Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially hired right-wing journalist and author Aaron Klein as his new strategic and communications consultant, according to an announcement by his Likud party this week.
Klein, who has served as both Jerusalem bureau chief of Breitbart and a reporter for World Net Daily (WND), is a controversial figure with a penchant for amplifying conspiracy theories and was once described as “Steve Bannon’s man in the Middle East.”
Klein began advising Netanyahu in 2019 after the second of Israel’s three recent elections and Netanyahu credited him in part with his (albeit precarious) electoral victory in the third.
Klein, 41, has long been a frontline figure in fringe conservative media in the U.S. and has helped mainstream far-right conspiracy theories from his time at WND onwards. The Washington Post dubbed WND “the granddaddy of right-wing conspiracy sites,” and it was one of the first places to push the “birther” conspiracy theory falsely alleging Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and was thus an illegitimate president.
Before becoming president, birtherism was one of Donald Trump’s first foray’s into conservative politics and Klein himself boosted one of its corollaries – that though Obama declared himself a Christian, he was in fact a secret Muslim. Klein even told now deplatformed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in 2013 Obama “might be with” Al-Qaida given his “Islamic background.”
Klein’s headlines from WND illustrate his tendency towards “question mark journalism,” where wild and unfounded accusations lead headlines, but give the writer (and platform) the opportunity not to offer proof by hiding behind a final question mark.
They include the likes of: “U.S. politicians on video with underage sex slaves?” on the Jeffrey Epstein case, “Proof Hillary doomed Stevens with ‘classified’ emails?” on U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens’ murder in Benghazi, Libya, and “‘Is Obama biblical ‘Lord of the Flies’?” – an article covering online “prophecy sites” which took a long sympathetic journey into the meaning of the fly that landed on President Obama during a press conference – proof he was “possessed by a demonic entity.”
Klein is not the first Netanyahu hire who stirred controversy for attacking Obama. In 2015, Netanyahu received blowback for appointing Ran Baratz as his spokesman after it was reported Baratz had called Obama “anti-Semitic.”
Klein reportedly “wanted to volunteer” to help Netanyahu counter the multiple criminal indictments against him and worked to “rally his political base in America.”
This U.S. strategy, which leans on lines familiar from Trump’s own rhetoric and is directed at a similar pro-Trump demographic, made some impression, being amplified by right-wing media personalities. Fox News’ Mark Levin and “Fox & Friends” denouncing the charges against Netanyahu as fake news, part of Israel’s “deep state,” or a coup attempt.
Netanyahu gave Klein a very public shout out during his post-election rally in Tel Aviv once it became clear the Likud had won the closely-contested March 2nd poll, with 36 seats compared to his rival Blue and White party’s 33 seats.
Klein played a small role in Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Bannon, briefly Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign manager and later senior strategist, credited Klein in a SiriusXM radio interview with the “genius” idea of inviting sexual assault accusers of former U.S. president Bill Clinton for media interviews ahead of the October 2016 presidential debate against Hillary Clinton.
A year later Klein was again on Jones’ “InfoWars” to push the all-out Breitbart campaign to discredit women alleging past sexual assault and harassment at the hands of then GOP senate candidate Roy Moore (some of whom were teenagers at the time). Trump accepted Moore’s denials and refused to withdraw his endorsement.
Klein isn’t Netanyahu’s first political consultant from Trumpworld. In late 2019, he brought in Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first 2016 campaign manager (before he was replaced by Paul Manafort, later a convicted felon), and David Bossie – the deputy campaign manager for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Both Lewandowski and Bossie abruptly left in unclear circumstances after a month on the job, having pushed for a strategy avoiding negative campaigning, leaving Klein as the lone Trump alumnus in the campaign. Lewandowski is now back advising Trump for the 2020 presidential elections, although not officially part of the campaign.
Klein, a native of Philadelphia and the oldest of 10 children from a modern Orthodox Jewish family, began his career as editor of his college newspaper – Yeshiva University’s Commentator. He came to prominence with an interview of a radical Islamic cleric in the U.K. and later published his first book, “Schmoozing with Terrorists,” in 2007.
