Amid increasing calls in the US by Jewish and progressive groups on President-elect Donald Trump to drop Stephen Bannon as chief strategist over his links with the so-called alt-right movement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he did not personally know the former editor of Breitbart but that he was not concerned over charges of racism or anti-Semitism leveled at Trump and his associates.
“The boss ultimately decides the policy,” Netanyahu said in a wide-ranging interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” aired Sunday, adding that “Mr. Trump and his associates are going to be very strong, not merely in support of Israel, the Jewish state, but also in support of the Jewish people.”
Jewish groups in the US have denounced Bannon due to his links to the “alt-right,” a far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”
Bannon called Breitbart News, a conservative news website for which he served as CEO, a “platform for the alt-right,” but has denied being an anti-Semite or white supremacist.
Trump had come under pressure to fire Bannon and denounce his more extremist supporters, including the alt-right — whose self-styled leader last month held a conference in DC where the Nazi salute was performed by several attendees and shouts of “hail Trump, hail victory” were heard.
Following that gathering, Trump told the New York Times that the alt-right was not a group he wanted to “energize.”
Asked on Monday if he was satisfied with Trump’s denouncements of some of his more anti-Semitic supporters, Netanyahu said he was “not a referee.”
“I know his attitude toward Israel, toward Jewish state, and the Jewish people and that’s so powerful. For God’s sake, he has Jewish grandchildren, he has a Jewish daughter, who converted to Judaism. I think we should keep sight of that,” Netanyahu said.
The description of Trump as being anti-Semitic “is just not true,” said the Israeli leader.
In the same interview Sunday, Netanyahu said he wanted to work with Trump to roll back the US-led nuclear accord with Iran and seek his help in trying to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu said it was not too late to undo the deal that was the landmark foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama, noting that he would present Trump with five alternatives to the accord, without elaborating.
“I think what options we have are much more than you think. Many more,” Netanyahu said when asked if he did not fear that abrogating the nuclear accord would put Tehran on the fast track to a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu also said he’d “like to have President Trump, when he gets into the White House, help me work” on peace with the Palestinians, but reiterated his long held demand that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“The real reason we haven’t had peace is because of a persistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border,” Netanyahu said. “And if they do, this thing will begin to correct itself very quickly.”
While Netanyahu has been publicly committed to the two-state solution for several years, many in his coalition, and even in his Likud party, see the Trump administration as an opportunity for Israel to move past the idea of a Palestinian state and annex much, if not all, of the West Bank.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has been the most vocal proponent of annexation, saying last month that “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security.”
Gavin Rabinowitz contributed to this report.