It’s difficult to comprehend what was going through Benjamin Netanyahu’s head when he tweeted his praise for Donald Trump’s plan to build along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps the prime minister thought he was doing the new U.S. president a favor that he could collect on later. Perhaps Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who today is as close to the White House as he is to the Prime Minister’s Office, pressured him. Perhaps Netanyahu wanted to seize the opportunity to boast about the fence that Israel built on its southern border. And perhaps, as evidenced also in his resuscitation of the land expropriation bill, the police investigations into a number of corruption allegations in which he is implicated are impairing his judgment.
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In any case, the tweet was foolish and damaging. Netanyahu insinuated himself into a domestic political controversy in the United States and stood up for Trump and against Mexico. He created a serious diplomatic crisis with Mexico and sparked an outburst of anti-Semitism, angering and frightening Mexico’s Jewish community. And to add insult to injury, Netanyahu also refused a request by Interior Minister Arye Dery, who listens closely to the large Syrian-Jewish community in Mexico City, to apologize and smooth things over. Perhaps Netanyahu is following in Trump’s footsteps, refusing on principle to apologize because he sees it as a sign of weakness.
We can understand Netanyahu’s desire to get closer to the new president. This serves vital Israeli interests and also reflects Netanyahu’s personal joy over the departure of President Barack Obama. But there is a big difference between a graduated move toward closer relations and self-deprecation, flattery and improper conduct.
Netanyahu’s clumsy attempt to imitate Trump’s halting and inarticulate Twitter style is embarrassing, but inserting himself into a pointed political controversy in the United States is the very definition of recklessness. Netanyahu sabotaged ties with the Democratic Party and a considerable portion of the American public when, two years ago, he made an end run around Obama and addressed Congress on the nuclear deal with Iran. But at least that involved a vital Israeli interest, while now he has pitched in to support a Republican president without any visible justification or logic.
The prime minister should avoid overly identifying with Trump. After just 10 days in office, the new president is already hated abroad and controversial in the United States. His recent steps against Muslim immigration sparked unprecedented anger and brought masses of Americans to the streets in protest.
Ignoring the Jewish component of the Holocaust, which is borderline Holocaust denial, enraged Jews on both the right and the left. If Netanyahu does not have the courage to criticize Trump, at least let him have the wisdom to keep quiet.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.