Stephen Bannon recently called Breitbart News “the most pro-Israel site in the United States of America.”
According to Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief, that will not change with Bannon leaving the far-right news website to become President-elect Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist.
Saying he shares a worldview with Bannon, Aaron Klein plans to expand the Israel operation, which staunchly backs the Jewish state’s political right wing. “We’re here to counter the total bias of the mainstream media in coverage of Israel,” Klein, 38, said in an interview at his Tel Aviv apartment. “We write for the American audience, a Western audience obviously at this point. I think a huge segment of Israelis also has a pretty [whetted] appetite for an outlet that isn’t controlled by the leftist media mafia.”
Founded in 2007 by the late conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart, who was Jewish, the site grew in prominence during the presidential campaign as one of Trump’s most reliable champions.
When Bannon, who ran Breitbart after its founder’s death in 2012, became Trump’s campaign manager and then top White House aide, the site’s reputation — deserved or not — as a gathering place for the white supremacist and often anti-Semitic alt-right became fodder for national debate.
Defenders say Breitbart’s fiercely pro-Israel stance refutes charges that Bannon is an anti-Semite.
Bannon handpicked Klein to launch Breitbart Jerusalem (www.breitbart.com/jerusalem) in November 2015. The graduate of Yeshiva University in New York City said Breitbart does not cater to the alt-right and that he has no connection with the movement.
“I don’t even know what the alt-right is,” Klein said. “I mean, there are so many articles trying to define what it is. I don’t know, and I’m Breitbart’s senior reporter in addition to being the Jerusalem bureau chief.”
The general readership’s interest in Israel coverage, Klein said, is proof that the alt-right is a “fringe” element. In Klein’s view, Breitbart readers are nationalists who admire how Israel copes under difficult circumstances.
“There are themes here in Israel that I believe really resonate with the nationalist audience in America. Like borders. I mean that’s something Israel excels at defining. I think Bibi is a role model for America,” he said, using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname. “Americans in general see him as … [someone who has] stood up to enemies of Israel, stood up in many ways to the Obama administration, sort of an anti-establishment figure in a way.”
Readers are right to see common threats to the United States and Israel, Klein said. The Jewish state, he said, is under attack by Islamic extremists as well as by American liberal elites, like the “mainstream news media,” social justice activists and the Obama administration.
“Israel is the canary in the minefield for kind of what happens when you’re surrounded by enemies, when your enemies are emboldened,” he said. “So now the threats are, you know, on Israel’s borders. Threats that [Barack] Obama himself helped to create; Hillary [Clinton] as well.”
These supposedly shared threats, more than events in Israel, are the focus of Breitbart Jerusalem’s coverage, which is mostly aggregated from other news sources and written in a straight-ahead style that contrasts with the rest of the website. The message is largely in Klein’s editorial selection and framing.
One recent afternoon, the only posts on the landing page that did not name a Muslim or liberal threat were about Israel buying fighter jets from the United States and the wildfires that raged across Israel.
Many of Breitbart Jerusalem’s posts make explicit how both the United States and Israel are threatened. One recent top-of-the-website story was about how a car-ramming and stabbing attack at Ohio State University claimed by the Islamic State group resembled Palestinian terrorism in Israel.
Klein travels between the United States and Israel. In addition to heading Breitbart Jerusalem, he is the website’s senior investigative reporter focused on the United States. He has two full-time reporters in Israel.
Klein, like many Breitbart staffers, is Jewish. He grew up attending modern Orthodox schools and graduated from Yeshiva University before moving to Israel in 2005.
With Breitbart becoming a major media player — President and CEO Larry Solov said the site now gets 21 million unique users a month — and talking about expanding around the world, Klein said there are plans to hire more staff in Israel. He would like to do more reporting on Israeli culture, business and technology.
Down the line, he sees an opportunity to break into the Hebrew market — the one he described as dominated by a “leftist media mafia.”