Israel’s State Archive Makes Retraction: Trump May Not Have Visited Israel in 1989

State Archive published documents on the U.S. president's visit to Israel in 1989, but now say visit may have been canceled at last minute

Donald Trump waves to reporters with his wife, Ivana, as they board their luxury yacht on July 4, 1988.
Marty Lederhandler / AP

Israel’s State Archive has retracted a previous claim that U.S. President Donald Trump visited Israel as a private citizen in 1989.

Instead, it stated, the archive’s “Trump File” documents preparations for a visit that may not have t happen in the end.

A review by Haaretz of press archives from that period indicates that Trump was indeed planning to visit Israel in 1989, but apparently canceled his trip at the last moment over fears that the coalition crisis in Israel would hurt his business dealings. Thus, contrary to a previous Haaretz article, it is likely that Trump’s coming visit to Israel will be the first time he has set foot in the country.

The State Archive released a collection of historic documents called the Trump File. The archive described them as evidence of “Trump’s first and not well-publicized visit to Israel.” The file included documentation of preparations for the planned visit.

The documents include official documents of the Foreign Ministry, including a detailed timetable of the visit. Trump was to visit Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Finance Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. He was going to tour Eilat and the Dead Sea, and was slated to look into various investments, among them building a casino.

Haaretz’s article, based on the archival material, asserted that Trump had visited in Israel in 1989 (“Israel releases ‘Trump File’: The U.S. president’s little-known 1989 visit to the Jewish state,” April 28, 2017). Other news outlets published similar articles.

“The file reflects preparations for a visit,” state archivist Yaakov Lazovik told Haaretz. “While the file has no recording of the visit itself but rather preparations, even if the visit didn’t take place it does not take away from its credibility.”

An examination of newspaper articles suggests the planned visit was probably canceled at the last minute. While high-level talks took place ahead of a planned summer visit, Trump postponed it time after time for various reasons and probably canceled it entirely in the end.

A Yedioth Ahronoth article that summer stated: “He’s coming to us, he’s not coming. He’s coming, and then he’s not coming. Last month we held a real Donald Trump lottery. As of now, the American tycoon is not arriving.” The reason for the cancellation, according to Yedioth, was related to politics and current events. Trump canceled because of a speech by Shimon Peres, who was also the deputy prime minister, in which he sought the Labor Party’s exit from the unity government.

A column written in Israeli daily 'Yedioth Ahronoth' on Donald Trump's planned visit, 1989
Yediot Aharonoth

Trump commented that he would not travel until he knew whom he was going to talk with, according to the report. He said he wanted to be sure that Peres was the finance minister, and not only during his planned visit, but long enough to see through anything Trump might sign on in Israel. Otherwise, he added, it wouldn’t be a serious visit.

There is no evidence of an actual visit in the press archives. Thus, the original Haaretz report about the file should be considered documentation of preparations for a visit and not details of an actual one.

Yossi Beilin, who is described in the State Archive documents as preparing to meet with Trump, told Haaretz at the time of the publication of the previous article that he did not remember such a meeting. However, he cautioned, his inability to recall the meeting did not mean it did not happen. Other prominent people mentioned in the State Archive as planning to meet with Trump, like Shamir and Peres, had since died.

A resident of Kibbutz Sufa, which is described in the documents as one of the sites Trump was supposed to visit, said that people who might have witnessed such a visit were no longer alive.

Neither the White House nor the U.S. Embassy in Israel commented for the article, nor did they respond to questions by newspapers, including Haaretz, before or after the article’s publication, seeking to clarify whether Trump had indeed visited Israel previously.