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By Ori Lewis and Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli politicians of all persuasions called on Wednesday for a planned visit by U.S. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump to be blocked over his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, which has raised an international outcry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement later saying he rejected the remarks but added that the visit, set two weeks ago, would go ahead as planned and did not indicate support for Trump.

A government official said Netanyahu and Trump would meet on Dec. 28.

“The prime minister rejects the recent comments by Donald Trump with regard to Muslims. Israel respects all religions and diligently guards the rights of all its citizens,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

It added that the Israeli leader had determined a uniform policy towards meeting all U.S. presidential candidates from both parties who visit Israel.

“This policy does not reflect support for the candidates or for their platforms, rather, it expresses the importance that the prime minister ascribes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” the statement added.

At least 37 mainly Israeli opposition legislators who make up almost a third of the 120-seat Knesset signed a letter to Netanyahu calling on him to cancel the meeting unless Trump withdraws his comments.

Michal Rosin of the left-wing Meretz party, who initiated the letter, said that none of Netanyahu’s Likud party had agreed to sign although some had disagreed strongly with Trump’s words.

Foreign notables generally get the red-carpet treatment in Israel. For those running for high office, this can mean more votes at home. With Israel and the United States being close allies, and Netanyahu widely seen as supportive of the Republicans against Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama, Trump may hope his visit will bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of the U.S. election in November 2016.

Playing to U.S. fears about radical Islam after the California gun rampage, Trump has shrugged off outrage at home and abroad over his remarks, made after last week’s mass shooting in California by two Muslims who police said had been radicalised.

Trump said on Twitter that he was “very much looking forward” to visiting Israel by year’s end.

In the statement, Netanyahu repeated the need to fight militant Islam, saying that while guarding the rights of all its citizens “Israel is combating militant Islam, which attacks Muslims, Christians and Jews and threatens the entire world.”

Left- and right-wing Israeli politicians alike, as well as Israeli Arab lawmakers, condemned Trump’s remarks and said he should be barred from visiting. Ahmad Tibi, a member of parliament from Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority, said he had asked for the “neo-Nazi” not to be admitted to the Knesset.

That call was echoed by Omer Bar-Lev of the main centre-left opposition party, the Zionist Union. “It is inappropriate for any Israeli official to meet (Trump) when he comes to visit,” Bar-Lev said.

STRONG CRITICISM FROM NETANYAHU’S PARTY

The censure was joined by Likud officials. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a senior Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu confidant, described Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims as harmful from an Israeli and U.S. standpoint.

“I recommend fighting terrorist and extremist Islam, but I would not declare a boycott of, ostracism against or war on Muslims in general,” Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio.

“We in the state of Israel have many Muslim citizens who are loyal. On the contrary, the extremists and the terrorists should be distinguished from the loyal citizens, and in the United States, too, there are loyal Muslim citizens.”

Marc Zell, vice-president of Republicans Overseas and a party representative in Israel, also had harsh words for Trump.

“He is a demagogue. And we as Jews, and also as Israelis, know what a demagogue is, historically,” Zell told Army Radio in a separate interview, saying he was voicing his own opinion rather than a formal Republican position.

“The Republican party has a long list of candidates worthy of the presidency, and we have to change the leadership in the White House, which has caused a lot of damage, but Donald Trump is not the answer,” Zell said.

There was no word whether Trump would also meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who was visiting Washington and scheduled to meet Obama on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump’s comments disqualified him from being president and said other Republican candidates should disavow him “right now”.

The prime ministers of France and Britain, Canada’s foreign minister, the United Nations and Muslims in Asian countries have also denounced Trump’s comments.

Over 150,000 Britons have signed an online petition to ban Trump from Britain, but finance minister George Osborne opposed this, saying it would better to engage Trump in democratic debate “about why he is profoundly wrong about the contribution of American Muslims and indeed British Muslims”.

(Additional reporting by William James and Kate Holton in London, Emily Stephenson and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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