Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with President-elect Donald Trump Thursday and declared that Jerusalem was looking forward to working with his entire team — including chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.
“Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” Dermer told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
“We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country,” he added, while standing next to Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
Without being asked to comment on Trump’s hiring of Bannon, Dermer invoked Israel’s readiness to collaborate with him in his official new capacity.
“We look 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,” he said.
Since Trump announced Bannon’s appointment — along with naming Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus to be his chief of staff — Republicans, Democrats and various Jewish organizations have denounced the decision, saying that Bannon represents a brand of populist nationalism that emboldens racists and should not be near the Oval Office.
As executive chairman of Breitbart News from 2012 to 2016, Bannon pushed a nationalist agenda and turned the publication into what he called “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement associated with white supremacist ideas that oppose multiculturalism.
The alt-right is an amorphous designation that includes an array of white nationalists and neo-Nazis. A recent Anti-Defamation League report found that a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic harassment of journalists during the election was carried out by self-identified alt-right Trump backers.
The Breitbart website has been known for incendiary content. In March, it came under fire for a headline calling anti-Trump Republican Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew.”
In June 2015, shortly after an assailant who had taken pictures posing with a Confederate Flag murdered nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, it posted an article with the headline: “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”
Bannon himself has been personally accused of prejudice. According to court documents obtained by The Associated Press, Bannon’s ex-wife said in a sworn declaration the Brietbart editor made anti-Semitic remarks when the two battled over sending their daughters to private school nearly a decade ago. Bannon has denied the allegations against him.
Trump’s appointing Bannon has been hailed by a number of white supremacist leaders, including former KKK leader David Duke, who reportedly praised Bannon’s promotion as an “excellent” decision.
On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League castigated the move, with CEO Jonathan Greenblatt calling Bannon “hostile to core American values.”
Later, California Representative Adam Schiff, the top ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Bannon’s “alt-right, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views don’t belong” in the White House.
Bernie Sanders also added his voice to the choir on Wednesday, urging Trump to rescind his controversial appointment. “The appointment by President-elect Trump of a racist individual like Mr. Bannon to a position of authority is totally unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
“This country, since its inception, has struggled to overcome discrimination of all forms: racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia,” he added. “We are not going backward. The appointment of Mr. Bannon by Mr. Trump must be rescinded.”
Trump’s camp rejects any suggestion that Bannon is a bigoted extremist, saying critics should look at his full resume, particularly his record as a former naval officer, Goldman Sachs managing partner and Hollywood producer.
Other Democrats who have spoken out against Bannon are Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and a number of other lawmaker like Congressman Keith Ellison, the likely favorite to become the next Democratic National Committee chair, who sent an open letter to financial services trade groups demanding they condemn the appointment of Bannon.
“As leaders in the business community, you have a moral obligation to speak out against this appointment as contrary to the values of this country and to the values of your industry,” they wrote in their letter. “We urge you to condemn this appointment immediately and without reservation.”
“You have influence over the conduct of the next Administration and a clear opportunity to announce unequivocally that the banking and finance industry will not tolerate bigotry and prejudice,” it went on. “What message will it send to your customers and employees if you remain silent?”
There were also 169 House Democratic members who signed a separate letter saying the appointment undermines Trump’s ability to unite the country.
“Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns,” it said.
AFP contributed to this report.