Trump to meet Netanyahu as Muslim remarks raise ire in Israel

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Jerusalem (AFP) - US presidential candidate Donald Trump will visit Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid fierce criticism over his call for Muslims to be barred from entering the United States.

A government official said Wednesday the meeting with the billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner, set for December 28, was in line with Netanyahu's practice of meeting candidates visiting Israel.

But Netanyahu's office said he "rejects" Trump's remarks and that "Israel respects all religions and guarantees the rights of all its citizens, while struggling against militant Islam that indiscriminately targets Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world."

"Regarding the meeting with Mr. Trump... the prime minister decided long ago to agree to meet all candidates from all parties who request to meet him, without implying support for any candidate."

US presidential candidates often visit Israel while campaigning as part of efforts to shore up their foreign policy credentials.

Beyond that, Netanyahu has regularly expressed support for Republicans in the United States, and firm backing for Israel has become a decisive issue for the party.

But the Trump visit has already stirred strong opposition in Israel, with a range of lawmakers opposing it because of his comments.

Thirty-seven MPs, including two from Netanyahu's governing coalition, have signed a letter calling on the right-wing prime minister to cancel the meeting and condemn those comments.

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, was among those speaking out.

"Those who rejoice in Trump's comments do not know enough about Jewish history to understand what happens when we begin down the road of hatred toward foreigners, contempt for the law and religious discrimination," he wrote on Facebook.

The visit will also come amid a wave of Palestinian gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.

Israel's population includes more than a million Muslims out of a total of roughly eight million people.

The vast majority of Palestinians are also Muslim.

Trump's comments have led to harsh criticism both at home and worldwide, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying they disqualified him from becoming president.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, a leading Gulf retailer has stopped selling products from the brand owned by Trump.

- 'I don't want your money' -

Trump, 69, made his proposal after a Muslim couple, one of whom was an immigrant from Pakistan, massacred 14 people in California.

He urged a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

"We have no choice," Trump said, saying Islamist radicals want to kill Americans.

Trump has also been criticised by some Jews over an appearance at the Jewish Republican Coalition in Washington earlier this month.

The tycoon was booed when he stopped short of calling Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel, saying he first wanted to meet Netanyahu.

He also parroted stereotypes of Jews, likening himself to many in the room by presenting himself as a good negotiator and the ultimate deal maker.

He appeared to make a further crass stereotype about Jews by alluding to his personal wealth and public refusal to accept money from party donors.

"You're not going to support me because I don't want your money," he told the audience. "You want to control your own politicians, that's fine."

Netanyahu faced accusations of racism himself earlier this year.

In a polling-day bid to energise right-wing voters in March, the prime minister warned that Arab Israelis were going to the polls "in droves" -- a comment for which he later apologised.

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