Netanyahu and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The crisis in Israeli-Mexican relations and Israel’s ties with Mexico’s Jewish community all started when US President Donald Trump praised Netanyahu for building a wall on Israel’s southern border during an interview.
Trump used the Israeli example – which helped stop refugees, asylum seekers and infiltrators from Africa – to argue for a similar project to be erected along America’s southern border with Mexico.
In response, Netanyahu tweeted, “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
Netanyahu’s tweet got additional exposure after Trump re-tweeted it.
Whatever Netanyahu’s intention, the tweet aroused the ire of the Mexican government, sparked a wave of antisemitic verbal attacks on Mexican social media and sowed fear and anger within Mexico’s Jewish community.
The prime minister could have clarified his comments.
He could have emphasized that he had no intention of getting involved in the controversial issue of Trump’s proposed wall. He could have apologized to the Jewish community for making statements that gave a mistaken impression and caused the Jews of Mexico unnecessary anguish and discomfort.
Instead, Netanyahu chose the route of defiance.
He lashed out once again at the press, accusing it of exaggerating the importance of the incident. Even for Netanyahu, the language used was over the top: The press was “Bolshevik” and engaging in “brainwashing” according to the prime minister. This was a continuation of Netanyahu’s strategy of deflecting legitimate criticism by appealing to his right-wing constituency’s lack of faith in the “radical left-wing” press.
But as Interior Minister Aryeh Deri noted, the outrage in Mexico was very real and had nothing to do with slanted press coverage of Netanyahu’s tweets. As The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon pointed out, “Even before pundits began writing about the tweet and its impact on Israeli-Mexican relations, the Mexican Foreign Ministry released a statement conveying its “deepest dismay, rejection and disappointment’” over the tweet. Members of the Jewish community in Mexico, who rarely take issue publicly with Israeli policies, slammed Netanyahu’s tweet.
Deri attempted to defuse the situation, first by convincing Netanyahu to apologize and later, when he realized Netanyahu would not budge, by sending out an apology of his own in Hebrew and Spanish.
“I’ve just spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu about the need to continue the warm relationship between Israel and Mexico,” he wrote. “The prime minister told me that Israel hasn’t intervened in the dispute between the US and Mexico over paying for the fence. We’ll continue to strengthen our relationship with Mexico, where many members of the Jewish people live with dignity.”
This is the same Deri who claimed Trump’s election and the rise of the Right in America heralded the coming of the Messiah.
“If such as miracle can happen,” Deri said at a rally in Ashdod in November, “we have already reached the days of the Messiah. Therefore, we are really in the era of the birth pangs of the Messiah when everything has been flipped to the good of the Jewish people.”
But even Deri did not allow his Messianic meanderings about the coming of Trump to override hardheaded pragmatism. Netanyahu, in contrast, seemed to be taking his cue from Trump’s truculent disregard for well-intentioned criticism.
The prime minister should in the future refrain from making statements that needlessly entangle him in controversies that do not concern Israel – such as the debate in America over the building of a wall along the border with Mexico. Instead of theatrical and hyperbolic attacks on the press, he should also be more open to criticism, particularly when it comes from within his own government or from vulnerable Diaspora communities that are forced to suffer the consequences of off-the-cuff twitter comments.