Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel came to the defense of President-elect Donald Trump's choice for chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, the editor of the Breitbart News website and a man considered a figurehead of the anti-Semitic alt-right movement whose appointment inspired widespread criticism.
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"Dear Mr. Bannon, I wanted to express my support and thanks for your friendship with Israel," Ariel, from the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, wrote Bannon on official Knesset stationery, Breitbart reported over the weekend.
Specifically, Ariel thanked Bannon for "opening of a Jerusalem bureau in Israel while head of Breitbart in order to promote Israeli point of view in the media."
"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, [and] your opposition to BDS.
Ariel noted that though "there are many areas of disagreement between us," the two were in agreement that "Israel, as the Middle East’s only democracy, must always have the strongest international support."
Bannon, the chairman of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign who was named this week by Trump to be a top White House adviser, has been accused of being part of a broad movement, the alt-right, which includes racists and anti-Semites. Earlier this year, he called Breitbart News, the website he formerly chaired, a “platform for the alt-right.”
In recent days, the Jewish American community has been split over whether to speak out against Bannon. A number of Jewish groups have condemned his hiring, while a few defended it, including prominent leaders of Israel's settler movement. On Friday, dozens of American Jewish organized set Trump a letter urging him to rescind the appointment.
Leading the charge in the Jewish world has been the Anti-Defamation League, whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has charged that Bannon, as a self-proclaimed leader of the "alt-right," harbors anti-Semitic and white nationalist views that are "hostile to core American values."
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal this weekend, Bannon dismisses claims of anti-Semitism and defended his website, saying “Breitbart is the most pro-Israel site in the United States of America.”
Bannon expressed similar sentiments in an interview with the New York Times last Tuesday, saying “It’s not that some people on the margins, as in any movement, aren’t bad guys — racists, anti-Semites. But that’s irrelevant.”
JTA contributed background to this report
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