Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., but refused to cancel a scheduled meeting with the Republican presidential hopeful for later this month, despite calls from across the political spectrum in Israel to do so.
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"The prime minister rejects the recent comments by Donald Trump regarding Muslims," a statement by the prime minister's office said Wednesday evening.
"Israel respects all religions and stickily preserves the rights of all its citizens," the statement said, adding that "at the same time, Israel is struggling against the radical Islamism that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews as one and poses a threat to the entire world."
During his trip to Israel later this month, Trump will meet with 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. Nonetheless, throughout Wednesday, no less than 37 Israeli lawmakers, including two from the coalition, called on him to cancel the meeting.
In response, Netanyahu's office reiterated that the meeting was slated before the comments were made, and said that the prime minister has a policy of "agreeing to any request for a meeting by a U.S. presidential candidate from either party visiting Israel." This policy, they said, does not signify an endorsement of the candidate or of their positions, but rather indicates the importance the prime minister attired to the "solid alliance" between Israel and the U.S.
Israeli politicians of various stripes 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.”
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.