Mexico’s Jewish community deserves applause for its strong rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement in support of an order by President Donald Trump to build a wall on the Mexican border. Mexico’s Jewish leaders did the right thing, and forced Netanyahu to begin to regret his action.
The Israeli prime minister tweeted Jan. 28 that “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. I stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
Netanyahu’s statement made big headlines in Mexico and Israel, driving the Mexican government to issue a complaint to the Israeli government. The Mexican government is not free of blame in its ties with Israel, however.
Hours later, Mexico’s Jewish community leaders issued a statement, saying, “We do not agree with him (Netanyahu) on this particular point, and categorically reject his stand.” Among those signing the statement: Moises Romano, president of the Central Committee of the Jewish Community in Mexico.
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Mexican Jewish leaders were shocked that Netanyahu compared Trump’s proposed extension of the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to Israel’s wall separating it from Palestinian territories.
Unlike in Israel’s case, there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States perpetrated by Mexicans, or by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who entered U.S. territory from Mexico. Many critics describe Trump’s border wall proposal as racist demagoguery.
In a public letter to Netanyahu, Mexican rabbi Marcelo Rittner wrote Jan. 29 that “I regard your statement as alien to Jewish principles of brotherhood and justice, and on the other hand it shows a lack of knowledge about the situation between the two countries. Mexico is not at war with its neighbor.”
Simultaneously, dozens of angry Mexican Jewish donors called Keren Hayesod (United Israel Appeal), an official Israeli fundraising organization, to complain about Netanyahu’s tweet, and several said they were suspending their contributions, Israel’s Jerusalem Post reported Monday.
Many Israelis feel that Netanyahu is endangering their country’s future by putting all of its eggs in the Trump basket.
“The upshot is that Netanyahu’s tweet, and his strategy more generally, threaten to link Israel’s fate to that of a demagogue whose willful disregard of the truth and willingness to victimize a minority should send chills through any Jewish leader,” said an article by Ezra Zuckerman Sivan in the Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Faced with an avalanche of criticism, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said that Netanyahu’s tweet was not trying to intervene in the U.S.-Mexico dispute. Later, Netanyahu himself tried to distance himself from his tweet, claiming that he had not referred specifically to Mexico. On Tuesday, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who is largely a ceremonial figure, called Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and said that the whole issue had been a “misunderstanding.”
My opinion: It’s possible that the Israeli prime minister’s tweet was revenge against the Mexican government for its initial vote in favor of a shameful October 2016 pro-Palestinian UNESCO resolution that essentially denied Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. Mexico later retroactively changed its vote for an abstention, but the damage was done.
It is also possible that Netanyahu wrote his tweet at the request of Trump, who is being clobbered by foreign leaders for his border wall and his travel ban on people from seven Muslim countries with the exception of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the biggest exporter of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Even normally subdued Canada has criticized Trump’s immigration measures.
For the record, every country has the right to build a wall within its territory. The stupidity about Trump’s wall is that it will be a waste of money because many undocumented immigrants arrive by plane with tourist visas, and because illegal immigration from Mexico has been declining for years.
In addition, Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for the wall is a provocation, because no country has the right to ask a neighbor to pay for its political whims, and the demand is shrouded in not-so-thinly veiled racist rhetoric.
Mexico’s Jewish community deserves applause for what it did, and Netanyahu should openly apologize for his senseless tweet.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org.