US Republican presidential candidate front-runner Donald Trump announced on Thursday he will not be coming to Israel as planned this month, sparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the uncomfortable prospect of meeting a candidate under intense fire for making anti-Muslim comments.
Trump, who last week announced during a campaign rally that he intended to come to Israel by the end of December, took to Twitter on Thursday to cancel the trip.
“I have decided to postpone my trip and to schedule my meeting with Netanyahu at a later date after I become President of the US,” he wrote.
Trump triggered a global firestorm this week when he said that the US should clamp a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on.” His words prompted 37 MKs, including two from the coalition, to sign a letter calling on the prime minister to cancel his meeting with the billionaire candidate.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu issued a statement rejecting Trump’s comments. He added, however, that the meeting was set a number of weeks ago, before the American’s latest controversial comments, and that the decision to meet him was part of a policy to meet all presidential candidates from either party vising Israel.
Trump told Fox News on Thursday he decided to postpone the visit because “I didn’t want to put him [Netanyahu] under pressure.
“I also did it because I’m in the midst of a very powerful campaign that’s going very well and it [the trip] was not that easy to do,” he added.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal he is skeptical about Netanyahu’s rejection of his comments about Muslims.
“He disagrees with me. I doubt he actually does,” Trump said.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said that they first heard of the cancellation via Trump’s tweet, and that his campaign had not informed them beforehand.
A source involved in planning the Trump visit – which as The Jerusalem Post first reported included the possibility of a visit to the Temple Mount – attributed the cancellation to the MKs’ petition calling on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting and lawmakers’ demands to bar Trump from entering the Knesset. The source said that while a photo-opportunity with Netanyahu would have been good for Trump, it would not outweigh the negative publicity already coming out of Israel ahead of the visit.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who initiated the legislators’ petition against the visit, said: “We won; the racism surrendered to us. Trump got the message that there is no place in Israel for a racist, chauvinist person like him.
“This is a victory for Israel’s democratic values, the values that the prime minister abandoned in his insistence to meet [with Trump],” Rozin added.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said he was happy to be rid of Trump and expressed skepticism he would actually return as president.
“The American voters will throw this racist and international pyromaniac in the trash can of history,” Tibi said. “I assume Netanyahu is disappointed Trump won’t be coming to his office.”
The Obama administration expressed satisfaction on Thursday that Trump canceled his trip to Israel.
“Most people are relieved that he reconsidered,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “The situation in Israel is particularly volatile.”
Earnest said he also imagined Netanyahu has let out a sigh of relief.
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.