After the Mooch's Departure, Leader of Right Wing Jewish Group Bemoans: 'We Lost a Strong Supporter of Israel'

Anthony Scaramucci's 'knowledge of the policy issues related to Israel wasn't perfect, but his heart was in the right place,' ZOA leader Mort Klein says of the former White House communications director

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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FILE PHOTO: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci arrives to travel with U.S. President Donald Trump to Ronkonkoma, New York from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci arrives to travel with U.S. President Donald Trump to Ronkonkoma, New York from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., July 28, 2017. RECredit: CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - For most people, the recent shake-ups and personnel dramas in the Trump White House, have been somewhat of a fun show to watch, reminiscent of popular Reality TV programs like "Survivor" and "The Apprentice." But for a small group of Jewish, right-wing activists who care deeply about issues related to Israel, the events of the last ten days involving Anthony Scaramucci have been a source for hope - and then, for disappointment.

The media coverage in the United Sates - and in fact, all over the world - has focused on Scaramucci's fierce rivalry with former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and then on his own humiliating departure from the White House on Monday, just ten days after being hired by President Donald Trump to be his Communications Director.

Scaramucci, according to a number of reports, was escorted out of the West Wing on Monday afternoon, after being forced out by General John Kelly, the man who replaced his former nemesis, Priebus, as Trump's top adviser.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with John Kelly after he was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017. Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

"We lost a very strong friend and supporter of Israel," said Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a right-wing organization, who has been in touch with Scaramucci ever since the 2016 election campaign. "He loves Israel and wants to do what is best for Israel, as long as its' also the best thing for America," Klein told Haaretz with regards to the "Mooch," using his nickname, and adding that "maybe they will still find another position for him in the administration."

Klein and Scaramucci were both in the headlines last January, when a meeting between the two of them was reported as "the first encounter between a Trump transition official and the head of a Jewish-American organization."

They met in New York, and according to Klein, discussed a wide range of issues, including his wish to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"Scaramucci is a Wall Street guy, not a policy expert," Klein told Haaretz on Monday, in a conversation which took place after news of Mooch's firing had broken. "His knowledge of the policy issues related to Israel wasn't perfect, but his heart was in the right place. He came to me during the election, when he was advising Trump, to get some advice and ideas. I always felt that he is a sincere friend of Israel, and he became more knowledgeable with time."

Klein was happy when he learned 11 days ago that Scaramucci would be joining the Trump administration, and he told Jewish Insider that Scaramucci is supportive of Israel "in the ZOA way, not in the mainstream Jewish way." Klein isn't shy of criticizing centrist and even some right-wing Jewish groups for what he considers their "soft" positions over the years on issues like the Oslo Accords, the Gaza disengagement plan and nowadays, any future peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.

When he said that Scaramucci is pro-Israel "in the ZOA way," Klein meant that he would advocate for an Israel policy that is far to the right of previous U.S. administrations, including the last two Republican administrations under the Bush family, which pushed the 1991 Madrid conference and the 2002 "Road Map for Peace." After the January 2017 meeting, Klein kept in touch with Scaramucci, and he told Haaretz that the two spoke and exchanged emails over the past few weeks.

Obama holdovers and fake mistresses

Scaramucci is also close to Arthur Schwartz, a New York-based public relations consultant, who cooperates with ZOA ("not in a paid position, but as a friend," according to Klein) and shares the organization's views on Israel. In a number of recent news articles, Schwartz was described as Scaramucci's spokesman and public relations representative, characterizations which he later denied on his Twitter account, insisting he and the Mooch were simply close friends.

Over the weekend, Schwartz came to his friend's defense in face of embarrassing news stories about Scaramucci, and ended up creating an embarrassing situation of his own, after threatening to publish information about an affair between Reince Priebus and a "mistress" as retaliation for leaks harmful to Scaramucci. Schwartz later apologized and expressed regret for doing that, and admitted that he had no solid information to support those allegations against Priebus. His apologies came over a series of tweets in which he wrote "I did something stupid and I'm embarrassed," and "I'm ashamed of what I said."

Schwartz's attacks on Priebus carried a more ideological line of criticism earlier this year, before the Scaramucci-Priebus drama, when he accused Priebus of allowing "Obama holdovers" - professional experts and diplomats at the National Security Council and the State Department - to influence President Trump's policy on Israel. He specifically targeted Michael Ratney, a former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem who is currently in charge of the State Department's involvement in the Trump administration's attempts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In March, Schwartz put out a tweet referring to a report about the PLO naming a youth camp after a terrorist, and wrote in it - "good thing Reince has Obama/Kerry flunky Michael Ratney running point on the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio at the State Department."

Three days after that tweet, Schwartz put up a link to a report about the atrocities in Syria, and wrote - ״Hey Reince, your pal Ratney had his own Aleppo moment."

Ratney was in charge of the State Department's Syria policy under the previous administration, and the phrase "Aleppo moment" is based on an incident during the 2016 elections in which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson asked during a TV interview "what is Aleppo."

In June, after a terror attack in Jerusalem led to the death of an Israeli policewoman, Schwartz wrote on his twitter account - "Obama holdovers at State sympathize w/ Palestinians that support the terrorists that killed this kid. Why hasn't Reince cleaned house?"

Mr. Priebus' official twitter username during the time he served in the White House, "@Reince45", was mentioned in each of those tweets by Schwartz.

Klein thought Scaramucci's addition to the White House staff would have been good news for Israel, in light of the Mooch's feelings on the issue, and his connection to ZOA. But as of Tuesday, Scaramucci seems out of the administration - together with Priebus - while Mr. Ratney and some of the other career diplomats ("holdovers") are still in.

Klein, it should be noted, told Haaretz last week that ever since Trump took office, he has been invited to meetings in the White House on four different occasions, and it seems likely that Scaramucci's firing will not change how his organization judges the Trump administration on Israel. Last week, ZOA called on President Trump to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over a State Department report which was critical of Israel's policies in the occupied West Bank, and which according to Klein, included justifications for Palestinian terrorism.

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