Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday denied he had expressed support for US President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall with Mexico, after a tweet by the Israeli leader sparked a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Mexico City.
At the same time, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray reportedly called on Netanyahu to apologize, saying his comments “felt like an act of aggression.”
“We hope that Israel’s government will be sensitive enough to correct Netanyahu’s statement,” Videgaray said.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu appeared to back Trump’s plan, pointing to Israel’s success in reducing illegal migration with the construction of a border fence with Egypt.
“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” Netanyahu wrote in English on Twitter on Saturday, in a post that drew an angry response from Mexico.
On Monday, the prime minister told the weekly Likud faction meeting he was merely responding to Trump’s praise for the Egypt border in the social media post, which was later retweeted by the US president.
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea
Pundits, said Netanyahu, later made the issue about Israel-Mexico ties.
“Who even mentioned Mexico?” said the prime minister.
Israel had already walked back Netanyahu’s tweet a few hours later after Mexico, which has warred with Trump over the wall idea, sharply criticized the comment.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a communique that it had expressed to Israel’s ambassador its “profound surprise, rejection and disappointment in the prime minister’s message on Twitter. Mexico is Israel’s friend and should be treated as such.”
Israel’s ambassador to Mexico Jonathan Peled will be summoned for a meeting with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso on Monday and is expected to receive an angry dressing-down.
Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, Netanyahu blamed the media for the controversy, accusing them of manufacturing “a flood of fake news.”
“It doesn’t surprise me. The media is left-wing, mobilized on a Bolshevik hunt [against me], [dedicated to] brainwashing, and character assassination against me and my family,” said Netanyahu.
He further charged that Israel’s press was pressuring the attorney general and law enforcement agencies “to indict me at any price,” referring to various police investigations against him on suspicions of graft.
“There has been nothing like it in the history of the state. It’s doubtful there was anything similar in the history of other democratic countries,” said Netanyahu.
Following Netanyahu’s tweet, Israel’s Foreign Ministry was quick to clarify that the prime minister was not injecting himself into the debate on the US-Mexico wall.
“[Netanyahu] referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share,” spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon wrote on Twitter.
.@IsraeliPM referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share.We do not express a position on US- Mexico relations
— Emmanuel Nahshon (@EmmanuelNahshon) January 28, 2017
“We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations.”
However Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, speculated that the new president “is already squeezing Netanyahu hard,” positing the tweet was part of a quid pro quo between them.
6/ To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard. "The Art of the Deal." xx
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) January 28, 2017
Trump last week had addressed Israel’s wall know-how in an interview with Fox News.
“The wall is necessary,” Trump said Thursday. “That’s not just politics, and yet it is good for the heart of the nation in a certain way, because people want protection and a wall protects. All you’ve got to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”