Stephen Bannon, the newly tapped chief White House strategist for President-elect Donald Trump who has stirred controversy for his alleged support of racist attitudes, will on Sunday attend an event held by the Zionist Organization of America.
ZOA chief Morton Klein told the Jewish Insider this week that Bannon would attend the event, although no concrete arrangements were in place.
“I think Bannon was grateful that I defended him against this ludicrous charge of anti-Semitism,” Klein told the website. “That’s why he is coming, I guess.”
Meanwhile, former longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman, said he will not attend the dinner because the event has been “politicized.”
Foxman said in a statement Wednesday that he decided to skip the event after the ZOA publicized his intention to attend.
“ZOA manipulated and abused my trust when they announced my decision to attend without my permission because they have politicized this event,” Foxman’s statement said. “My intention was solely to be in attendance to honor [Republican Jewish Coalition board member] Bernie Marcus, and not to make any political statement.”
Marcus on Tuesday published a statement supporting Bannon’s appointment. Bannon has come under fire from a number of Jewish groups, including the ADL, which for years was nearly synonymous with Foxman’s name.
On Thursday, Klein accused Foxman of lying in his statement. ZOA has attacked the ADL a number of times in recent years for its stance on laws prohibiting Israel boycotts and over accusations that it supports the Black Lives Matter movement, parts of which have endorsed an Israel boycott.
“He knew Bannon was going to be there,” Klein said. “He lied and says we misled him. What did we mislead? [Bannon] asked me if he could come, I said OK.”
ZOA has been one of two Jewish groups, along with the RJC, to support Bannon’s appointment. Klein claimed that when Bannon called the Breitbart News website a platform for the alt-right — a movement associated with white supremacist ideas that oppose multiculturalism that includes an array of white nationalists and neo-Nazis — he meant to expose and demean the movement, not promote it.
“He gave them a platform, in his opinion, to expose what lunatics and haters they are,” Klein told JTA. “You can disagree with that. It doesn’t make him an anti-Semite or a homophobe or an Islamophobe.”
Republicans, Democrats and various Jewish organizations have denounced Bannon’s appointment, saying that he represents a brand of populist nationalism that emboldens racists and should not be near the Oval Office.
As executive chairman of Breitbart from 2012 to 2016, Bannon pushed a nationalist agenda and turned the publication into what he called “the platform for the alt-right.”
A recent ADL 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.
Breitbart has been known for incendiary content. In March, it came under fire for a headline calling anti-Trump Republican Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew.”
Bannon himself has been personally accused of prejudice. According to court documents obtained by The Associated Press, Bannon’s ex-wife said in a sworn declaration the Breitbart editor made anti-Semitic remarks when the two battled over sending their daughters to private school nearly a decade ago. Bannon has denied the allegations against him.
Trump’s appointment of Bannon has been hailed by a number of white supremacist leaders, including former KKK leader David Duke, who reportedly praised his nomination as an “excellent” decision.
The ADL, now led by Jonathan Greenblatt, this week decried Bannon’s appointment, saying his association with “unabashed anti-Semites and racists” is disqualifying.
But Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with Trump on Thursday and declared that Jerusalem was looking forward to working with his entire team — including Bannon.
“Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel,” Dermer told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
“We have no doubt that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country,” he added, while standing next to Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
Without being asked to comment on Trump’s hiring of Bannon, Dermer invoked Israel’s readiness to collaborate with him in his official new capacity.
“We look 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,” he said.
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.