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Why is Donald Trump going to Israel?

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

(Read caption) In this Dec. 3, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington. Trump says he is calling for a "complete and total shutdown" on Muslims entering the United States. Trump says in a statement released by his campaign Dec. 7 that his proposal comes in response to the level of hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.

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After claiming that Obama was “the worst thing to happen to Israel," Donald Trump has announced he will be visiting the country next month to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who often meets with members of Congress, and has announced that he will  “meet with any candidate from any party who will be arriving in Israel and request[s] a meeting.”

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The trip, which was planned two weeks ago, came before Mr. Trump made a statement calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the United States.

Some Arab Israeli lawmakers have called on the government to block Trump’s visit to Israel.

“He is not only a racist, but a danger to the free world,” Issawi Frej, an Israeli parliamentarian told Washington Post. “He is a man who incites against 20 percent of Israel’s population, a man who wants to fan the flames of hatred everywhere he visits.” 

Trump’s anti-Muslim statement was also widely condemned by many Jewish Americans. 

“In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greeblatt wrote in a statement Monday evening. “We also know that this country must not give into fear by turning its back on its fundamental values, even at a time of great crisis. As we have said so many times, to do otherwise signals to the terrorists that they are winning the battle against democracy and freedom.”

It is not uncommon for GOP candidates to travel overseas during their presidential campaigns: the trips help bolster a candidate's image abroad and help burnish foreign-policy credentials.

Last month, Ben Carson visited Jordan to see a UN camp for Syrian refugees for the first time. GOP candidates Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Scott Walker, who has since canceled his campaign, each flew to London on separate visits earlier this year. It was Mr. Christie’s fourth foreign trip as governor – he’s also visited Canada, Israel, and Mexico. 

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Israel has also often been a popular destination for prospective candidates. Indiana Governor Mike Pence met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee led a tour to Israel last February.

It’s unclear what’s on Trump’s agenda aside from meeting with the Prime Minister, but according to the Jerusalem Post, Trump was considering visiting the Temple Mount, a contested holy site and highly sensitive location for Palestinians and Israelis.