A planned visit to Israel by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump drew a welter of criticism from across the Israeli political spectrum on Wednesday over his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
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During his trip later this month, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The prime minister's bureau said on Wednesday that the meeting has been scheduled a couple of weeks ago, before Trump made his controversial comments. The bureau also said that Netanyahu would meet with any candidate from any party who arrives in Israel and seeks a meeting.
Playing to U.S. fears about radical Islam after the California gun rampage, Trump has shrugged off domestic and international outrage at his comments. He said on Twitter he was “very much looking forward” to visiting Israel by year’s end.
Israeli politicians of various stripes condemned Trump’s remarks and called to block the visit. Thirty-seven Knesset members signed a letter on Wednesday calling on Netanyahu to condemn Trump's remarks and cancel their meeting.
The letter, drafted by MK Michal Rozin, was primarily signed by opposition lawmakers from Meretz, Zionist Union, Joint List and Yesh Atid – as well as two coalition MKs – Yakov Margi of Shas and Roy Folkman of Kulanu.
"While leaders around the world condemn the Republican presidential candidate's racist and outrageous remarks, Netanyahu is warmly embracing him," Rozin said. "Their meeting in the end of the month backs up [Trump's] racist statements, thus disgracing Israel's democratic character and hurting its Muslim citizens."
Earlier, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), who is among the signatories on the letter, said he had asked for the “neo-Nazi” not to be admitted to the Knesset.
That call was echoed by MK Omer Bar-Lev the Zionist Union, who on Twitter deemed the real-estate billionaire turned Republican candidate a “racist.”
The censure was joined by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a senior Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu confidant, described Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims as harmful from an
Israeli and U.S. standpoint.
“I recommend fighting terrorist and extremist Islam, but I would not declare a boycott of, ostracism against or war on Muslims in general,” Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio.
“We in the state of Israel have many Muslim citizens who are loyal,” he said. “On the contrary, the extremists and the terrorists should be distinguished from the loyal citizens, and in the United States, too, there are loyal Muslim citizens.”
Marc Zell, vice-president of Republicans Overseas and a party representative in Israel, had harsh words for Trump.
“He is a demagogue. And we as Jews, and also as Israelis, know what a demogogue is, historically,” Zell told Army Radio in a separate interview, saying he was voicing his own opinion rather than a
formal Republican position.
“The Republican party has a long list of candidates worthy of the presidency, and we have to change the leadership in the White House, which has caused a lot of damage, but Donald Trump is not the answer,” Zell said.
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog declined to join in the protestation against Netanyahu's meeting with Trump, indeed he wouldn't rule out meeting with the Republican hopeful himself. "Trump's statements are shocking and disgusting," Herzog said. He further expressed hope that Trump would learn about coexistence with Muslims from his visit to Israel.
MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), one of two coalition members who signed the letter, told Haaretz that he was unaware of the fact that the meeting was already scheduled. "Had I known that the Prime Minister's Office had already confirmed the meeting, I might have not signed it." He added that while he objected to Trumps comments against women, immigrants, and people with disabilities, he "trusts that the prime minister will know to express this correctly."
There was no immediate response to Trump’s plans from President Reuven Rivlin, who was visiting Washington and scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
On Monday, the White House called on Republicans to say they would not support Trump. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his comments could undermine U.S. security. Trump's Republican rivals joined the condemnation.
The prime ministers of France and the United Kingdom, the United Nations, U.S. Jewish groups and Muslim residents of Asian countries all denounced the real-estate mogul's comments.