Netanyahu Staff Counted Angry Emoticons on Facebook Before Killing Israel's Refugee Deal, Report Says

Israel suspended a deal with the U.N. refugee agency to take in African asylum seekers after a strong negative response on Facebook to the plans.

The prime minister's office had earlier announced on Monday a plan to resettle 16,000 refugees and migrants in Israel, along with other Western countries such as Canada.

The deal with the U.N. high commissioner for refugees' office (UNHCR) would also have confirmed the legal status of those remaining in Israel and canceled the mass deportation of asylum seekers.

But only hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Facebook to announce the deal was off. "I've decided to suspend implementation of this accord and to rethink the terms of this accord," the Facebook post read.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on April 2. On Monday, he suspended a deal to keep African refugees in the country, only hours after announcing it. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Netanyahu's chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat brokered the deal with the UNHCR.

But some members of his Likud party had vehemently opposed the move, while Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the far-right Jewish Home party, said it would turn Israel "into a paradise for infiltrators."

The newspaper Haaretz reported that a considerable backlash from within Likud and right-wing supporters led to the decision, with emojis on Netanyahu's Facebook page signaling a level of discontent that could translate to a slump in support.

The paper described how "Netanyahu was bleeding support after thousands of angry emojis punctuated the video clip that tried to explain the decision logically."

It was intended to replace a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in exchange for cash, which became controversial when it emerged that the deportations could happen by force. About 25,000 people protested in Tel Aviv against such a move, which posed a public relations problem for the Israeli government.

Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya near Tel Aviv, told The New York Times that "for someone considered such a political genius to make such a miscalculation, that's the surprising part of the story."

"To sign an agreement and the next day to renege on it, that's awful. I guess that means you can't sign anything with Israel," he added.

Around 35,000 African migrants are said to be in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan.

On Tuesday, African migrants protested outside the prime minister's office. Eritrean Berhane Negasi said to The Jerusalem Post, "What's going to happen? Bibi [Netanyahu] keeps going in a zigzag, he makes a decision and then hours later goes back on it. It's not fair to us."

The UNHCR said it "continues to believe that a win-win agreement that would both benefit Israel and people needing asylum is in everyone's best interests. And we encourage the government of Israel to consider the matter further."