Netanyahu, weighing in on Mexico controversy, says walls are a ‘great idea’
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Netanyahu, weighing in on Mexico controversy, says walls are a ‘great idea’

Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's president, speaking during a panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2016. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, speaking during a panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2016. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on President Donald Trump’s proposal for a wall along the Mexican border, saying Israel’s fence along its Egyptian border proved that separation barriers to stop migrants from entering are a “great idea.”

“President Trump is right,” Netanyahu said on Twitter on Saturday morning. “I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” The tweet featured American and Israeli flag icons.

Trump’s executive order last week to start building the wall – fulfilling one of his campaign promises – has already stirred controversy, leading to a diplomatic crisis with Mexico. Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, canceled a planned meeting with Trump subsequent to the order.

Defending the order last week, Trump cited Israel’s experience. “A wall protects,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday. “All you have to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”

Trump’s White House account on Saturday afternoon retweeted Netanyahu’s tweet.

A number of things remain unclear about Trump’s interview, and Netanyahu’s subsequent affirmation. Trump did not specify whether he was referring to the barrier Israel erected in the 2000s in the West Bank, or to the one lining the Israel-Egypt border. And it’s not clear what Netanyahu was saying was “right”: Trump’s proposal for the wall with Mexico, or merely Trump’s apparent assessment that Israel’s barrier with Egypt is a success.

Israel’s foreign ministry – also nominally helmed by Netanyahu – subsequently sought to suggest that Netanyahu was not pronouncing on the Mexico wall per se.

“.‪@IsraeliPM referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share,” Emmanuel Nahshon, the foreign ministry spokesman, said in a tweet. “We do not express a position on US- Mexico relations.”

Netanyahu’s intervention could anger Democrats, already wary of the prime minister because of his years of tensions with former President Barack Obama.

“This is very troubling to hear from the Israeli Prime Minister,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said in a tweet, flagging ‪@AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is endeavoring to smooth ties with Democrats, and especially the Hispanics and blacks among them.

Daniel Shapiro, who weeks ago just completed a term as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, expressed bafflement at Netanyahu weighing in on the issue.

“PM ‪@netanyahu’s top aides told me a key goal in Trump’s era was keeping bipartisan support for Israel. Now this?” Shapiro said in a sequence of tweets. “Israel’s challenges with Sinai border not similar to US border. Their solution (a fence, not a wall) works for them, would not for us.”

Among the groups objecting to Trump’s proposed wall are major Jewish civil rights groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

“Construction of a new border wall, even should Congress approve funding for such a costly project, may not be the most efficient way of assuring border security,” the AJC said in statement Thursday.

“In fact, it may adversely affect the existing robust and extensive economic and other ties between the U.S. and Mexico,” the statement said. “U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement authorities have a productive record of jointly fighting organized crime, drug trafficking, and violence through exchange of information and intelligence. The two countries have redoubled their cooperation on the border, establishing a bi-national security communications network that includes coordinated patrols between the Mexican Federal Police and the U.S. Border Patrol.”

The ADL has not yet pronounced on the specifics of Trump’s order to build the wall, but is on the record opposing the idea. A wall would “be impractical and very likely ineffective,” it says in an entry on its immigration facts page, and counsels “a process for addressing immigration that treats immigrants with dignity and respect instead of as criminals.”

Israel’s barrier with Egypt is a fence completed in 2013 aimed at keeping out migrants from Africa, and also to be part of a security system protecting Israel from increased militant Islamic activity on the Egyptian side of the border. The length of the Israel-Egypt border is about 165 miles. The length of the Mexico-U.S. border is just shy of 2,000 miles.