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Israeli minister backs Stephen Bannon appointment as key Trump aide

    Stephen Bannon
    Stephen Bannon

    An Israeli cabinet minister has defended the controversial appointment of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s chief strategist.

    Uriel Ariel, the minister for agriculture and rural development, sent a letter of support to Mr Bannon after Jewish groups accused the president-elect's key adviser of making antisemitic comments.

    In the letter, which was written on official Knesset stationery, Mr Ariel said he wanted to express “support and thanks” for Mr Bannon’s friendship with Israel.

    The minister thanked Mr Bannon, who stepped down as head of the right-wing Breitbart News website to guide Mr Trump’s election campaign, for "opening of a Jerusalem bureau in Israel while head of Breitbart in order to promote Israeli point of view in the media."

    Mr Ariel, who represents the Tkuma faction within the Orthodox Jewish Home party in the Knesset, added: "While we do not know each other personally, dear friends of mine including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach have shared with me your strong opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, which threatens Israel’s survival, [and] your opposition to BDS.

    He added that while "there are many areas of disagreement between us", the two were in agreement that "Israel, as the Middle East’s only democracy, must always have the strongest international support."

    Mr Bannon has raised concerns over previous statements considered to be antisemitic.

    In 2007, he was accused by his ex-wife of saying he did not want his daughter “going to school with Jews”.

    In a court statement in 2007, Mr Bannon's former wife, Mary Louise Piccard, alleged that he had not wanted his girls to attend a top Los Angeles private school because "he doesn’t like Jews and he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’."

    A spokeswoman for Mr Bannon previously denied the allegations.

    He has also been supported by the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

    Under his leadership, Breitbart, became increasingly right-wing and nationalistic.

    On his appointment, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said: "It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the 'alt-right' - a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed antisemites and racists - is slated to be a senior staff member in the 'people's house'."

    American Jewish groups have written to Mr Trump asking him to reconsider the appointment.

    The letter also urged Mr Trump to reject campaign pledges on the expulsion of undocumented immigrants and a ban on Muslim immigration, and to maintain the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    It was signed by groups including J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby; the National Council of Jewish Women; T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights group, and Uri L’Tzedek, the Orthodox social justice organisation.

    The groups also attacked “the many instances of antisemitism – both subtle and overt – that appeared around your presidential campaign”.

    Meanwhile, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, has said he would sign up to a register of Muslims if it is established by Mr Trump.

    Speaking at a conference on antisemitism in New York, Mr Greenblatt said: “If one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

    During his campaign, Mr Trump pledged he would make Muslims in American register on a database so their movements could be tracked.

    However, a Trump spokesperson this week denied such a promise had been made.

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