Israel’s right-wing camp will continue to align itself with US President-elect Donald Trump’s evolving administration next week, when Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Jewish gathering in New York City alongside controversial Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.
Bennett, the chairman of Bayit Yehudi, and Bannon, whom Trump has appointed as chief White House strategist, are scheduled to attend the Zionist Organization of America’s Louis D. Brandeis Award Dinner, which is honoring Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Trump donor Sheldon Adelson is also slated to attend the event.
“Steve Bannon is as pro-Israel and pro-Jewish as anyone I’ve ever met,” ZOA President Morton Klein told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Anyone who knows me and ZOA knows that nobody fights against antisemitism and for Israel stronger,” he added. “If there was a hint of antisemitism, I’d be all over that. I’m a child of Holocaust survivors, I lost my whole family to Hitler, I don’t tolerate antisemitism for a second.”
Bennett and other Israeli right-wing politicians in recent days have called for Trump to rethink US policy on Israel and the Palestinians. On Monday, Bennett said Trump’s victory was an opportunity to “rest and rethink everything.” Last week he said the election means the “era of a Palestinian state is over.”
The ZOA issued a statement earlier this week defending Bannon and appearing to defend the Breitbart News website, in light of strong criticism by the Anti-Defamation League of his appointment.
“ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Mr. Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness toward Israel and the Jewish people. To accuse Mr. Bannon and Breitbart of antisemitism is Orwellian,” the statement said.
Earlier this week, Matthew Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, said that, as far as he knows, Breitbart had consistently run “pro-Israel” stories.
“I’ve never met Steve Bannon,” Brooks said at the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual General Assembly. “There’s a lot there just because of the relationship that I don’t know.”
Bannon – a Harvard Business School graduate, and a former US Navy officer and Goldman Sachs investment banker – has been criticized largely for his tenure as executive chairman of Breitbart.
His former colleagues have characterized him as a firebrand, but only his ex-wife, in court documents, has accused him of personally harboring prejudice against Jews.
Klein slammed the ADL, which earlier in the week announced that it opposed Bannon’s appointment over his affiliation with the altright movement and for running a website that serves as a platform for white nationalists and racists.
“It is an outrage that ADL is lying about him,” Klein continued. “ADL is a disgrace, and we demand that they publicly apologize and retract this ugly character assassination of a good man who loves Israel and Jews.”
Klein told the Post that earlier this year when ZOA engaged in fighting against expressions of antisemitism at City University of New York, Bannon’s site, Breitbart, helped provide a platform for them.
“He’s a businessman, he made a decision because this is a way to get more traffic,” he continued. “When you read the stuff by these alt-right lunatics, it’s so insane you lose even more respect for them. He [Bannon] thinks this is a way to expose how hideous they are.”
More than 1,000 people are expected to attend Sunday night’s ZOA event, including Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, politicians and businessmen, and some 200 Jewish university students.
“This is a major guy, he’s the No. 2 man after Trump in the government, so if he says he wants to come, of course we want him to come,” Klein said. “If he was an antisemite we wouldn’t let him.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, American-Jewish groups continued to tread diverging paths in their approach to Trump’s emerging administration, reflecting rifts within the community over how to proceed with the president- elect.
J Street is fund-raising for Democratic lawmakers as if its core issue – a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians – depends on it. Adopting a rare, combative posture, the ADL is gearing up for a fight over a slate of civil liberties it fears may soon come under assault. The American Jewish Committee is expressing restrained concern, emphasizing a need to wait and see how Trump will lead as president. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is remaining silent, as the Israeli government did throughout the election campaign, as it awaits actionable policy proposals from the future White House.
All these groups are closely watching the formation of Trump’s National Security Council, likely to include Republican figures who believe the president should eliminate policy “daylight” with Israel. However, Israel, Iran and the Middle East are but a fraction of the concerns these organizations are expressing over a future Trump organization.
Two divides within the US Jewish community appear to be emerging: over what policy approach is best for Israel; and over what is seen in the direct interests of the American- Jewish community.
Groups focused on the Diaspora community are emphasizing issues that have long preoccupied American Jews: pluralism, religious freedom and social welfare. This is where the ADL and AJC have identified concerns with some of Trump’s supporters and aides after an ugly campaign season featured crude attacks on Muslim, Jewish and immigrant communities.
Ahead of Thanksgiving next Thursday, the AJC’s CEO took the opportunity to outline what the group “stands for.”
“We cherish our great nation and the unprecedented freedom and opportunity it affords, including the precious right to vote, free and fair elections and smooth transfers of power from one administration to another,” David Harris said. “We take special pride in the American motto ‘E pluribus unum’ [Out of many, one]. Indeed, at AJC, we are, and have always been, passionate pluralists.
“The strength of our nation derives in such large measure from its rich tapestry of racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds, he added. “We aspire to live in a society which doesn’t simply ‘tolerate’ diversity, but welcomes it, seeing it as a vital component of who we are as a nation.”
Earlier in the day, the ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said his office is steeling itself for several battles.
“I pledge to you right here and now that if one day in these United States, if one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as Muslim,” Greenblatt said, reacting to talk from Trump surrogates about the establishment of a registry of Muslim Americans or for Muslims entering the US homeland.
The ADL on Thursday released a 25-point guide for industry, policy-makers, the legal community and journalists looking to combat what it characterized as “a troubling, yearlong rise in antisemitic hate against reporters from all sides of the political spectrum during the presidential campaign.”
The group praised Twitter for its decision in recent days to suspend the accounts of several figures associated with the alt-right movement.