After Trump shares Netanyahu billboard pic, US insists it’s not backing anyone

US embassy in Israel says president’s repost is a reflection of ‘strong relationship’ between leaders, not meddling in Israeli elections

Likud billboard on the side of the busy Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2019. The title reads 'Netanyahu, in a different league.' (Courtesy)
Likud billboard on the side of the busy Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2019. The title reads 'Netanyahu, in a different league.' (Courtesy)

The Trump administration does not favor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Knesset elections, the US embassy in Jerusalem said Tuesday, despite US President Donald Trump sharing a picture of a campaign billboard depicting him with the Israeli premier.

Giant billboards showing Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands went up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem earlier this week, sparking claims that the US may be interfering in Israel’s elections. Those fears ramped up Tuesday after Trump shared a Netanyahu picture of the billboard on Instagram.

The billboard from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party shows the two leaders together under the headline “Netanyahu, in a different league,” with “The Likud” at the bottom.

The slogan likely refers to Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, who in 2018 fulfilled an election promise and moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move was widely praised by Zionist parties across Israel’s normally very partisan political spectrum.

An embassy spokesperson said that the Instagram repost was a reflection of close ties between Netanyahu and Trump.

“It’s no secret that POTUS [Trump] and PM Netanyahu have a strong relationship based upon mutual respect and that they reflect the mutual admiration and affection of the American and Israeli people,” a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel.

“The administration is not endorsing any candidate.”

There was no comment from Trump attached to the repost. It had garnered 97,000 likes on the image-sharing social network within five hours of posting.

Israelis will go the polls on April 9 in an election largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has been in power for nearly a decade.

The picture, which is doctored to show the the leaders as the same height, is taken from a Trump Tower meeting two months before the real estate mogul was elected US president in 2016.

Netanyahu was criticized at the time for the meeting, which was seen by some as an attempt to interfere in the US election. Many in Trump’s evangelical base are also staunch supporters of Netanyahu.

The prime minister has been seen as trying to play up his diplomatic achievements ahead of the vote, including his relationship with Trump and other world leaders, who have followed the US president’s populist strongman mold.

Benny Gantz, head of the ‘Israel Resilience’ party, seen during an electoral campaign tour in Rishon Lezion on February 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu is expected to visit the US in late March for the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference, where he will likely seek a meeting with Trump.

Netanyahu’s main challenger is political newcomer Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff.

Polls taken after Gantz’s maiden campaign speech on January 29 showed his Israel Resilience party closing in on Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the elections, though still six to nine seats behind. Potentially of more significance, a Channel 12 poll showed that a Gantz-headed alliance with the fellow centrist Yesh Atid party would win 35 seats to the Likud’s 30 in the 120-member Knesset. In such a scenario, Gantz could be well-placed to become prime minister.

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