Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on December 28, amid calls by a growing number of lawmakers to block the GOP front-runner from entering the Knesset or the country.
The meeting was scheduled two weeks ago, prior to Trump’s widely criticized proposal of a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, sources close to the prime minister said on Wednesday.
“Every presidential candidate that wants to may meet briefly with the prime minister,” sources said, according to an Army Radio report. “Netanyahu does not agree with every statement made by every candidate.”
Dozens of Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday wrote an urgent letter to Netanyahu asking him to cancel the meeting, Channel 2 reported.
Earlier Wednesday, Meretz legislator Issawi Frej submitted a request with Interior Minister Silvan Shalom seeking to block Trump from entering Israel during his upcoming visit.
“As an Israeli citizen, I ask that the state treat the racism against me in the same way it would relate to racism against Jews. Just as it is obvious that Israel wouldn’t allow an anti-Semite to use it to advance its political goals, so too, should be the case of Trump,” Frej said in a statement.
Trump is “not only a racist, but a danger to the free world,” he added. “He is a man who incites against 20 percent of Israel’s population, a man who wants to fan the flames of hatred everywhere he visits.”
Banning Trump would be “the right step, a moral one,” and would show that Israel “at least in this case, is fighting racism and will not serve as a platform for advancing a racist agenda.”
Two other Israeli opposition lawmakers on Wednesday called on the Knesset speaker to block the GOP candidate from entering Israel’s parliament.
“I asked the Knesset speaker to prevent the neo-Nazi Trump from entering the Knesset, until ‘we understand the dangers of all Trumps,’ though his remarks are not foreign to some in the Knesset,” Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi said, paraphrasing the Republican candidate’s comments relating to Muslims.
Trump on Tuesday had proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in remarks that were widely disparaged by the White House, the other Republican presidential candidates, and several US Jewish groups.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said in the statement.
“I am very much looking forward to it,” he wrote.
In response, Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev tweeted: “As far as it depends on me, this racist @realDonaldTrump should not be welcome in the @knessetisrael.”
Coalition members Ya’akov Margi (Shas) and Roy Folkman (Kulanu) Wednesday added their voices to those urging Netanyahu not to meet with Trump. Kulanu’s former ambassador to the US Michael Oren said Israel should condemn Trump’s comments but that the prime minister should meet with him, as with all presidential candidates, to avoid being seen as intervening in internal American politics.
Speaking Tuesday to the Times of Israel, US-born Oren pointed to the Jewish people’s historical experience in slamming Trump’s comments. “We Jews, who have been the victims of gross and hostile generalizations throughout our history, should be first out there to condemn it.”
A trip to Israel is considered de rigeur for US presidential candidates hoping to shore up foreign policy bona fides and show support for the Jewish state.
Similar calls to ban the Republican front-runner from the country have been made in the United Kingdom, with a petition on the UK government website garnering over 150,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, well over the 100,000 needed for parliament to hold a discussion over the petition.
Kory Bardash, co-chair of the Israeli Republican Party, said Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump should not be seen as backing for the candidate.
“If Netanyahu meets with Trump it should not be perceived as an endorsement of the man or his policies, and that should be made clear. But there is a tradition of meeting with leading candidates, and proper protocol should be followed in this case as well,” he said.
Kulanu MK Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US, said Israel has “a longstanding tradition of host candidates from both parties,” Oren said, citing visits by Barack Obama in 2008 and by Mitt Romney in 2012. “At the same time,” he added, “it’s important for leaders of a country close to 20 percent of whose population is Muslim to stand up and say that we distinguish between radical violent Islam and the faith that inspires millions not just here but internationally.”