Netanyahu offered American right-wing rabbi senior role in 4th election campaign

Aryeh Lightstone, former senior aide to US ambassador to Israel and manager of fund aimed at advancing Israeli-Arab peace, turned down offer to be PM’s campaign chief

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, a senior aide to the US ambassador to Israel, speaks from the embassy in Jerusalem to an online conference of Christians United for Israel, April 30, 2020. (YouTube screenshot)
Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, a senior aide to the US ambassador to Israel, speaks from the embassy in Jerusalem to an online conference of Christians United for Israel, April 30, 2020. (YouTube screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Aryeh Lightstone, a former senior aide to David Friedman, who served as the US ambassador to Israel under President Donald Trump, a senior role in his most recent election campaign, sources told The Times of Israel.

Lightstone, an Orthodox rabbi who joined Friedman in 2017 as a political appointee, turned the offer down, indicating that it would be unbecoming of him to join a local campaign so soon after serving as an official in a US administration.

Netanyahu contemplated tapping Lightstone as campaign chief and foreign media communications director, a position he ended up giving to Aaron Klein in February 2021.

Klein, a former journalist for the right-wing Breitbart news site who authored books challenging Barack Obama’s fitness for the presidency, joined the prime minister’s staff in March 2020, before serving as Netanyahu’s election campaign chief for the March 2021 election.

(From right to left) Susan Pompeo, then-US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and aide Aryeh Lightstone at Ben Gurion Airport, on November 20, 2020. (State Department/Twitter)

Lightstone told The Times of Israel that the details provided by the sources were “not accurate,” and declined to comment further, while Netanyahu’s political spokesman said, “This is not true.”

However, sources confirmed that the political position was indeed offered to Lightstone.

In addition to serving as top aide to Friedman, Lightstone was appointed by Trump to manage the Abraham Fund, a $3 billion financial fund that would funnel money into private-sector-led initiatives meant to foster economic growth and cooperation in the Middle East.

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

On January 20, the day US President Joe Biden took office, Lightstone resigned from his official duties and chose to stay in Israel through the end of the school year.

The future of the Abraham Fund remains unclear. Past conversations with dozens of people reveal that while the fund got off to a quick — if shadowy — start, it has languished with the entrance of the Biden administration.

According to administration officials, Lightstone played a key role in brokering the Abraham Accords, which saw ties forged last year between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. However, he remained largely behind the scenes until the waning days of the Trump administration.

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