A REPUBLICAN Jewish Coalition board member has issued a statement supporting Stephen Bannon, who has been appointed chief strategist for president-elect Donald Trump.
Tuesday’s statement from Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, comes in response to condemnations of Bannon aired since his appointment on Sunday, in part from several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Marcus called the attacks on Bannon, which criticise him for having ties to white supremacists and anti-Semites, “nothing more than an attempt to undermine the incoming Trump administration”, according to Time magazine.
“I have been shocked and saddened to see the recent personal attacks on Steve,” reads the statement, as tweeted by Time reporter Zeke Miller. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The person that is being demonised in the media is not the person I know.”
Bannon was formerly the chairman of Breitbart News, a site that he called “the platform for the alt-right”, a loose movement of the far right whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness”.
Marcus says in the statement that Bannon is stridently pro-Israel.
“I have known Steve to be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel who felt so strongly about this that he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true -pro-Israel story would get out,” the statement reads. “What is being done to Steve Bannon is a shonda,” a Yiddishism for a shame or a scandal.
The ADL decried the appointment of Bannon saying his association with “unabashed anti-Semites and racists” is disqualifying.
The statement posted on Twitter by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt read, “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’.”
Bannon’s ex-wife in 2007, in sworn affidavits, said he was resisting sending their daughters to a private school because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. Bannon denied it.
Before the appointment was made official, Newt Gingrich, the former US House of Representatives speaker who is expected to play a senior role in a Trump administration, dismissed claims that Bannon was an anti-Semite.
Saying concerns about Bannon and the alt-right come from “nut cakes”, Gingrich, who is close to the right wing pro-Israel community, told CBS on Sunday morning that Bannon could not be an anti-Semite because he had worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
Liberal Jewish groups joined in the criticism of the Bannon appointment. “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,” said Stosh Cotler, the CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a political action committee that had opposed Trump.
The National Jewish Democratic Committee (NJDC) said in a statement that hiring Bannon showed that Trump was not serious about Jewish sensibilities, despite his oft-repeated defence that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish.
“No amount of Jewish family members or potential White House Shabbat dinners will overshadow the fact that Trump has hired a man like Bannon as one of his most senior staffers,” the NJDC said. “We won’t forget.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that his office is “deeply disturbed” by Bannon’s appointment.
“The president is entitled to choose advisers 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, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House,” the statement said. “President-elect Trump has said he wants to be president for all the people. We urge him in this spirit to assemble a leadership team that reflects that aspiration.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) called on Trump to remember his promise to be a president for all Americans. “Of utmost concern is ensuring that policies proposed and put into place make good on president-elect Trump’s election night promise, for the benefit of all citizens … presidents get to choose their teams and we do not expect to comment on the appointment of every key adviser,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC assistant executive director for policy.