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June 17, 2020 6:42 am

The Demonization of Netanyahu Adviser Aaron Klein

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

Opinion

Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, journalist Aaron Klein. Photo: Twitter.

For too long in America, we’ve seen people fired, forced to resign, or otherwise de-platformed for nothing more than expressing an unpopular political opinion. With time, this “cancel culture” has become increasingly intense. Lately, it can even be seen seeping into the mesh of the Israeli political and media establishments.

In the United States, this “spirit of ferocious intellectual intolerance,” as my friend, New York Times’ columnist Bret Stephens, calls it, reached a crescendo last week with the resignation (or forced-firing) of New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet, a distinguished journalist with impeccable liberal credentials, who did nothing wrong except publish an op-ed by a sitting American senator expressing what turned out to be a mainstream view.

The opinion — namely, that America should deploy active duty troops to major American cities in response to looting and rioting — was at the time supported by 52% of American voters, as Stephens pointed out in a brilliant op-ed earlier this week.

Personally, I was opposed to deploying American troops. But the idea that a distinguished editor was fired over publishing Senator Tom Cotton’s opinion is shocking. And yet, cascades of condemnations and a New York Times staff revolt would quickly culminate in Bennet’s resignation.

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Looking past the uproar, it’s clear that ideas today are judged less by their merits than popularity and mass appeal. That trend has empowered another: the masses have now become judges, juries, and executioners of people’s entire careers.

As a result, politics and media are beginning to feel less like the Roman Forum than the Roman Coliseum — where only the crowd-pleasers survive.

Which brings us to Aaron Klein, who was tapped last week to serve as strategic and communications advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Considering Netanyahu is himself a nearly unparalleled strategist and communicator, it follows that he’d only draft the highest-caliber assets. Indeed, Klein’s credentials are solid and assuring. Before helping Netanyahu and Likud win their last election — his work was praised by campaign chairman Israel Katz — Klein had worked for more than 15 years as a journalist, strategist, and author specializing in politics and the Middle East.

And yet, some in Israel have protested his appointment. Of course, they don’t call into question his integrity or abilities, but rather a few obscure political opinions he expressed over the past 15 years. News outlets on both sides of the aisle dug through a decade of news content, each intent on proving that Klein was a right-wing extremist. Some slammed him for slamming President Barack Obama, even as Obama empowered genocidal Imams with $150 billion and legitimized their nuclear ambitions with his Iran deal and refused to veto an United Nations motion against Israel, itself an American first. Others warned that Klein’s appointment might offend Joe Biden, summing it up as a “short-sighted move” bent on “antagonizing Democrats.”

But since when has expressing right-wing views become “antagonizing” to Democrats? Surely Israel, as a democracy like the United States itself, has people on the right and the left, and like the wings of a bird which achieves flight through antithetical propulsion, we need both.

I have known Aaron Klein as a professional colleague for some 15 years and have long valued him as someone dedicated in body, heart, and soul to the Jewish state. As far back as a decade ago, we hosted radio shows on WABC 770AM in New York City, America’s most listened-to talk-radio station. In the years since, I’ve written intermittently for Breitbart News, for which he founded and led the Jerusalem-based Middle East Bureau. From what I have seen, read, and heard, I know Aaron to be a man of firm moral grounding — a Jewish patriot with a passion for truth and burning Jewish pride.

Most importantly for a man in his position, Klein has exhibited insight and understanding on many of Israel’s key political issues.

For example, Israel is regularly pressured into making dangerous territorial concessions. In the wake of the 15-year fiasco in Hamas-held Gaza, it’s easier to oppose today. But in 2005, much of Israel was swept up in a fever to unilaterally withdraw from the enclave. Dashing for a quick fix, many were oblivious to the risks. To his credit, Klein was on the scene, telling the truth about the elements Israel would be empowering and the Jews it was evicting. He lived there on the ground for six months, covering the Gush Katif residents being forcibly evacuated from their own homes. He gave a voice to the heroic yet much-maligned settlers, whose very presence on that land stopped it from becoming the giant unified rocketropolis that it is today. And I was a personal witness to so much of this as my children were, arguably, the last to actually plant trees in Gush Katif (on Tu B’Shvat) the year it was handed to the Hamas terrorists.

In the years since Israel’s withdrawal, tens of thousands of rockets have been fired and thousands of innocents sacrificed in furtherance of Hamas’ stated goal of murdering every Jew the world over.

Responding to that tragic tendency, Klein has fought to make the malice of Israel’s enemies known. Pursuing high-risk interviews, Klein spoke directly with terrorist chieftains (including some from Hamas) laying bare the barbarity of their plans and worldview. In others, he forced political and religious leaders to take a stand on the terrorist issue, unmasking Hamas sympathizers like English parliamentarian George Galloway and the Imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque.

With all of this and more, Klein has emerged as a leader in the field of combatting BDS and heralding the merits and virtues of Israel for the world to see. Yes, he clashed mightily with the Obama administration. So did the elected government of Israel, as well as AIPAC and even leading Democrats like Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, as well as 78% of the Israeli population. I worked closely with activists and politicians on both sides of the aisle to oppose the catastrophic Iran deal, which was a disgrace to the United States. Were we all “antagonizing Democrats”?

Ultimately, the jabs hurled Klein’s way are symptomatic of a stadium mentality with which so many view the Jewish state. Worse, they demand Israel play by their rules.

To give an  example: Israel mulls annexation, and as if on cue, the coliseum crowds emerge. The Palestinian Authority, the UN, and the EU chime in. Dignitaries warn that the Jewish annexation of their own historic homeland could lead to “disaster,” “escalations,” or even Israel’s collapse. A group of 400 Jewish studies professors equate annexation to “Apartheid.” Even the Emirati ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba felt the need to warn Israel against annexation, publishing an op-ed in Hebrew in Israel’s leading newspaper Yediot Aharonot — a PR event facilitated by a man I admire, Haim Saban.

Of course, there should be different views on annexation. It’s a complex issue that Israelis should analyze, discuss, and decide on. But trading partners, Jewish-studies professors, and the ambassador to a foreign nation from an even more foreign nation? Respectfully, since when did their voices matter more than Israelis themselves? And I say this as an American Jew who loves Israel.

The annexation debate has proven that no country has to put up with non-stop micro-management like Israel does. Klein’s appointment has shown that Israel mustn’t just impress American presidents, but their potential successors too.

I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu, Aaron Klein, and their detractors to recall this simple, unbreakable truth. When you have inherent merits, you need no one’s approval. Israelis can think for themselves.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s holocaust memoir, Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell, written with historical contributions by Mitchell Bard, will be published later this year. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.

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