American Jewish organizations are expressing deep concern at the prospect that a white nationalist will have the ear of the next president of the US based on what they have heard about Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s choice for chief White House strategist.
Their leadership is speaking up at an unusual time and in harsh tones, as Trump, the president-elect, is working to hire more than 4,000 new people to fill his administration.
The Anti-Defamation League, among several others, offered a rare statement of alarm at his hiring. And Jewish Democratic figures are calling for Trump to reconsider Bannon’s appointment.
“Of utmost concern is ensuring that policies proposed and put into place make good on President-elect Trump’s Election Night promise, for the benefit of all citizens of our too-divided country, and address the central concerns of the American people and our allies around the world,” said Jason Isaacson, a senior American Jewish Committee leadership figure.
The ADL was more blunt.
“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,’” said its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt.
ADL first praised the president- elect for his choice of chief of staff in Reince Priebus, currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee. But Greenblatt went on to say that the organization opposes the appointment of Bannon because he and the alt-right movement he represents are “so hostile to core American values.”
The ADL called on Trump to instead “nominate Americans committed to the well-being of all our country’s people and who exemplify the values of pluralism and tolerance that make our country great.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee declined to comment on the hire, maintaining what it described as a longstanding policy against commenting on presidential appointments. But its leadership is said to be as concerned as their colleagues across the organized community.
Meanwhile, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a political action committee that had opposed Trump, warned the public about “the elevation of an avowed bigot to a position of incredible official power.”
The National Jewish Democratic Committee said the selection showed that Trump was not serious about Jewish sensibilities, despite his oft-repeated defense that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish.
“No amount of Jewish family members or potential White House Shabbat dinners will overshadow the fact that Trump has hired a man like Bannon as one of his most senior staffers,” the NJDC said. “We won’t forget.”
In a rare moment of agreement with ADL, the Jewish Voice for Peace, which is on the former’s list of Top 10 anti-Israel organizations, also panned the appointment of Bannon. Branding him as a “leading white nationalist,” JVP views the choice as a confirmation of fears raised by Trump’s campaign: “the open endorsement of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism.”
“From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far-right government,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of JVP. “We can not sit by and watch that take place here – this is not a time for business as usual.”
Wise urged individuals and organization to refuse to cooperate with policies by the incoming administration that are racist, sexist, Islamophobic, antisemitic and/or infringe on civil liberties.
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said, “I’ve never met Steve Bannon. There’s a lot there just because of the relationship that I don’t know.”
American Jewish Congress chairman Jack Rosen, however, was more optimistic, and told The Jerusalem Post, “He has a point of view but we respect him. He’s a solid individual.”
“I think Bannon has to answer for some things he has said and done,” Rosen added, acknowledging that he has been “a demagogue,” as well as pointing to the “racist and antisemitic tones in the publication that he headed.” However, he said, the president-elect has the right to appoint whomever he wants and the question moving forward will be how he uses Bannon in his administration.
Rosen’s stance toward Bannon reflects his general attitude toward the incoming Trump administration.
He believes that following a divisive campaign, Trump must now be given a chance.
“America is a democracy,” he said.
“We are proud of our values... [Hillary] Clinton lost, Trump won and he will be the president. And we have to be committed to supporting the president of the United States.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions and we need to give him an opportunity to set out his agenda,” he asserted, opining that despite the current tumultuous atmosphere, most Americans will adjust.
“We’ve gone through difficult times before,” he said, referencing Rev. Jesse Jackson’s tense relations with members of the Jewish community in the 1980s, when he was running as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“We found our way in America and I think we will do that here. Trump’s history as a New Yorker should give us solace in knowing his New York values.”
A strain of the Republican Party loosely categorized as a coalition of the “alternative Right” has found a home in recent years on the pages of Breitbart.com, a site that has offered a controversial brand of reporting and conservative commentary since its founding a decade ago. Bannon helped run the site – which he characterized as the “platform for the altright” and a “fight club” during his tenure there – before Trump tapped him to help run his presidential campaign.
On the day that Bannon joined Trump’s struggling campaign, Breitbart featured an article calling the Anti-Defamation League a “once hallowed” organization that had been transformed and was now defending Jew-haters by condemning “Trump’s call Monday to ban antisemites from entering the United States,” referring to his proposal to introduce religion and ideology tests for new immigrants and asylum- seekers. “Sadly, for most American Jews, liberalism is much more than an element of Judaism, it is their Judaism, and hence their religion,” the article reads.
“As American Jews move farther to the Left, they grow not only less attached to Israel but increasingly hostile to it... Things have become so Orwellian inside the mainstream liberal Jewish world,” the article continues.
In a Bloomberg News profile of Bannon, reporter Joshua Green said he had spoken with Andrew Breitbart before the website founder’s death. According to Green, Breitbart “described Bannon, with sincere admiration, as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement” – referring to the Nazi propagandist and director of the Hitler-commissioned film Triumph of the Will.
And in court proceedings over an alleged assault altercation, Bannon’s ex-wife accused him of being overtly antisemitic himself.
“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Mary Louise Piccard told a court in 2007, referring to their family discussions about where to send their daughters to school in Los Angeles. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”JTA contributed to this report.