In new book, Israel seen as locus of Bannon-Kushner power struggle
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In new book, Israel seen as locus of Bannon-Kushner power struggle

Top adviser tried to paint Trump's son in law as weak on the Jewish state as the two competed for the president's backing, Michael Wolff claims in 'Fire and Fury'

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Stephen Bannon, left, and Jared Kushner attending a White House swearing-in ceremony of senior staff, January 22, 2017. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images via JTA)
Stephen Bannon, left, and Jared Kushner attending a White House swearing-in ceremony of senior staff, January 22, 2017. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON — A new book released Friday that has spellbound political Washington details the way Israel was caught in the middle of a fierce power struggle between US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

“Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House” by Michael Wolff, which has been at the center of the latest Trump controversy cycle, depicts a situation in which Bannon often derided Kushner, who was tasked by the president with leading the administration’s efforts to broker a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

Kushner’s Jewish upbringing has brought him into frequent contact with the Jewish state, including hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his bedroom according to a New York Times report. On Sunday, the Times reported that Kushner and his family’s company are heavily invested in business deals with Israelis.

Bannon charged, however, that Kushner was too weak in his defense of Jewish state, and used Israel as a way to take Kushner down a notch, Wolff reports in his instant best-seller.

“One of Bannon’s accusations against Kushner, the administration’s point person on the Middle East, was that he was not nearly tough enough in his defense of Israel,” Wolff says in the book. “Bannon did not hesitate to ding Kushner on Israel, that peculiar right-wing litmus test. Bannon could bait Jews – globalist, cosmopolitan, liberal Jews like Kushner – because the farther right you were, the more correct you were on Israel.”

Reports out of the early days of the Trump administration depicted Kushner and Bannon frequently at odds and competing for the president’s backing. Several reports have surfaced of Bannon accusing Kushner of pushing him out of the White House, which he resigned from in the wake of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in July.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner, their two children Arabella Kushner and Joseph Kushner, Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, second from right, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, walk to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Md., Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The attacks on the basis of support for Israel, Wolff said, deeply bothered Kushner, who felt they were anti-Semitic in nature.

“Bannon’s effort to grab the stronger-on-Israel label was deeply confounding to Kushner, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew,” Wolff writes. “For Kushner, Bannon’s right-wing defense of Israel, embraced by Trump, somehow became a jujitsu piece of anti-Semitism aimed directly at him.”

“Bannon seemed determined,” Wolff went on, “to make Kushner appear weak and inadequate – a cuck, in alt-right speak.”

A central character in the book’s narrative of Trump’s rise to power and most of his first year in the White House, Bannon also reportedly told former Fox News executive Roger Ailes that Trump’s team considered a plan to relinquish control of the West Bank to Jordan and the Gaza Strip to Egypt — and that the then president-elect was “totally onboard” with such a proposal.

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn as he arrives at the White House in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, after traveling from Camp David, Md. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Bannon pushed aggressively for moving the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on the first day of the administration, which was not carried out. According to Wolff, he told Ailes that move was in motion and that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to GOP and right-wing pro-Israel causes, were on board.

Trump, for his part, has not moved the embassy, but set in motion plans for the relocation last month when he formally recognized the holy city as Israel’s capital.

“Day one we’re moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in, Sheldon is all-in,” Bannon told Ailes, according to the book. “We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”

That idea would mark a major shift in US foreign policy, eliminating the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Aides reportedly asked Bannon: “Where’s Donald on this?” (Wolff described this question as “the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.”)

To which Bannon replied: “He’s totally onboard.”

“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” Ailes then reportedly said.

“Too much, too little — doesn’t necessarily change things,” Bannon responded.

Copies of the book “Fire and Fury” by author Michael Wolff are displayed on a shelf at Book Passage on January 5, 2018, in Corte Madera, California.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)

Since the book’s release, Bannon’s comments — particularly his assertion that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians during the campaign was “treasonous” — have put him in hot water with his mercurial former boss, who has now designated him “Sloppy Steve,” the latest in one of his disparaging nicknames.

The executive chairman of Breitbart News tried to back away from those explosive comments on Sunday, releasing a statement, first reported by Axios, calling Trump Jr. “a patriot and a good man.”

One detail that “Fire and Fury” fleshes out, but was not necessarily unknown prior to the book’s release, was the relationship Bannon formed with Adelson, who owns Israel Hayom, a right-wing Hebrew daily in Israel that is pro-Netanyahu.

Sheldon Adelson is seated prior to the inauguration of then President-elect Donald Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards)

“On Israel, Bannon had partnered with Sheldon Adelson, titan of Las Vegas, big-check right-wing contributor, and, in the president’s mind, quite the toughest tough-guy Jew (that is, the richest),” Wolff writes.

The book also claims that Adelson defended Bannon to the president when he was considering firing him at one point last year, telling Trump that Bannon was “the only person he trusted on Israel.”

Michael Wolff (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“Fire and Fury” has been a source of intense controversy since it neared its release last week. Trump and his staff have been relentlessly attacking the book and the author’s credibility.

Certain aspects of the book’s reporting have been called into question, including a passage that says Trump did not know, as president-elect, former Speaker of the House John Boehner. In fact, they had golfed together in the past.

“Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book,” Trump tweeted. “He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”

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