US President Donald Trump on Tuesday retweeted a photo of a campaign billboard in Jerusalem featuring himself shaking hands with incumbent Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House immediately put out a statement insisting the tweet was not an endorsement of Netanyahu in Israel's upcoming national election.
“It’s no secret that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a strong relationship based upon mutual respect and that they reflect the mutual admiration and affection of the American and Israeli people,” read the statement, passed on Tuesday by the White House and the US Embassy in Israel to various news outlets. “The administration is not endorsing any candidate.”
The billboard, several versions of which are now plastered across Israel's major cities, reads, “Netanyahu. In Another League,” which is intended to mean that, like Trump, Netanyahu is far more successful in politics than any of his challengers. Israel will hold national elections on April 9. According to most polls, Netanyahu is expected to win.
In his 5,200-word State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Trump mentioned Israel only once in a 16-word sentence praising his transfer of the US Embassy. “My Administration recognized the true capital of Israel — and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem” was the only time Israel was mentioned. The Palestinians were not mentioned at all.
In recent history, all American presidents have made it a point during the State of the Union to express their strong commitment to Israel’s defense and to bolster the strategic and historic alliance between the US and the Jewish state. Some have wondered if Trump’s exclusion of full-throated support for Israel was a sign that he sees no political advantage in advocating for Israel at a time when there is not much in the news to attract his, or the American publics', attention. Others wonder if he does not want to be too closely linked to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is under investigation for bribery and fraud, and may soon be facing criminal charges.
On the other hand, Trump had much to say (400 words) about the “poison of antisemitism” in the US. He called out by name a number of survivors of recent antisemitic attacks whom he had invited to attend the address. He also spoke about the American soldiers who had liberated Nazi concentration camps. In an emotional moment, Trump pointed out that in the audience were both one of the soldiers who had liberated Dachau, and one of the survivors from the Nazi death camp.