually hurt Romney, according to a Pew poll in January. According to the poll, there were more “definite” and “likely” Republican voters who said a Trump endorsement would sour them on a candidate (20%) than said it would encourage them to support the candidate (13%). About two-thirds (64%) said it made no difference.
It is unclear if the video will garner Netanyahu any support among the Israeli electorate, who will decide his political fortunes on January 22, but it is almost certain to draw fire from Netanyahu’s critics in the United States, where Trump has been a controversial and sometimes fringe conservative voice. He has made news in recent years by lending his support to conspiracy theories that suggest Obama was not born in the United States, which would make him unable to serve as president. (The state of Hawaii has released documents proving Obama’s birth there.)
The video was funded and produced by JDPR, an Israeli public relations firm owned by Jonny Daniels, an immigrant from England who has also worked with conservative Likud MK Danny Danon.
Trump, described as a “close acquaintance” by Daniels, is “a big supporter of the prime minister. He likes him a lot.”
The video came after “a chat I had [with Trump] about making a video supporting the prime minister. It was my initiative. I paid and put together the whole video.”
It was a response, Daniels said, to “a very clear message people here in Israel are getting” that the world was “constantly pressuring and pushing and saying Bibi is bad for Israel.”
“And we have someone who is a celebrity saying Bibi isn’t bad for Israel… that he’s a good, honest, stand-up guy.”