(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel sent a letter to US President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial strategic adviser Steve Bannon on Friday, thanking him for his support of Israel.
“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.
Bannon’s appointment as “chief strategist and senior counsel” last week courted controversy, including a condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League.
Bannon was CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, and before that executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he said in an interview with Mother Jones had become the “platform of the alt-right,” an ethno-nationalist movement that has white supremacist and misogynist views. Bannon has come under fire for helming the site, which has published opinion articles calling out prominent writers for being Jewish and has a “black crime” tag.
In addition, during divorce proceedings, his ex-wife said Bannon did not want his daughters to attend a school that had many Jewish students. He denied this.
However, some who have worked with Bannon have said he is not antisemitic and, in fact, is pro-Israel, citing the reasons Ariel listed in his letter.
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.
Asked what he said to prompt the letter, Jerusalem Post columnist Boteach said Saturday night that Ariel was at his 50th birthday party and the two talked about the latest news in the US Jewish community, including the debate over Bannon.
“My belief is that whatever else Steve Bannon is, he’s certainly a friend of Israel [who is being] falsely targeted as an antisemite with zero evidence, with the sole exception of something his wife said in divorce proceedings,” said Boteach.
The Huffington Post, he said, posts articles “disparaging Israel,” but no one accuses the site of antisemitism, and Hillary Clinton’s close adviser Sidney Blumenthal sent her articles written by his rabidly anti-Israel son Max Blumenthal, whom Boteach called the greatest promoter of antisemitism in the US, but she is still a friend of the Jewish community.
“We don’t practice guilt by association, so why would we do this to Bannon?” Boteach asked.
Listing Bannon’s pro-Israel bona fides, Boteach said he “opened a Jerusalem bureau of Breitbart with the sole purpose of presenting the Israeli point of view,” “Breitbart was active in fighting BDS” and presented “staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear plan.”
“When I was targeted by Max Blumenthal and hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters, it was a Breitbart reporter who came to my defense,” said Boteach.
The rabbi and activist said he thinks Ariel’s letter shows leadership, in that the minister is doing what he thinks is right even if it exposes him to criticism.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of Ariel’s Bayit Yehudi party, will appear at the Zionist Organization of America’s dinner Sunday, along with Bannon.