Stephen Bannon, who will serve as chief strategist for Donald Trump's incoming White House administration, has attempted to stamp out the recent barrage of antisemitism allegations against him in an interview this weekend with the Wall Street Journal.
Trump's appointment of Bannon has been criticized by Jewish groups, Democrats, civil rights organizations and some Republicans, who denounce the former Breitbart News chief as having made the website a forum for the "alt-right," who they describe as a loose grouping of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and antisemites.
When asked Friday by the Wall Street Journal
about the antisemitism allegations, Bannon denied the veracity of the accusatory headlines, saying, "these claims of antisemitism just aren't serious. It's a joke."
According to the New York-based newspaper, he blamed the attacks on a lazy media apparatus.
In an apparent display of proof of his close relations with members of the Jewish community, he mentioned Breitbart senior-editor-at-large Joel Pollack among his "many Jewish partners and writers."
Trump campaign manager denies influence from extreme-right groups
Turning the focus from antisemitism in particular and Israel in general, Bannon attempted to tout not his own personal viewpoint necessarily, but that of Breitbart's.
“Breitbart is the most pro-Israel site in the United States of America," he charged. "I have Breitbart Jerusalem, which I have Aaron Klein run with about 10 reporters there."
Bannon went on to claim that Breitbart's presence in Jerusalem has held a leading role in fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The prospect of the hard-right website founded by Andrew Breitbart was conceived during a trip to Israel in 2007, and was established to promote an "unapologetically" pro-Israel stance. Later, under Bannon's leadership, the outlet aligned with the European populist right and American alt-right.
In the Wall Street Journal
interview, Bannon also asserted that “in the United States; we’re a leader in the reporting of young Jewish students being harassed on American campuses; we’ve been a leader on reporting on the terrible plight of the Jews in Europe.”
In light of controversies surrounding Breitbart headlines charged with bearing antisemitic tropes, Bannon placed the onus on writers for penning headlines and not the outlet's editorial discretion.
Mentioning one example of an article entitled "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" by Breitbart contributor David Horowitz, Bannon said the piece's author had taken responsibility for the headline. He then blamed the media for perpetuating allegations of antisemitism over the article title.
Bannon, who previously served as campaign CEO for Donald Trump's contentious presidential campaign, told the Wall Street Journal
that he has dismissed what he says is his portrayal as a "cloven-hoofed devil" by the media and Democrats.
A former Naval officer and Goldman Sachs investment banker, Bannon also claimed that the political attacks against him and Breitbart are "just nonsense."Last week, the ADL
and Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized Bannon's White House administration appointment. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblat said that the organization opposes the appointment of Bannon because he and the alt-right movement he represents are "so hostile to core American values."
Back in August, Bannon came under fire for alleged antisemitism after the The New York Daily News
reported that court documents revealed Bannon's ex-wife
's claim that he did not want the couple's daughters to attend Los Angeles's Archer School for Girls because the elite institution had many Jewish students enrolled.
According to Bannon's ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard, Bannon "doesn't like Jews," did not like the way Jews "raise their kids to be 'whiny brats'" and didn't want his daughters going to school with Jews.
Piccard's statement was issued in a 2007 filing of a modification to their divorce agreement, which was originally finalized in 1997, NBC News reported. The documents also include charges of domestic violence. According to court records, Bannon was charged with three misdemeanors for attacking Piccard on February 22, 1996.
Bannon's spokeswoman, Alexandra Preate, denied the claims, saying "Mr. Bannon said he never said anything like that and proudly sent the girls to Archer for their middle school and high school education."
Meanwhile, this past Friday, Israel's Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel sent a letter to Bannon, thanking him for his support of the Jewish state.
“I wanted to express my support and thanks for your friendship with Israel. While we do not know each other personally, dear friends of mine including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach have shared with me your strong opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, which threatens Israel’s survival, your opposition to BDS and your opening of a Jerusalem bureau in Israel while head of Breitbart in order to promote the Israeli point of view in the media,” the letter reads.
In what appears to be a reference to the controversy around Bannon’s appointment, the letter written in Ariel’s name said: “No doubt there are many areas of disagreement between us, but on this we agree: Israel, as the Middle East’s only democracy, must always have the strongest international support.”
The letter was not written by Ariel’s office, but was sent with the minister’s approval.Reuters and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.