Donald Trump’s Muslim baiting has already roiled American politics. Now, presidential rivals, foreign politicians and security experts across the political spectrum are warning the GOP front-runner could become a one-man national security threat on his planned trip to Israel by further escalating the country’s already bloody conflict.
Trump has said he will visit Israel this month, which is wracked by a spasm of violence marked by stabbing attacks against Israelis and deadly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
His proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States has drawn fierce condemnations from Israeli politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to meet with Trump on his trip, distanced himself from the proposal on Wednesday.
“The State of Israel respects all religions and protects stringently the rights of all its citizens,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement obtained by MSNBC. “At the same time Israel is struggling with extreme Islam that is attacking Muslims, Christian and Jews as one and is threatening the entire world.”
The statement added that Netanyahu’s planned meeting with Trump was part of a blanket policy of meeting with presidential hopefuls and “does not reflect support for the candidates or their policies.”
Netanyahu’s response came after a number of Israeli politicians lashed out against Trump. Omar Bar Lev, a member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) with the center-left Zionist Union party, tweeted that Trump was “racist” and “should not be welcome” in the legislature. Zehava Gal-On, chairwoman of the leftist Meretz party, called his visit a “slap in the face to Muslim citizens of Israel.” Within Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz also reportedly condemned Trump’s remarks as insulting to “loyal Muslim citizens” in America and Israel.
Back in America, Jeb Bush told reporters in New Hampshire on Wednesday that Netanyahu was right to reject Trump’s proposal and said the billionaire real estate mogul’s rhetoric was doing lasting damage to America and its allies.
“[Netanayahu’s] right,” Bush said. “That’s not going to help the security of Israel, it’s not going to help the security of the United States. It pushes away allies that are necessary and essential to destroy ISIS and to bring about security in the Middle East. Mr. Trump’s not a serious person. He’s not a serious candidate, he’s inflammatory, and he makes the task of the next President a lot harder.”
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called Trump’s idea for an immigration ban “dangerous” on similar grounds.
“At a time when America should be doing everything we can to fight radical jihadists, Mr. Trump is supplying them with new propaganda,” Clinton said in an open letter. “He’s playing right into their hands.”
Of particular concern to leaders and experts was a Jerusalem Post report that Trump was considering a visit to the Temple Mount, or the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, in Jerusalem. The site is a flash point for the current violence, which has centered around rumors (denied by Israel) that the government was considering changing a policy that restricted non-Muslims from praying in the Al Aqsa Mosque, which occupies part of the site.
“This report is false,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told MSNBC in an e-mail when asked about the Jerusalem Post story.
The area is a major source of division within the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it includes both the mosque and Dome of the Rock, which are holy to Muslims, and the remains of the ancient Israelite temples, which make it the holiest site in Judaism. A critical spark to the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, occurred after Ariel Sharon — later prime minister — visited the Temple Mount in 2000.
“Such a visit will set the whole region on fire, I am warning,” Taleb Abu Arrar, a member of the Knesset with the Arab Join List, said on Wednesday after the initial Post report.
Middle East experts and commentators across the political spectrum expressed similar fears in interviews.
“I am very concerned,” Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland a fellow at the Brookings Institute, told MSNBC in an e-mail. “Trump has already received considerable attention around the world, especially in the Arab Muslim media, for his unfathomable proposal to keep all Muslims out of the US. Al-Aqsa is a whole other order of magnitude.”
Matt Duss, president of the left-leaning Foundation for Middle East Peace, warned that putting Trump anywhere near the Temple Mount was “a really bad idea.”
“It’s become a focal point not only of Palestinian nationalism, but also for Muslim communities across the region and the world,” Duss said in an e-mail. “So I can’t see anything good coming from Donald Trump going there and doing his Donald Trump thing, and I suspect he’s hearing the same from a lot of people, including U.S. and Israeli security officials.”
At the right-leaning Foundation for Defense of Democracies, deputy director for research Oren Kessler said in an e-mail that Trump’s visit presented security issues that could resonate beyond Israel.
“Donald Trump is perhaps the least popular person in the Muslim world right now, given his comments on banning all Muslims … from American shores,” Kessler told MSNBC. “Him visiting the Mount would almost certainly lead to unrest among Palestinians, and potentially Muslims elsewhere in the world.”
This story has been updated to include a response from the Trump campaign.