Trump to Be Received by Netanyahu Amid Row Over Remarks on Muslims

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

A planned visit to Israel by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump drew a welter of criticism from across the Israeli political spectrum on Wednesday over his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

A government official, however, confirmed that a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Trump would take place on Dec. 28 after being set two weeks ago. Sources close to the right-wing Netanyahu said “he does not agree with everything said by every (U.S. election) candidate.”

Foreign notables generally get the red-carpet treatment in Israel. For those running for high office, this can mean more votes at home. With Israel and the United States being close allies, and the right-wing Netanyahu seen as aligned with the Republicans, Trump may hope his visit will bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of the U.S. election in November 2016.

Playing to U.S. fears about radical Islam after the California gun rampage, Trump has shrugged off domestic and international outrage at his comments. He said he was “very much looking forward” to visiting Israel by year’s end.

Netanyahu has spoken often of the need to fight Islamic terror, including last month during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a speech in June, he said the battle could be protracted.

“I think militant Islam will succumb to the forces of modernity but it could take many decades. And we have to make sure that in the interim millions of innocent people don’t die,” said Netanyahu, who often cites terror groups like Hamas, which has waged three wars against Israel, as enemies.

Israeli politicians of various stripes condemned Trump’s remarks and said the visit should be blocked. Arab MK Ahmad Tibi said he had asked for the “neo-Nazi” not to be admitted to the Parliament.

That call was echoed by Omer Bar-Lev of the Zionist Union party, who deemed the real-estate billionaire turned Republican candidate a “racist.”

The censure was joined by Netanyahu’s Likud party. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz described Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims as harmful from an Israeli and U.S. standpoint.

“I recommend fighting terrorist and extremist Islam, but I would not declare a boycott of, ostracism against, or war on Muslims in general,” Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio.

“We in the State of Israel have many Muslim citizens who are loyal,” he said. “On the contrary, the extremists and the terrorists should be distinguished from the loyal citizens, and in the United States, too, there are loyal Muslim citizens.”

There was no immediate response to Trump’s plans from President Reuven Rivlin, who was visiting Washington and scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday.