Donald Trump, the American real estate mogul and reality TV star, has publicly endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party, in a video posted on YouTube on Tuesday by Israeli political operative Jonny Daniels. Likud is widely expected to come out on top in the Israeli elections, which take place next week on Jan. 22.
In the video, Trump appears in his office in Manhattan, and says he is “a big fan of Israel.”
“Frankly, a strong prime minister is a strong Israel,” Trump says, “and you truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu – there’s nobody like him! He’s a winner; he’s highly respected; he’s highly thought of by all.
“People really do have great, great respect for what’s happened in Israel. So vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”
The endorsement makes Trump the first high-profile American to publicly take sides in an Israeli election, at a time when Israel has been fast losing support in the international community over its policies toward the Palestinian Territories. The government’s military action last November against Hamas in Gaza and plans for building settlements in the E1 section of the West Bank, while mostly supported within the country, have drawn the ire of the U.N. and international community.
“Here in Israel, Netanyahu’s been attacked for weakening ties with America,” Daniels said. “Trump’s endorsement proves that we still have support among the American people."
Despite Trump's somewhat eccentric reputation in the United States, an endorsement in Israel could carry a lot of weight. "Trump is viewed in Israel as a major celebrity," Daniels said. "He’s known as a businessman and personality, and people really take what he has to say seriously."
During Operation Pillar of Defense – the conflict that broke out in November between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza – 68 percent of Americans said they supported Israeli efforts over those of Hamas, according to a poll taken by the Times of Israel.
The Donald himself was not available for comment, but Trump is a self-proclaimed “ardent Zionist” and longtime supporter of Israel. He even admitted via Twitter that U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he otherwise virulently opposes, “did a good job” supporting Operation Pillar of Defense at the end of November 2012.
Shortly after abandoning his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Trump met with Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Mieszhnikov in the U.S. to discuss the possibility of investing in Israeli tourism and real estate, the Israeli outlet YNet News reported at the time.
In June 2012, Trump also met with Likud party member Danny Danon, a rising right-wing star in Israeli politics. Danon told Trump that Israel was “grateful for your actions".
Previously in May 2008, Trump’s daughter Ivanka also paid a visit, her first, to the Jewish state to scout out the Israeli real estate market and drum up support from Israeli investors for a new Trump project in the States. Ivanka Trump is also married to Jared Kushner, a Jewish-American businessman and son of real estate mogul Charles Kushner, who invests heavily in Israel.
In recent years, Trump has taken a more active role in U.S. politics, most notably with the right-wing tea party movement. He has endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election; however this is his first endorsement of a politician outside the U.S.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Maya covers the U.N., Europe, and the Middle East for IBTimes. She joined the company in July 2012 after having previously worked with DNAinfo.com and Gawker.