WASHINGTON — Since President-elect Donald Trump announced Sunday he was appointing ultra-conservative media provocateur Stephen K. Bannon to be his senior counselor and chief White House strategist, much of the American Jewish organization leadership and many other prominent Jewish figures have felt compelled to respond — and much of the response has been aghast.
As executive chairman of Breitbart News from 2012, Bannon pushed a nationalist agenda and turned the publication into what he called “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement associated with white supremacist ideas that oppose multiculturalism.
The alt-right is an amorphous designation that includes among its ranks an array of white nationalists and neo-Nazis. A recent Anti-Defamation League report found that a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic harassment of journalists during the election was carried out by self-identified alt-right Trump backers.
The website has been known for incendiary content that generated wide controversy. In March, it came under fire for a headline calling anti-Trump Republican Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew.” In June 2015, shortly after an assailant who had taken pictures posing with a Confederate Flag murdered nine African-Americans in a mass shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina church, it posted an article with the headline: “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”
As Trump begins the grueling and laborious transition process, which includes hiring more than 4,000 staffers, 1,000 of whom require Senate confirmation, here is how American Jewish organizations and prominent American Jews are responding to the incoming president’s elevation of his campaign chief to his chief strategist — one of Trump’s first two major hires, along with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, who will be chief of staff.
The Anti-Defamation League: “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 anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,'” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
American Jewish Committee: “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,” AJC assistant executive director for policy Jason Isaacson emailed to reporters. “Presidents get to choose their teams and we do not expect to comment on the appointment of every key advisor.”
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer: “If allies or aides to the president say anything that demeans a group of Americans, we won’t hesitate for a moment to demand that our new president condemn those comments. And already we have reason to,” he told Democracy Alliance, a progressive group. “Steve Bannon’s appointment to a senior White House post signals that many of his dangerous and bigoted ideas will have a seat at the table in the White House. We will be watching. And everyone here will be ready to actively stand up for one another if ever one group is attacked.”
National Council of Jewish Women: “NCJW is utterly appalled by President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen Bannon as chief strategist in his administration,” CEO Nancy Kaufman said. “Bannon has made his white-supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim views widely known. Upon joining the Trump campaign, Bannon roused a large portion of Trump’s base with a hateful mix of conspiracy theories, bigotry, misogyny, racism, and homophobia. If President-elect Trump truly wants to bring together his supporters with the majority of the country that voted against him — by a margin that is nearing two million people, Bannon and his ilk must be barred from his administration.”
Central Conference of American Rabbis: “If he is to serve our country, we expect Mr. Bannon to denounce the anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, racism, sexism, and denial of LGBT rights that we continue to face as a nation, just as we expect the same from President-elect Trump,” said CCAR CEO Steve Fox in a statement.
J Street: “J Street has grave concerns about and condemns President-elect Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon to serve as chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House,” the liberal group said. “Bannon’s views and statements are not a normal part of American political discourse and they cannot be treated as such. Nor can this appointment be treated as normal, acceptable politics … We call on President-elect Trump to rescind this appointment immediately, and for all responsible leaders of the Republican Party to insist that he do so.”
‘We cannot allow Donald Trump’s alliance with the alt-right to be normalized’
National Jewish Democratic Council: “As CEO of Breitbart News, Bannon gave voice to white supremacists and the alt-right. His racism and anti-Semitism have no place in the White House, and he must step down,” the group put out in a statement. “We cannot allow Donald Trump’s alliance with the alt-right to be normalized … Our community must not adjust our standards in the face of the unprecedented nature of a Trump administration.”
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition: “I have never met or spoken to Steve Bannon and at the Republican Jewish Coalition we look forward to speaking with him soon, getting to know him, and hearing his answers to some of the questions that have arisen,” he told Politico.
Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and RJC board member: “I have known Steve Bannon for many years. I have been shocked and saddened to see the recent personal attacks on Steve,” he said in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The person that is being demonized in the media is not the person I know. These attacks on Steve are nothing more than an attempt to undermine the incoming Trump administration. I have known Steve to be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel who felt so strongly about this that he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true pro-Israel story would get out. What is being done to Steve Bannon is a shonda.”
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: “Both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia,”Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner said in a statement. “There should be no place for such views in the White House. President-elect Trump has said he wants to be president for all the people. We urge him in this spirit to assemble a leadership team that reflects that aspiration.”
Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal: “In appointing Steve Bannon as top strategist, it might be said that Mr. Trump is balancing the establishment and insurgent forces that supported him,” he wrote in a column. “But the significant fact is that Mr. Bannon presided over a website that delighted in calling Bill Kristol a ‘renegade Jew,’ said of Anne Applebaum that ‘hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned,’ and defended the Confederacy as a ‘patriotic and idealistic cause.’ If get-in-line Republican leaders won’t call Mr. Bannon out on this, it falls to the columnists they likely read to do so.”
Alan Dershowitz, prominent attorney, author and Israel advocate: “I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel,” Dershowitz told Breitbart in a telephone interview. “So, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the (Breitbart) headline about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness.”
Bend the Arc Jewish Action: “President-elect Trump’s selection of Stephen Bannon, a professional purveyor of white nationalist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, as his top adviser is as horrifying as it is unsurprising,” CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement. “Those of us who were alarmed by Trump’s campaign when it began over a year ago are starting to see the things we feared come to pass, and this is one of them – the elevation of an avowed bigot to a position of incredible official power. On Election Day, a majority of voters rejected the hatred central to the Trump campaign. We know many of them would join us in condemning this attempt by the President-elect to normalize and legitimize white supremacy, and we call on leaders across the political spectrum to denounce it as well.”
Florida Rep. Ted Deutch: “President-elect Trump has committed to being a ‘president for all Americans,’ and I am ready and willing to work with his Administration to improve the lives of all Americans,” he emailed The Times of Israel. “But when he appoints as his top advisor someone who helped build the racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic Alt-Right movement and who has been accused of making anti-Semitic statements himself, President-elect Trump’s calls for unity ring hollow. I urge the President-elect to reverse Steve Bannon’s appointment and reassure the country that his White House will stand for tolerance and against bigotry in all of its forms.”
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights: “By appointing Steve Bannon to the position of White House strategist, President-elect Trump has proven that he has no plans to distance himself from the hateful and extreme threats he made throughout the course of his campaign,” said the group’s executive director Rabbi Jill Jacobs in a statement. “Bannon’s open promotion of white supremacists who propagate racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric disqualifies him for a position of power in the United States, whose strength lies in its diversity. At a moment in which supporters of the president-elect feel emboldened to carry out daily hate crimes against people of color, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and other minorities, Bannon must not be permitted to assume a position as a public servant.”
‘It should go without saying that the president of the United States should not have a tawdry, destructive, and repulsively uncivilized goon as a chief strategist’
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine: “The key moral problem with Steve Bannon is that as the CEO of Andrew Breitbart’s namesake organization, he is an aider and abetter of foul extremist views, including anti-Semitic ones. He used the site to promote the alt-right, which has retailed anti-Semitism as well as general outright racism and white nationalism,” he wrote on the magazine’s website. “It should go without saying that the president of the United States should not have a tawdry, destructive, and repulsively uncivilized goon as a chief strategist.”
Israel Policy Forum: “If his appointment of Stephen Bannon – someone who led an extremist publication that has promoted expressions of hate toward all sorts of minority groups – as his chief political strategist is any indication, American Jews have much cause for concern beyond only trying to divine President-elect Trump’s approach to Israel,” board chair Susie Gelman said in a press release. “The ugly anti-Semitism that was unleashed during the campaign has been even more apparent since the election, and we share in the deep concern so many have about President-elect Trump’s decision to promote someone who has purveyed ugly and divisive rhetoric to one of the top positions in the White House.”
Zionist Organization of America: “ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Mr. Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness towards Israel and the Jewish people,” it said in a statement. “To accuse Mr. Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism.”
Morton Klein, president of the ZOA, added: “The ZOA welcomes the appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist to the incoming Trump/Pence administration. We wish Mr. Bannon every success in his new position. We urge Jonathan Greenblatt/ADL to withdraw and apologize for their inappropriate character assassination of Mr. Bannon and Breitbart Media.”
Fifteen Jewish Democratic members of Congress signed a letter urging President-elect Trump to withdraw Bannon’s appointment: “Your appointment of Stephen Bannon, whose ties to the White Nationalist movement have been well documented, directly undermines your ability to unite the country,” they said. “As elected representatives of millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, we strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to appoint Mr. Bannon to White House Chief Strategist.” The Jewish signatories were: David Cicilline, Steve Cohen, Susan Davis, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Steve Israel, Sander Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Nita Lowey, Jerrold Nadler, Jared Polis, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, John Yarmuth.