Bannon a no-show at ZOA gala as protesters gather outside
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Bannon a no-show at ZOA gala as protesters gather outside

Trump’s chief strategist skips annual event, where he was scheduled to speak; demonstrators urge president-elect to fire him

Stephen Bannon watches as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses the final rally of his 2016 presidential campaign at Devos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 7, 2016. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
Stephen Bannon watches as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses the final rally of his 2016 presidential campaign at Devos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 7, 2016. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Hundreds of mainly Jewish protesters gathered outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Sunday evening where the Zionist Organization of America was holding its annual gala and where US President-elect Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist and special advisor Stephen Bannon was expected to speak.

Despite prior announcements that he would attend, Bannon ended up skipping the event for reasons which were not immediately clear.

ZOA had said last week that Bannon would speak at the 2016 gala dinner where Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, Alan Dershowitz, a leading advocate for Israel, top Jewish Republican donor and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Ed Royce were honored. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett also gave a speech as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via video link.

ZOA president Mort Klein told the Jewish Insider that he did not know why Bannon did not show up and that Bannon himself had been the one to suggest he attend.

“He asked us to come,” Klein said, according to JTA. “We never invited him. Of course, an important guy like him says he wants to come, I say yes.”

Representing the incoming Trump administration at the gala were his two Israel advisers, David Friedman and Jason Dov Greenblatt.

Meanwhile, outside the venue, hundreds of protesters demanded that Bannon’s appointment be rescinded, posting photos and videos on social media under the hashtag “#JewishResistance.”

Bannon, the former head of the incendiary Breitbart News, a popular website for white nationalists, became Trump’s campaign CEO in August and has since been one of his closest and most loyal advisers. But he also has a history of leading what he himself called “the platform of the alt-right,” which has been known to promote inflammatory content, promulgate conspiracy theories and attract an avid following of anti-Semitic readers.

The Anti-Defamation League, the Reform Movement and the Conservative Movement have denounced Bannon’s appointment, with ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt saying that it was “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.'”

The Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition have both defended Bannon against charges of anti-Semitism, noting Breitbart’s pro-Israel content.

The protesters chanted “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcome here,” and many held anti-Bannon signs and placards. The protest was organized by If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Prior to the event, some 3,000 American Jews signed a petition organized by the New Israel Fund condemning Bannon’s expected appearance at the ZOA gala.

The petition called on American Jewish organizations to stop “rallying around someone who has built the media infrastructure that routinely pushes racist, bigoted, and xenophobic opinion.”

“Some American Jews, and even the Israeli government, appear to be ready to look past this man’s history. They point to his support for Israel as if that could possibly whitewash a career spent promoting racist, bigoted, and xenophobic opinions. Those rallying around Bannon do not speak for us,” the petition read.

Earlier this week, Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said after a meeting with Trump that he was looking forward “to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”

Trump’s camp rejects any suggestion that Bannon is a bigoted extremist, saying critics should look at his full resume, particularly his record as a former naval officer, Goldman Sachs managing partner and Hollywood producer.

JTA contributed to this report.

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