The real problem with Steve Bannon

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CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaign Stephen Bannon is pictured during a meeting at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, on August 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaign Stephen Bannon is pictured during a meeting at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, on August 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Is Steve Bannon, Trump’s choice for chief strategist, anti-Semitic?

When I worked for the ADL, the (now former) director, the legendary Abraham Foxman, taught us a valuable lesson.

“Don’t label people as anti-Semitic,” he said. “You can’t know what’s in their hearts.

“Instead, label behaviors — such as actions and words — as anti-Semitic.”

So, back to Steve Bannon. The accusations of anti-Semitism have come from his ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard — that he did not want their daughters to attend the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because there were too many Jewish kids there.

Make that “whiny” Jewish kids. Bannon disapproved of the way that Jews raise their children.

According to his ex-wife, he asked her whether she was troubled that another school under consideration had once been a synagogue. She also said that he was troubled that there were so many books about Hanukkah in yet another school’s library.

Gossip and divorce-induced hearsay, you might say.

Fine. There is other evidence that Bannon has something of a Jewish problem. It comes from his shepherding of Breitbart News.

  • In May, Breitbart ran David Horowitz’s column about anti-Trump conservative writer Bill Kristol — with a headline calling Kristol a “renegade Jew.”
  • In September, Breitbart ran another column accusing a Jewish anti-Trump writer, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum, of helping orchestrate “attempts to impose a globalist worldview upon citizenries that reject it…hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”

That’s called Jew-baiting.

Wait, you say. The late Andrew Breitbart was himself Jewish.

That is less relevant than it seems.

As those on the right are fond of pointing out about Jews on the far left: it is possible to be Jewish, or to be friendly with Jews, and to sit back blithely while subtle and not-so-subtle Jew hatred flies around.

Wait, you say. Breitbart has been consistently pro-Israel.

Also, less relevant than it seems. Counter-intuitive, but here goes: as Naomi Zeveloff has written in the Forward: it is actually possible to be both pro-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Because, if you love Israel because you perceive it as being “anti-Muslim” (a grotesque distortion), and you are also anti-Muslim — as the saying goes: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But, the real issue is something far worse.

Steve Bannon made Breitbart, by his own proud admission, the go-to place for the alt-right.

According to the ADL, the alt (as in alternative) right:

encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy. People who identify with the alt-right regard mainstream or traditional conservatives as weak and impotent, largely because they do not sufficiently support racism and anti-Semitism.

Can we stop calling them the alt-right?

Frankly, that has always sounded like a move that you would make on a computer keyboard.

Let’s call them what they really are.

White supremacists.

The KKK and the American Nazi Party see Bannon’s appointment as a fundamental victory.

David Duke, a former KKK leader who lost his Senate bid last week in Louisiana, called Bannon’s hiring an “excellent” decision.

“Perhaps The Donald is for real,” Rocky Suhayda, chairman of the American Nazi Party, told CNN in an segment that included interviews with several white nationalists.

Bannon will “push Trump in the right direction,” suggested Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute. “That would be a wonderful thing.”

So, let’s be clear.

If the guy that you admire is also admired by the likes of the KKK and the American Nazi Party, wouldn’t that be enough to get you to, at the very least, gulp?

Steve Bannon gives expression to views that most Americans would say are un-American.

Some years ago, the late conservative icon William F. Buckley had the courage to expel anti-Semites from the pages of The National Review. He himself admitted to a childhood that was tinged with anti-Semitic influences; he had been disappointed that he had not been allowed to accompany older kids when they burned a cross at a Jewish country club.

American Jewish organizations might find themselves in a quandary.

The author of Ecclesiastes knew that there is “a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.”

No Jewish organization wants to burn its bridges to the Oval Office, especially because they might sense that their influence and voice might help moderate this administration’s messages.

On the other hand, there is likely to be a steady stream of things emerging from this new presidential administration that will summon forth our concern.

The mere fact that the KKK and the American Nazi Party applaud Bannon’s appointment should be reason enough for Jewish organizations to not remain silent, but to speak — as the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism and the ADL have already done, to their massive credit.

This is the right thing to do. But, from the vantage of Jewish continuity, it is also the strategic thing to do.

Let’s remember: our young people are watching.

If young Jews see Jewish organizations exhibiting moral courage, and that they are denouncing bigotry, they are likely to determine that those organizations merit their passion and involvement.

But, if not…