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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) waves upon his arrival at a Cyber security conference in Tel Aviv, Israel January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner


By Maayan Lubell and Luke Baker

(Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't just appreciate Donald Trump's politics. He is starting to sound like him on Twitter.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has increasingly taken to social media to make policy statements. He also uses it to deride the Israeli media for its reporting on him.

"It's fun. I enjoy it," he told the foreign media at a gathering last month. While he fully supported press freedom and the right to criticise, he added: "Guess what? We should have the freedom to criticise them, and that's what I do on occasion. And it's a lot of fun."

In recent weeks, in the build up to Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration and in the days since, some of Netanyahu's posts have adopted the president's unmistakable rat-a-tat syntax.

"President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea," Netanyahu tweeted on Jan. 28, posting pictures of the U.S. and Israeli flags next to each other.

Trump retweeted it to his 23 million followers, contributing to it getting far more attention than Netanyahu's tweets normally do: 53,000 retweets and more than 100,000 likes.

The ramping-up of Netanyahu's presence on Twitter and Facebook has largely taken place since he appointed a new English-language spokesman in early 2016 - American-born David Keyes, who has a background in online video campaigns.

"He speaks directly to the people and can bypass the often deeply biased traditional media," Keyes said last month. "The prime minister's innovative use of social media is making Israel accessible and understood to countless people around the globe."

The 67-year-old prime minister also employs a 24-year-old, Topaz Luk, as director of social media strategy.

The right-wing Israeli leader has dreamed of a Republican in the White House throughout his four terms in office, including three awkward years with Bill Clinton and eight years of dust-ups with Barack Obama. Obama's term ended with Netanyahu using Twitter to accuse the outgoing president of secretly backing an anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Trump has promised to carry out policies that Netanyahu has long sought, such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, rethinking a nuclear accord with Iran and keeping quiet while Israel builds more settlements. The two men will meet in Washington on Feb. 15.


Netanyahu's critics say social media can cause trouble when posts are misunderstood.

In the case of his tweet about Trump and walls, it prompted a formal protest by the Mexican government, which saw Netanyahu as taking sides on a bilateral issue by supporting Trump's plan to build a wall on the U.S. southern border.

Netanyahu said he was not commenting on U.S.-Mexican relations or the wisdom of Trump's wall, simply responding to comments from Trump that praised Israel's own wall-building.

Trump may have been referring to the concrete-and-steel barrier Israel has built along and inside the occupied West Bank, which Israel refuses to call a "wall" at all, and which Palestinians regard as an illegal land grab.

The wall Netanyahu boasted about in his reply is a smaller, less controversial steel barrier on the border with Egypt largely designed to stop illegal migrants from Africa.

But whatever the source of the misunderstanding, Netanyahu knew who to blame.

"The left-wing media is engaged in a Bolshevik hunt, brainwashing and character assassination against me and my family," he said in Hebrew, before going on to invoke one of Trump's favourite phrases.

"It happens every day and night. They are producing about us a flood, there is no other word for it, a flood of fake news."

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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