Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday insisted ties with Mexico ties were strong, as Israeli leaders raced to appease a seething Mexico City over the premier’s Twitter praise for building walls to keep out migrants.
Netanyahu on Saturday posted a Twitter message that read: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
The tweet was perceived as offering an endorsement of US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and sparked a diplomatic rift with Mexico City. The prime minister later denied the post had anything to do with Mexico.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu doubled down on denials that he was injecting himself into the hot-button issue roiling Mexico.
“I did point out the remarkable success of Israel’s security fence,” Netanyahu said at the CyberTech conference in Tel Aviv. “But I did not comment about US-Mexico relations.”
“We’ve had, and will continue to have, good relations with Mexico,” the prime minister said. “And I believe our ties are much stronger than any passing disagreement or misunderstanding. And in fact, I’ve had a long, fruitful and very friendly relationship with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and it will continue.”
President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday was set to speak to his Mexican counterpart in a bid to smooth over the spat.
Rivlin’s planned phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto came a day after Israel’s Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Peled met with Mexico’s deputy foreign minister as part of efforts to soothe Mexico City’s wounded response to the prime minister’s post.
Trump made construction of a controversial anti-immigration wall between the US and Mexico a key plank of his election campaign. One of his first acts after inauguration as president was to sign an executive order to begin work on the wall.
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea
In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Trump appeared to be touting Israel’s border know-how as an example of a successful deterrent to unlawful entry into a country.
“The wall is necessary,” Trump said. “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.”
On Saturday, Mexican officials phoned Jerusalem and angrily demanded a clarification on the tweet.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray called on Netanyahu to apologize Monday, 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.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a communique that it had expressed its “profound surprise, rejection and disappointment in the prime minister’s message on Twitter” to Israel’s ambassador. “Mexico is Israel’s friend and should be treated as such.”
On Monday, Netanyahu denied that his tweet had represented support for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. He told the weekly Likud faction meeting he had merely been responding to Trump’s praise for the Egypt border in the social media post, which was later retweeted by the US president. “Who even mentioned Mexico?” asked the prime minister.
Backtracking after Mexican officials demanded a clarification, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry stressed Saturday that Netanyahu was not commenting on US-Mexican relations.
“[Netanyahu] referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share,” spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon wrote on Twitter. “We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations.”