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Stephen Bannon's Inclusion at ZOA Dinner Opens Rift Among American Jewish Groups

Stephen Bannon’s presence in the White House as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief political adviser appears to be driving a wedge among some American Jewish organizations.

First, the Anti-Defamation League denounced Trump’s decision to name Bannon – who this summer described his Breitbart News operation as “the platform of the alt-right"  – as his chief strategist and senior counselor, an appointment that delighted white nationalists. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said: "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.'”

Then, the right-wing Zionist Organization for America issued a denunciation of the ADL:

It is painful to see Anti-Defamation League (ADL) president Jonathan Greenblatt engaging in character assassination against President-elect Trump’s appointee Stephen Bannon and Mr. Bannon’s company, Breitbart media. ADL/Greenblatt essentially accused Mr. Bannon and his media company of “anti-Semitism” and Israel hatred, when Jonathan Greenblatt/ADL tweeted that Bannon “presided over the premier website of the ‘alt right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and anti-Semites.”   

In fact, as pro-Israel writer (and orthodox Jew) Joel B. Pollak wrote, Mr. Bannon is “an American patriot who defends Israel & has deep empathy for the Jewish people.”

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.  To accuse Mr. Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism.

Pro-Israel group's leader ardently defends Breitbart News chief.

The ZOA’s ardent defense of Bannon was shortly followed by the announcement that Bannon would be a featured speaker at the organization’s annual Brandeis Award Dinner in New York City. According to The Forward, Bannon’s presence resulted in the ADL’s former president, Abraham Foxman, announcing that he would no longer be attending the dinner.

“ZOA manipulated and abused my trust when they announced my decision to attend without my permission because they have politicized this event,” Foxman said. “My intention was solely to be in attendance to honor Bernie Marcus, and not to make any political statement.”

ZOA President Morton Klein went on Fox News to denounce the ADL’s anti-Bannon statement. According to an interview Klein gave to JewishInsider, arrangements were made sometime after he made the televised defense of him. “I think Bannon was grateful that I defended him against this ludicrous charge of anti-Semitism,” Klein said. “That’s why he is coming, I guess.”

Originally founded as a purely Zionist organization focused on the defense and support of Israel, ZOA has in recent years come under increasing scrutiny, both for its finances and for its far-rightward lurch politically, as Right Web has documented.

After ZOA lost its tax-exempt status in 2012 due to late filing of its returns, controversy erupted within the organization’s ranks over how its finances were being handled, especially after it was revealed that Klein received a 38 percent pay hike even as the ZOA’s revenues were in sharp decline. Klein’s presidency was challenged in a 2014 by attorney Steven Goldberg, who made an issue out of the ZOA’s finances, but Klein wound up winning re-election under circumstances that left many observers declaring that the organization had surrendered its credibility.

Much of its activism in recent years has leaned heavily toward anti-Muslim extremism. Klein was one of the speakers at the annual convention of the anti-Muslim hate group ACT! for America earlier this year, joining a who’s who roster of the anti-Muslim movement. He also spoke at the rabidly anti-Muslim American Freedom Alliance’s gathering in Los Angeles this summer.

On Dec. 13, Klein is also scheduled to be among the speakers at the annual organizational dinner of Frank Gaffney’s anti-Muslim hate group, the Center for Security Policy, at the same time that it is planning to present its annual “Freedom Flame Award” to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

Sunday’s ZOA dinner in New York is already being billed as “flashpoint” for the growing rift within the pro-Israel Jewish community. The Forward noted that the event would be protested outside by If Not Now, a leftist Jewish group that opposed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

On its Facebook page, the group issued a statement explaining its protest: “The leadership of some of the Jewish community’s largest institutions refuse to speak up against Trump, Bannon and their dangerous policies.”

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