Carson claims new adviser is ex-Netanyahu chief of staff. Well, kinda
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Carson claims new adviser is ex-Netanyahu chief of staff. Well, kinda

Associates say George Birnbaum ran Netanyahu’s two-man office when he quit the Knesset after 1999 election loss

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Political adviser George Birnbaum during an interview with CNN in 2014. (YouTube/GuariscoGroup)
Political adviser George Birnbaum during an interview with CNN in 2014. (YouTube/GuariscoGroup)

US presidential hopeful Ben Carson has named “a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” as his foreign policy adviser, despite the political consultant having never worked in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Political operative George Birnbaum ran a two-person office managing Netanyahu’s media appearances and speaking arrangements after he quit the Knesset in 1999, following his election defeat to then-Labor leader Ehud Barak. Netanyahu was neither prime minister or a Knesset member during the time Birnbaum worked for him, former associates of the two, who asked not to be named, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

A statement released Tuesday by Ben Carson’s campaign said Birnbaum “will work with Dr. Carson to present bold strategies to bolster America’s presence in the world and confront the challenges facing the country in 2016 and beyond.”

“His work with three different Israeli prime ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon — has given [Birnbaum] tremendous insight into Middle Eastern affairs, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and counter-terrorism policies,” the statement noted.

According to a biography on the website of GEB International, the political consulting company founded by Birnbaum, he worked with Netanyahu and former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

“It was after the 1998 cycle that Birnbaum’s career took an international turn, when he agreed to consult for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign. Birnbaum eventually served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff, a position he held for a year and a half,” the biography said.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a news conference, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a news conference, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP Photo/John Locher)

Birnbaum’s former associates said the statement was misleading and that the title of “chief of staff” was “a serious exaggeration.”

He did work on Netanyahu’s failed campaign for the prime ministerial election that year, but only as a staffer for political operative Arthur Finkelstein.

The biography says Birnbaum worked with Finkelstein on the successful election campaign that put Sharon in office in 2001 and the election of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in 2008.

The pair also claim to have boosted Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party to become the third largest faction in the Knesset during the 2009 general elections in Israel; the party has since slumped to field just six MKs in the current parliament.

Carson’s foreign policy credentials have been under scrutiny since he joined the race to become the Republican candidate in May. The retired neurosurgeon has reportedly struggled with the complexities of geopolitical relations, with a top adviser saying he was “75 percent there.”

The GOP hopeful’s longtime business manager Armstrong Williams said the candidate was on a learning curve because “the world is a complex place, and he wants to get it right.”

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