JERUSALEM - GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump canceled plans Thursday to visit Israel, a trip for which even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - widely seen as an ally of the Republican Party - had shown little enthusiasm.
Trump announced his decision on Twitter, saying he would reschedule "at a later date after I become President of the U.S." Appearing on Fox News, he said there were many reasons for the move, among them that he didn't want to put Netanyahu in a bind.
"In fact, I did a campaign ad for him, and he's a good man, but I didn't want to put him under pressure," Trump said. "I also did it because I'm in the midst of a powerful campaign that's going very well."
Trump, who has maintained a wide lead in most early preference polling, unleashed an uproar this week when he called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. The billionaire businessman has cast the idea as a prudent step in the wake of the mass shooting by an Islamic militant couple of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., while critics call it both racist and unconstitutional.
Trump also drew criticism from some American Jews for his comments last week to a gathering of Jewish donors. He was booed after refusing to endorse Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel - a key Israeli position. Some of his other comments were seen by some as promoting Jewish stereotypes.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a briefing that "most people are relieved that he's reconsidered" the visit to Israel.
"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 of those involved," Earnest added.
It remains unclear whether his proposal on Muslim immigration will have any long-lasting effect on his campaign. But overseas, the Israel trip is just one of many casualties.
A visit to Israel is considered a rite of passage for U.S. presidential candidates as they seek to burnish their foreign policy credentials and appeal to Jewish American voters, and Netanyahu has hosted scores of candidates and elected American officials over the years.