Conservative-leaning Israel advocacy groups are defending or refusing to condemn President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Stephen Bannon for a senior White House role despite his history of promoting anti-Semitism. Their behavior is in stark contrast to leaders of other Jewish and civil rights groups, who are criticizing the move as “deeply troubling” and “horrifying.”
Bannon’s hiring has sparked widespread criticism, due to his reported anti-Semitism (his ex-wife swore in court that Bannon had said “he doesn’t like Jews”), and his years of making Breitbart News home base for the white nationalist “alt-right.” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the move in a statement Sunday, saying, “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.’” Progressive Israel advocacy group J Street also condemned Bannon, saying that he “has an extensive history of championing the views of the extreme right in the United States and around the world.”
But the conservative-leaning American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has avoided weighing in, saying in a statement that it “has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments.” And Republican Jewish Coalition board member Bernie Marcus has defended Bannon.
Meanwhile, in interviews with Media Matters, several other Jewish leaders are joining the chorus speaking out against Bannon.
“The President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, 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,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House.”
Bend the Arc Jewish Action CEO Stosh Cotler called the choice “horrifying.”
“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,” 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.”
National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said in a statement she was “utterly appalled.”
“As former chairman of the ‘alt-right’ web outlet Breitbart News, Bannon has made his white-supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim views widely known,” the statement said, in part. “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. This appointment requires no Senate confirmation. It is up to the president-elect to show leadership for all Americans by reversing this dreadful decision immediately.”
Leaders of other civil rights groups are also strongly criticizing Bannon's hiring.
“It sends the exact wrong message,” said National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial, who added that Bannon is a “racist, homophobic, misogynistic defender of the alt-right white nationalist interest in this country. His selection in such an important position certainly isn’t consistent with what the president-elect said on election night, that he would work to unify the nation.”
Morial said Bannon “has been right at the center of the angry white nationalist movement in this country. For him to hold a position as chief strategist on par with the chief of staff does not send a message of unity, but a message of division.”
Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, said, “for Americans who care about our commitment to pluralism, tolerance and equality for all, the choice of Steve Bannon to be the President-elect's chief strategist is deeply troubling. If your hair wasn't already on fire with the election of Trump, it should be now.”
In contrast to appalled civil rights and Jewish leaders, white nationalist media figures and leaders are thrilled.