US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There was probably nobody who breathed a bigger sigh of relief than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday that he was canceling a planned visit to Israel later this month.
Trump’s abrupt about face after proudly announcing to followers last month that he would be going to show his support for Israel saved Netanyahu from possible embarrassment – for now.
Trump offered an explanation of his cancellation on Twitter, writing that “I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with @Netanyahu at a later date after I become President of the US.”
But following Trump’s odious proposal earlier this week to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and the resultant overwhelming condemnation from across the political spectrum in the US and abroad, a meeting and the photo-op and smiles that go with it between the race-baiting Trump and Netanyahu would have been disastrous for Israel’s image.
Since announcing his candidacy for president, Trump has repeatedly made one outrageous statement after another, but his latest proposal about Muslims prompted unprecedented reactions from all decent quarters.
“In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League in the US.
The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson, alluded to the fact that Trump’s statement was made during Hanukka.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukka, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” said Isaacson.
“You don’t need to go back to the Hanukka story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”
To his credit, Netanyahu tentatively began to distance himself from Trumps latest remarks on Wednesday, with his office issuing a bland statement saying, “The State of Israel respects all religions and protects stringently the rights of all its citizens.”
But it noted that Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump was scheduled two weeks ago, and reiterated that it is the prime minister’s policy to meet 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,” the statement said.
Trump’s cancellation has thankfully saved Netanyahu – and the rest of the country – the embarrassment of having to go through with the meeting and of hosting the showboating Trump.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov exclusively reported Wednesday, Trump was planning to visit the Temple Mount. That excursion might easily have resulted in an explosive crisis that would have benefited no one but Trump and his sensationalist campaign.
The whole debacle raises a fundamental policy problem.
Why does the prime minister of Israel make it his practice to meet with candidates running for office in another country? The Prime Minister’s Office made a point of characterizing the visit as just a courtesy call, not an endorsement.
It appears that Netanyahu and his staff have not learned anything from previous presidential races in the US.
Claims of Netanyahu’s favoritism and “endorsement” of Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections over incumbent Barack Obama – whether justified or not – still ring loudly. And while the policy of meeting with all US presidential candidates visiting Israel may be sound in theory, in practice, if it’s only Republican candidates who are visiting, the perceived image sent back to the US of Israel’s interests in the election are obvious.
But now, with another candidate, Ben Carson, slated to arrive this month, it would behoove our prime minister to change his policy and not meet with aspiring presidents who would exploit such a visit for their own purposes.