The curious case of Donald Trump’s 1989 (non-)visit to Israel
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Remember Trump in Israel? No, say the foreign minister, the mayor, the PM aide, the top diplomat, and the deputy minister who was apparently supposed to greet him at the airport

The curious case of Donald Trump’s 1989 (non-)visit to Israel

The release of state files showing extensive preparations to take the developer around Israel 28 years ago has been seized upon as proof that this month's visit won't be Trump's first. Except there's no record of him actually being here, and nobody can recall meeting him

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

In this Feb. 28, 1989 file photo, real estate mogul Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in New York, announcing the opening of his Taj Mahal Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/David Cantor, File)
In this Feb. 28, 1989 file photo, real estate mogul Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in New York, announcing the opening of his Taj Mahal Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/David Cantor, File)

Sea bass mousse on a light sorrel sauce, poached Canadian salmon in Riesling, breast of moullard in mango sauce — these are only a few of the delicacies Jerusalem’s Laromme Hotel was ready to prepare for Donald Trump in the summer of 1989, in what would have been the real estate magnate’s first and to date only visit to Israel.

The Israel State Archive recently released a folder with dozens of files documenting in great detail the government’s preparations for The Donald’s trip, which was to have included trips to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv and Eilat. But while some in the Hebrew media have presented the material as evidence that the US president’s upcoming visit to the Jewish state will be his second, there is no record that The Times of Israel has been able to uncover of Trump ever having set foot here, and nobody we have found — including officials named in those documents — who recalls hosting or meeting him.

The Times of Israel has spoken to more than a dozen Israelis from various branches of government who would likely have been involved in Trump’s 1989 visit had it gone ahead. Not a single one had any recollection of the man — who at the time was a well-known Manhattan real estate developer — being here. Many added that if Trump had come, they would surely have remembered it; others said they recalled interacting with the colorful figure in the late 1980s in New York, but had absolutely no memories of him being in Israel.

“I don’t recall such a visit,” said Uri Savir, who in 1989 served as Israel’s consul-general in New York.

Ambassador Moshe Arad's 1989 invitation to Donald Trump to visit Israel (Israel State Archives)
Ambassador Moshe Arad’s 1989 invitation to Donald Trump to visit Israel (Israel State Archives)

His deputy at the time, Mordecai Yedid, said he remembers Trump very well — in New York. “He came to lectures and events that we organized. We were in close touch. He was very pro-Israel; he fought for a united Jerusalem, which he said needs to be Israel’s capital. But I really don’t remember him visiting Israel.”

Donald Trump, left, and New York Mayor Edward I. Koch shake hands, Monday, Oct. 5, 1987 in New York in front of City Hall, during ceremonies marking Israel's 40th anniversary (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Donald Trump, left, and New York Mayor Edward I. Koch shake hands, Monday, Oct. 5, 1987 in New York in front of City Hall, during ceremonies marking Israel’s 40th anniversary (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

The official documents in the Trump folder include an invitation to Trump by Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to Washington at the time. Arad, 82, could not be reached for comment. Oded Eran, a veteran diplomat who worked in the embassy, said he had never heard of Trump coming to Israel. And their boss at the time, then-foreign minister Moshe Arens, also told The Times of Israel that he does not remember ever having been involved in or hearing of plans to host Trump in Israel.

The fact that, last year, three decades later, Trump the aspiring politician did not mention having been to Israel during any of his election campaign speeches further seems to suggest that the visit never took place. Most presidential hopefuls consider it a must to share impressions of their Israel trips when making pitches to Jewish groups, AIPAC or other pro-Israel audiences.

The US Embassy in Israel and several White House officials did not reply to queries as to whether Trump has ever been to Israel. Neither the Associated Press nor the Israeli Government Press Office photo archives carry any images of Trump in Israel.

According to the newly released files, which were first reported on by Haaretz, Trump wanted to come to Israel because he was considering several business deals, including building a casino in Eilat and purchasing the country’s national airline, El Al.

The newspaper two weeks ago described the 1989 visit as a matter of fact, reporting that Trump met with then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem, flew with then-finance minister Shimon Peres to the Dead Sea, and “watched the sunset” in Eilat.

