The president declared that his former strategist and the boss of far-right Breitbart News had “lost his mind” for saying that a meeting Donald Trump Jr. and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner held with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election campaign was “treasonous.”
Yet hollow as it has turned out to be, “Russiagate” remains the central narrative of the self-styled Democratic and liberal “resistance.”
Pushing Netanyahu’s agenda
However, the special counsel probe by Robert Mueller has indeed uncovered some collusion between the Trump team and a foreign power: Israel.
In a plea agreement last month for making false statements to the FBI, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn admitted that he had contacted foreign governments during the final weeks of the Obama administration to try to derail a UN vote condemning Israeli settlements.
This possibly illegal effort to undermine the policy of the sitting administration was done at the direction of Kushner and at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yet mainstream pundits have shown little concern, just as they have shown little interest in any further revelations about what we might well call Israelgate coming out of the Wolff book.
As the book’s publication was brought forward amid the media frenzy, I decided to take a look.
It turns out that Fire and Fury contains evidence that Trump’s policy is not so much America First as it is Israel First.
Wolff recounts an early January 2017 dinner in New York where Bannon and disgraced former Fox News boss Roger Ailes discussed cabinet picks.
Bannon observed that they did not have a “deep bench,” but both men agreed the extremely pro-Israel neocon John Bolton would be a good pick for national security adviser. “He’s a bomb thrower,” Ailes said of Bolton, “and a strange little fucker. But you need him. Who else is good on Israel?”
“Day one we’re moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all in,” Bannon said, adding that anti-Palestinian casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson was on board too.
“Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying,” Bannon proposed. “The Saudis are on the brink, Egyptians are on brink, all scared to death of Persia.”
Asked by Ailes, “Does Donald know” the plan, Bannon reportedly just smiled.
Bannon’s idea reflected “the new Trump thinking” about the Middle East: “There are basically four players,” writes Wolff, “Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The first three can be united against the fourth.” Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be “given what they want” in respect to Iran, and in return would “pressure the Palestinians to make a deal.”
Another key foreign policy relationship for the Trump administration has been with Mohammad bin Salman, the reckless crown prince and real power in Saudi Arabia, who has been willing to go along with the plan, especially by cozying up to Israel.
According to Wolff, the lack of education of both Trump and MBS – as the Saudi prince is commonly known – put them on an “equal footing” and made them “oddly comfortable with each other.”
Trump, ignorant and constantly flattered by regional leaders, appeared to naively believe he could pull off what he called “the biggest breakthrough in Israel-Palestine negotiations ever.”
Bannon: anti-Semitic, virulently pro-Israel
The book claims that one key source of reported tension between Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump on the one hand, and Bannon on the other, is that “Kushner had concluded that Bannon was an anti-Semite.”
Yet that anti-Semitism has not prevented Bannon from pursuing a stridently pro-Israel agenda: ironically one of Bannon’s reported accusations against Kushner – whose family has made donations to support Israeli settlements – was that Kushner “was not nearly tough enough in his defense of Israel.”
Bannon’s key ally outside the White House – and therefore a major influence within it – was Adelson, who invested at least $25 million to get Trump elected. This also explains why Bannon constantly tried to outflank Kushner to the right on Israel.
Adelson even told Trump that Bannon was the only person in the White House he trusted on Israel.
That influence did not go away when Bannon departed, with reports that pressure from Adelson pushed Trump to make his ill-fated decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, blowing up whatever vanishingly slim chances he had of advancing a “peace” plan.
Kushner felt further undermined by how the president “had been gleefully telling multiple people that Jared could solve the Middle East problem because the Kushners knew all the crooks in Israel.”
Wolff’s book confirms that Trump’s presidency has helped revive the historic alliance between anti-Semites and Zionists to drive a far-right pro-Israel agenda.
Yet American politicians, congressional investigators and pundits remain curiously incurious about that.
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article misstated the location of the January 2017 dinner with Bannon and Ailes.