Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Thursday that he was postponing his planned trip to Israel which had been scheduled for the end of December.
Trump posted on his Twitter account that he was postponing the trip, and his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to “a later date after I become President of the US.”
The postponement of the visit came after Trump stirred up controversy by calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” in light of what he said was “great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.”
The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively on Wednesday that Trump had been planning a visit to the Temple Mount (al-Aqsa mosque compound) during the visit. Such a visit to the holy site could have proven volatile, as Palestinians have often protested Israeli politicians’ visits to the Mount, alleging that Israel is changing the status quo, which Israel denies.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Trump’s remarks regarding Muslims, but officials, prior to the announcement of the trip’s postponement, suggested that the prime minister had not planned on canceling the meeting because of the remarks.
“The State of Israel respects all religions and protects stringently the rights of all its citizens,” a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“At the same time, Israel is struggling with extremist Islam that is attacking Muslims, Christian and Jews as one and is threatening the entire world.”
The statement said Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump was scheduled two weeks ago, and that the PM, previous to that, had established a policy of meeting with every candidate who comes to Israel.
“This policy does not reflect support for the candidates or their policies, but rather expresses the importance that the PM attributes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman confirmed that the prime minister is willing to meet with any US presidential candidate who visits Israel.
But, prior to his announcement that he was postponing the trip, politicians across Israel’s political spectrum allegedly put pressure on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting in light of Trump’s latest remarks.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said such a meeting would be a “slap in the face to Muslim citizens of Israel.”
“It is embarrassing that Netanyahu is willing to legitimize Trump as a reasonable candidate who is worth a meeting with a head of state,” Gal-On said. “Netanyahu’s willingness to meet with Trump despite his serious racist statements authorizes what the prime minister’s statements showed about him long ago: That there has never been such a racist, irresponsible prime minister.”
A petition circulated by Meretz’s Michal Rozin asking that the meeting be canceled was signed by 37 MKs, including two from the coalition: Roy Folkman (Kulanu) and Ya’acov Margi (Shas).
By Lahav Harkov