Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Wednesday evening issued a statement saying the prime minister “rejects Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Muslims,” but will still meet with him as scheduled later this month.
The statement did not elaborate as to why Netanyahu “rejects” Trump’s call to bar Muslims from the US amid the wave of Islamist terror, and did note that Israel is battling Islamic extremism.
“The State of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens. At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and threatens the entire world,” the PMO quoted Netanyahu as saying, two days after the leading Republican presidential contender said all Muslims should be banned from entering the US.
While Netanyahu will meet Trump as planned on December 28, his office stressed that the meeting was decided upon before the GOP hopeful made his comments, and that the meeting does not mean that the prime minister supports the Republican candidate’s views.
The prime minister has decided to meet all candidates who schedule a visit to Israel and ask to see him, the statement said.
“As for the meeting with Mr. Trump that was set some two weeks ago, the Prime Minister decided earlier this year on a uniform policy to agree to meet with all presidential candidates from either party who visit Israel and ask for a meeting.
“This policy does not represent an endorsement of any candidate or his or her views. Rather, it is an expression of the importance that Prime Minister Netanyahu attributes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” the PMO said.
Earlier Wednesday, 37 MKs signed a petition calling on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting with Trump.
The petition was initiated by Meretz MK Michal Rozin.
Rozin said she was seeking to “publicly condemn Trump’s racist remarks and to cancel the planned meeting [with Netanyahu] before he regrets his comments.”
“While leaders around the world are condemning the racist and outrageous remarks by the Republican presidential candidate, Netanyahu embraces him warmly,” she lamented.
“Their meeting at the end of the month lends support to [Trump’s] racist comments, and in this disgraces the democratic character of the State of Israel and hurts its Muslim citizens,” Rozin wrote.
Most signatories were members of opposition parties, but MK Yaacov Margi (Shas) and Roy Volkman (Kulanu) also signed it. Rozin said several Likud MKs expressed criticism of Trump’s comments, but all refused to sign the petition.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said the prime minister would meet with any presidential candidate from any party in the US elections, but added that Netanyahu “does not agree with every comment by every candidate.”
Trump has not walked back his comments, and on Tuesday doubled down on the widely condemned remarks.
Ahead of the 2013 Israeli elections, Trump appeared in a short clip calling on Israelis to vote for Netanyahu.
Trump on Tuesday tweeted that he may leave the Republican Party and run as an independent candidate.
A new poll indicates that 68% of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent. https://t.co/ztP5d2ctZl
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2015