Part of the itinerary for Donald Trumps planned 1989 visit Israel (Israel State Archives)
Part of the itinerary for Donald Trump’s planned 1989 visit Israel (Israel State Archives)

Based on the official documents, whose veracity could not be independently verified by The Times of Israel but which appear credible, Trump was scheduled to arrive in Israel on his private jet on the evening of July 29, 1989 — a week after he attended the Mike Tyson-Carl Williams world heavyweight boxing match in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Yossi Beilin. (Amir Levy/Flash90)
Yossi Beilin. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

On arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the flamboyant billionaire was supposed to be greeted by an unnamed deputy minister, who Haaretz reported was “probably Yossi Beilin,” the deputy finance minister at the time.

According to Trump’s supposed itinerary, this deputy minister was also scheduled to join Trump and Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek the next morning, after their guest had spent the night in the presidential suite of the Laromme Hotel (today the Inbal Hotel), for breakfast and a tour of Jerusalem.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump speaks as he rests his hand on a model Boeing 727 during a news conference in New York, May 25, 1989, where he announced his plans for Eastern's Northeast shuttle fleet (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Real estate mogul Donald Trump speaks as he rests his hand on a model Boeing 727 during a news conference in New York, May 25, 1989, where he announced his plans for Eastern’s Northeast shuttle fleet (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

Beilin told The Times of Israel he has absolutely no recollection of ever meeting Trump. “Honestly, I don’t think it was me. I don’t think the visit ever took place,” he said.

The then-deputy foreign minister — an up-and-coming politician named Benjamin Netanyahu — did not greet Trump at the airport either, the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel this week.

According to a member of the Jerusalem Committee, a now-defunct independent international advisory council to the mayor, Kollek would meet with many people he believed could pour money in the city. “But I truly don’t remember him ever meeting with Trump,” this source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because his current employer does not allow him to speak to the press.

After lunch in the capital, Trump was scheduled to fly to the Dead Sea and then to visit Mitzpe Ramon before heading to Eilat, where he was to spend the night at the Neptune Hotel (known today as the Rimonim Hotel). The next day, he was supposed to go diving and then head to business meetings, including at the site of an airport he apparently considered investing in.

The cover of the government folder with the details of Donald Trump's planned 1989 visit Israel (Israel State Archives)
The cover of the government folder with the details of Donald Trump’s planned 1989 visit Israel (Israel State Archives)

Then-mayor of Eilat Rafi Hochman, who according to a newspaper clip included in the file was among the three Israelis who invited Trump to Israel, said this week that he had no recollection of hosting Trump in his city.

Rafi Hochman, mayor of Eilat from 1983-93 (Eilat municipality)
Rafi Hochman, mayor of Eilat 1983-93 (Eilat municipality)

“I do remember meeting him in New York in the 1980s, I think,” Hochman said. “There was talk about him building a casino here, if I remember correctly. But I can’t even remember any plans to bring him here.”

From Eilat, Trump was scheduled to head to Jerusalem for a meeting with the prime minister.

But both Yossi Achimeir, who headed Shamir’s office at the time, and Avi Pazner, a senior foreign affairs adviser to the late prime minister, have no recollection of a meeting.

“It’s possible that such a meeting took place, but I don’t remember,” Pazner said. “It’s hard for me to believe that if it had happened, I wouldn’t remember.”

“No red light went up in my mind when Trump came to power,” Achimeir said, indicating that he, too, would have likely remembered a meeting between his former boss and the extrovert businessman.

From Jerusalem, Trump was scheduled to visit the sites of possible investments in Tel Aviv and Herzliya and hold a press conference, before, in the evening of July 31, 1989, making his way to the airport and concluding his three-day trip to Israel.

The Times of Israel could not locate any public record of a press conference given by Trump in Israel. In fact, we could not find any evidence that would indicate that his upcoming visit won’t be his first.

Donald Trump and his wife Melania step off a plane upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
Donald Trump and his wife Melania step off a plane upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
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