Klein’s other books include the New York Times best-seller “The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists” (2010) and “Impeachable Offenses: The Case to Remove Barack Obama from Office” (2013). A hagiographic review of the latter in WND was headlined ‘Manchurian president’ [Obama] ushering in Islamic caliphate?” and centered the allegation that Obama “tacitly supported a Muslim Brotherhood revolution.”
Klein has noted that their shared opposition to the rise of “radical Islamic terrorism” brought him and Bannon together: “We’re totally on the same page as far as our vision for the Middle East, the war on terror,” he said in 2017.
Current Breitbart CEO Larry Solov has stated that the entire idea of the Breitbart newsite was actually “born in Jerusalem,” while he and Andrew Breitbart were in town on a visit, and that from its inception, Breitbart news was going to be “unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel.”
“Steve Bannon made sure that happened, so finally Israeli affairs, Middle Eastern affairs, would be covered from an unabashedly Zionist, pro-Israel perspective,” Joel Pollak, senior-editor-at large at Breitbart News told Politico in 2016 as Bannon was entering the White House.
It’s no accident that Breitbart figures from the Bannon era like to consecrate what they describe as Bannon’s empathy for Jews. During the 2016 election, the ADL among others slammed Breitbart for pushing an explicit white nationalist agenda, calling it “the premier website” for the alt-right.
The high-profile establishment of Breitbart Jerusalem, and Klein’s leadership, was often used as a convenient counterpoint to combat that reputation. As Pollak explained, Breitbart Jerusalem apparently showed “the depth of Steve’s empathy for the Jewish people.”
Klein didn’t leave his conspiracy theory days behind when he moved on from WND in 2015.
While at Breitbart, he has focused much of his writing on attacking Democrats, George Soros, covering Trump-promoted conspiracy theories like “Spygate” and the “Ukraine hoax.” Klein recently wrote about Biden’s involvement in “the Russia collusion hoax.”
And he has faithfully pushed the Trump camp line that the Democrats have become pathologically anti-Israel, a change that they claim will tip a Jewish exodus from the party (known in those circles by the neologism “Jexodus.”) On his own radio show, Klein opined: “I think you are going to see American Jews, if they do care about Israel, bolt the Democratic Party because how could they stay in when the Democratic Party has taken a conscious decision to turn their backs on Israel?”
An analysis which omitted the all but certain reality that 70 percent of U.S. Jews who vote Democrat aren’t going to cross the aisle and vote for their nemesis Trump.
Netanyahu taking on Klein is clearly a bet not only on Trump-style tactics to browbeat his way out of the substantial legal mess in which he is caught (or in yet another election), but is also a vote for Trump 2020 and the team around him.
And while Netanyahu is an undeniably savvy and effective strategist, for some observers, that’s a foolishly partisan choice. A plan that could be very risky.
The latest polls show Trump losing ground to Biden in key swing states and trailing nationally by 8 points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. And the latest Gallup poll out this week shows Trump down to only a 39 percent approval rating – a ten point drop in a month. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter are the only incumbents in modern U.S. history to have their approval ratings drop below 40 percent in June of an election year. Both lost their reelection bids.
Shalom Lipner, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and longtime veteran of the prime minister’s office, slammed Klein’s hiring on Twitter as “short-sighted,” arguing what “Netanyahu should be doing is hedging his bets for the increasing likelihood of a Biden presidency, i.e. stop antagonizing Democrats.”
Short-sighted move by Netanyahu to double-down on Trump – a risky proposition to say the least – when there’s nobody else in there anyway.
A President Biden is unlikely to be thrilled to work with a world leader employing the man who literally wrote the book calling for Obama’s impeachment, denigrates Democrat-voting Jews and took – with other partners-in-crime – U.S. political discourse to some of its dirtiest, unfounded and prejudiced places yet.