WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump yesterday postponed his trip to Israel amid a controversy over his proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Trump, who has come under heavy criticism at home and abroad over his plan, said on Twitter that he would meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “at a later date after I become president of the U.S.”
Trump told Fox News he postponed the trip because he did not want to put pressure on Netanyahu, who faced demands from Israeli politicians to call off the planned Dec. 28 meeting. Netanyahu had rejected Trump’s proposal on Muslims but said he would still meet with him.
“I also did it because I’m in the midst of a very powerful campaign that’s going very well and it (the trip) was not that easy to do,” said Trump, a real estate mogul and former reality TV star who leads opinion polls in the Republican nominating race for the November 2016 election.
The decision came just days after Trump provoked an international uproar by calling for Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students and tourists, to be blocked from entering the country after last week’s shootings in California by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalized.
The uproar did not stop the New England Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents 5,000 law enforcement officers, from voting to endorse him on Thursday night. Appearing in New Hampshire, the crucial early primary state, Trump thanked the organization, which represents 1,000 New Hampshire officers, for their support.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest endorsed Trump’s decision to postpone the trip to Israel and said “most people are relieved” that he would not be visiting such a sensitive region.
“The situation in Israel is particularly volatile, and so I think in this case his decision to reconsider that trip is a good outcome for all those involved,” Earnest told reporters.
Trump’s proposal has been condemned by an array of U.S. and global political leaders and human and civil rights groups, as well as many of Trump’s Republican and Democratic rivals for the White House.
But so far his proposal does not seem to have affected his standing in the polls. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this week, which includes responses from before and after Trump made his proposal on Monday, shows he still holds a commanding lead in the Republican race.