In early May 2017, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach made headlines when he tweeted a picture of himself with President Donald Trump’s Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon in the latter’s office, in front of a whiteboard listing the top political priorities of the Trump White House. As Boteach put it: “The picture — with the whiteboard of campaign promises and priorities in the background — seems to be the tweet heard around the world.”
“While I did not notice anything on the board behind us at the time,” he explained, “I must say that I am happy to see that repealing the catastrophic Iran nuclear agreement, and moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, remain important to the administration.”
“Many condemned me for the picture, and a steady stream of hate has been channeled, one again, in my direction,” Boteach concluded, in a Breitbart op-ed titled Rabbi Shmuley: For Steve Bannon, Israel Is on the Whiteboard, “That will not deter me from standing up for friends of Israel and my people.”
— Rabbi Shmuley (@RabbiShmuley) May 2, 2017
Boteach’s is one of several testimonies by rightwing Jewish leaders who have concluded that Steve Bannon is probably the most influential friend of Israel in the Trump White House, which should be a warning to Israel’s right. With Trump delegating Israeli issues to his three generals – Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – as well as to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Special Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt, and multitasking son-in-law Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon’s grasp of Israel’s real needs will be missed.
Israeli Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) put it well in a letter he sent Bannon last November, when he received his WH appointment amid horrified reactions from many establishment Jewish groups in the US: Ariel expressed his “support and thanks” for Bannon’s friendship with Israel and for “opening of a Jerusalem bureau in Israel while head of Breitbart in order to promote Israeli point of view in the media.”
Ariel added: “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.” He concluded, just to be on the safe side, probably, that “there are many areas of disagreement between us,” but they share the belief that “Israel, as the Middle East’s only democracy, must always have the strongest international support.”
It’s true that Bannon used his pro-Israel credentials at least once recently, when he organized an all-fronts attack on his archenemy in Trump’s circle, General McMaster, as well as Israel Advisor Colonel Kris Bauman, utilizing all his friends on the Jewish right. The criticism of both senior officials was not baseless, but it was also an unfair, cherry-picked campaign in the familiar Breitbart style. Nevertheless, it wasn’t such a bad thing to have someone in the Administration willing to identify openly with Israel’s rightwing agenda.
ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt was practically giddy when he noted on Friday: “We are glad Steve Bannon will no longer advise the president. In November of 2016, when Bannon was first appointed, we called on the president to disassociate himself from someone who boasted about creating a platform on Breitbart for the alt right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites. Just this week, Bannon unconscionably praised President Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville.”
Yes, the ADL employs precisely the kind of guilt by association used by Bannon now and again. If you can’t pin anti-Semitism on Bannon himself, there’s plenty of anti-Semites he talks to which make up for it.
Indeed, in a famous “Stephen Bannon: Five Things to Know” the ADL published last November, warning about the dangers of the man who made Trump President, the fifth “thing” was the ADL admission that “We are not aware of any anti-Semitic statements from Bannon.” They were forced to concede that “in fact, Jewish employees of Breitbart have challenged the characterization of him and defended him from charges of anti-Semitism.”
Ha’aretz on Saturday recalled that during the Trump transition Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer took great pains to stress that Israel was looking forward “to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”
Dermer, an observant Jew, is not a fool: if he mentioned only Bannon by name as Israel’s true ally in the coming Administration, it was obviously to signal which Trump official Israel would prefer to trade horses with. Only Bannon, as it later turned out, was prepared to follow through on candidate Donald Trump’s vision of breaking away from traditional US notions about Israel and the “peace process.”
As many US political pundits across the map are already predicting that Donald Trump is not likely to serve out his first term in office, having been abandoned by US Business community, the Republican party, US Jews, the Military Chiefs, and even most of his friends on Fox (except for Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity) – while being under five different investigations for collusion with Russia and, reportedly, money laundering – Trump is going to leave the peace thing to his lieutenants, which could be very bad for the settlements enterprise, sovereignty over Area C, and the crucial construction between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, to name but three hot button issues.
With things being as bad as they are for President Trump, we should probably be looking forward to his speedy replacement by a tried and true friend of Israel, Vice President Mike Pence.
Back in May, at an Israel Independence Day Commemoration Event, Pence said: “For my part, my Christian faith compels me to cherish Israel as well as our deep alliance and historical ties. The songs of the land of the people of Israel were the anthems of my youth when I was growing up. You know, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting Israel in 2004 and 2008, and we fulfilled a lifelong dream to bring all of our children to the Holy Land in December of 2014. It was a joy – inexpressible.”
He also said: “Israel is an eternal testament to the undying fortitude of the Jewish people, to the unfathomable power of human freedom, and to the unending faithfulness of God. Indeed, though Israel was built by human hands, it’s impossible not to sense that just beneath their history lies the hand of heaven. For as God tells us in his word, speaking to his people so long ago, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
We could do a lot worse than with President Mike Pence.