US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is expected to visit Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid an international outcry over his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Some Israeli politicians have called for the planned visit by the billionaire businessman, slated for December 18, to be blocked.
However, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the visit was in line with the prime minister’s practice of meeting candidates visiting Israel.
“The prime minister rejects the recent comments by Donald Trump with regard to Muslims. Israel respects all religions and diligently guards the rights of all its citizens,” the statement said.
The prime minister’s office argued that meeting Trump does not imply support for the candidate.
Trump, who endorsed Netanyahu before the 2013 Israeli election, has long been a local supporter of Israel and has expansive Jewish associations.
“You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all,” Trump said at the time. “Vote for Benjamin — terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”
US presidential candidates often visit Israel as part of efforts to appeal to Jewish voters and donors back home and boost their foreign policy credentials.
Trump kicked up a political firestorm on Monday by proposing a “total and complete” ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
The comments, the most extreme response yet to recent terrorist attacks in France and the US, drew strong condemnation at home and abroad.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump’s plan to bar Muslims “disqualifies” him from becoming president.
The UN refugee agency said the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US presidential campaign was harming efforts to resettle Syrian refugees.
Trump, whose campaign has been marked by controversy from the beginning, stood by his proposal on Tuesday, saying it was a temporary move until Congress addresses the security challenges facing the country.
He also threatened to depart the GOP and run as an independent candidate.