Donald Trump said Thursday he was postponing a planned trip to Israel, but vowed to return “after I become president of the US.”
The Republican firebrand, who is facing fierce criticism from around the world over his call for Muslims to be barred from entering the United States, had been set to meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 28.
But Netanyahu’s office said he “rejects” Trump’s remarks, stressing that the planned talks were in line with the premier’s practice of meeting candidates visiting Israel.
“I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with @Netanyahu at a later date after I become President of the US,” Trump said in a tweet.
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 had already stirred strong opposition in Israel, with a range of lawmakers voicing hostility to it because of his comments.
Trump made his remarks on Muslims after last week’s mass shooting in California by a Muslim couple said to have been radicalized.
Painting Trump as a “carnival barker” with “fake hair” whose campaign belonged in the “dustbin of history,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump’s plan should disqualify him from office.
The billionaire hotel magnate, who currently leads Republican polls by double-digit margins over his nearest rivals, has warned he may launch a third party campaign if uneasy conservatives move against him.
That could all but kill Republican chances of beating Hillary Clinton, if she is indeed the eventual Democratic nominee, say observers.