November 17, 2018

Episode 102 – Bannon’s Canons and the Nation-State Bill

Photo by Raheem Kassam.

Behind every great man stands a great political strategist. As far as political earthquakes go, Donald Trump’s victory in November 2016 was at least an 8 on the Richter scale. Right up until the last second, no one saw it coming. But a few people were probably less surprised than most of us and one of them is surely Steve Bannon.

Considered by many to be the architect of Trump’s rise to the White House, Bannon is certainly a controversial figure. To most, he’s a either the despicable leader of the Alt-right or the savior of American pride and nationalism. And to the rest, he’s an enigma. Luckily, we’ve got Gadi Taub.

About a month ago, Dr. Taub, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was able to sit down for about 2 hours with the man himself. You can find his in-depth analysis piece on the Haaretz website.

Although Bannon’s been dismissed from the administration, it seems that he might be the key to understanding the currents of change that took place and that are continuing to take place in America, as well as the Jews’ place in all this mess.

We’re thrilled to welcome back Gadi to the podcast to disambiguate Bannonism for us once and for all.

America Needs Progressives to Shun Farrakhan And Conservatives to Take on Bannon

Photo from Flickr/Public.Resource.Org.

19th Century English scientist Francis Galton invented the dog whistle to message canines at high decibel levels and great distances. In 2018, it seems political dog whistles are manipulating humans with ugly messages.

When President Trump praised departing Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, but also described him as a “globalist,” the president was accused of using an anti-Semitic dog whistle. That was nonsense, but it resonates when applied to a tweetstorm by Ann Coulter smearing every high profile Jew, right and left, as insufficiently patriotic “globalists.” Racking up thousands of “likes,” including from Neo-Nazis, Coulter lit up right-wing web sites, 4Chan and on, a micro-blogging service that does not censor hate speech.

If the extreme right developed hyper-acute canine hearing, the political left, is deaf and dumb. A case in point is their reaction to perennial anti-Semite, Reverend Louis Farrakhan. Born in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, he’s still going strong in his eighties spewing hatred of Jews and Israel.

Farrakhan’s favorite “Black Muslim” theological riff -inherited from NOI’s founder Elijah Muhammad, is the fantastic notion that “the evil white race” was invented by the Mecca-born mad scientist “Yakub” (Jacob) on the Aegean island of “Pelan”. Farrakhan keeps pushing the odious fantasy, even though Elijah Muhammad’s own son long ago repudiated it.

Farrakhan’s allure extends to many elites. Veteran Chicago pol, Congressman Danny Davis, declared: “I personally know [Farrakhan], I’ve been to his home, done meetings, participated in events with him. I don’t regard Louis Farrakhan as an aberration or anything, I regard him as an outstanding human being.” Asked specifically about Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic statements, “Davis was dismissive and said that many people in politics have a history of inflammatory comments.” But then Congressman Davis backtracked, stating that he would like to know what Farrakhan has said about Jews “recently.” Now, Davis has belatedly criticized Farrakhan.

Davis’ waffling is not surprising since he represents inner city Chicago neighborhoods, long Nation of Islam strongholds. But what about Farrakhan’s intergenerational political romance with Tamika Mallory, co-chair of January 2017’s Women’s March against the incoming Trump Administration? Mallory, an avowed Farrakhan admirer attended his recent annual Saviour’s Day Address and had her photo taken with him. Rather than apologize, she doubled down, comparing Farrakhan to Jesus and proudly shared her attendance on Instagram.

The left/right divide over Farrakhan came to a head on The View. “It’s not just that she attended,” co-host Meghan McCain stated. “She posted a photo to Instagram calling Farrakhan G.O.A.T. which means greatest of all time.”

When Valerie Jarrett jumped in to say that leaders sometimes have to work with people they disagree with, citing the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, McCain rejected the comparisons … “There’s a difference between meeting with someone who was a hate leader…He(Farrakhan) is in the same vein, to me, as David Duke. If you are so hateful and you think Hitler was a great man, I don’t think you deserve a platform.”

In 2018, there are obvious ideological differences between Farrakhan and White racist anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville. Yet Nation of Islam and American Nazis like George Lincoln Rockwell started informally collaborating in the early 1960s, as did Holocaust Denier Willis Carto in the 1980s. Today, white racist Charlottesville organizer Richard Spencer wants to meet with Farrakhan to work together toward “the sort of self-determination we and the broader Alt-Right support.”

At his recent Saviour’s Day Address, Farrakhan escalated his attacks declaring the “powerful Jews…are my enemy… “Farrakhan has pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through. You good Jews better separate because the satanic ones will take you to hell with them because that’s where they are headed.” At the Academy Awards “time is up” means one thing. To Farrakhan it represents his everlasting threat against the Jewish people.

All this is happening as extreme right European nationalists are using variations on Holocaust Denial to rewrite their nations’ history, seeking to whitewash the crimes of collaborators during the Nazi Holocaust. Across the continent from France to Poland, far-rightists are mainstream power players. A few days ago, exiled While House political adviser Steve Bannon, seeking to become the dog whisperer of the far right on both sides of the Atlantic, lauded these movements in a speech before Marine Le Pen’s Nationalist Front in Paris.

To stop the hate from poisoning America, Conservatives must lead the way in repudiating the vile anti-Semitic dog whistle. Progressives must also finally denounce Farrakhan’s Jew-hatred.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Biased Media a Win for Trump

Michael Wolff. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Over the past two weeks, the media world has been agog with reactions to the new gossipy tell-all from the West Wing, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” The book is riddled with errors both small and large, and relies heavily on unverified anecdotes, particularly from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon’s comments have prompted the majority of headlines: He apparently called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian-backed lawyer “treasonous,” suggested that President Donald Trump was an insane person, and attacked Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump with alacrity. Trump responded in Trumpian fashion: he attacked the book as fake news, and slammed Bannon — rightly — as a self-aggrandizing boor with a penchant for overwrought drama.

But put aside all the chaos regarding Trump — after all, we already knew most of this stuff in a broad way. We knew that Trump wasn’t exactly the “stable genius” he professes to be; we knew that Bannon was a nefarious force motivated to strike down Jared and Ivanka; we knew that the White House seems to function with the force and efficiency of a hamster wheel, with Trump’s itchy Twitter thumb starring as the hamster.

There’s something else more disturbing: the tendency of the media to believe that which they find comfortable, and to disbelieve everything else. The most egregious example came courtesy of Wolff himself, who stated, “If it rings true, it is true.” The meaning of this rather self-serving phrase: If you like what you read, take it as truth. That’s the essence of confirmation bias — the bias we all have toward believing that which confirms our already-decided views. Wolff made that statement to MSNBC’s Katy Tur, who responded, “Congratulations on the book, and congratulations on the president hating it.” Can you imagine such a congratulatory message from Tur to muckraking anti-Hillary Clinton author Ed Klein? Of course not.

Then there was Brian Stelter, CNN’s supposed journalistic ombudsman. Stelter stated, “Wolff’s errors are sloppy, but many Trump experts say the book ‘rings true’ overall. My advice: Read it — skeptically.” Stelter’s own colleague, Jake Tapper, fired back, “Having many errors but ‘ringing true’ is not a journalistic standard. That said, quotes are quotes. And if facts can be ascertained by further reporting as true, that’s also a service.”

But the damage has already been done. Not to Trump — to the media.

When the entire Wolff affair is said and done, it won’t be Trump who emerges worse off.

Trump has been making political hay out of the media’s bias against him for over two years. This week, he’s attacked the media again, suggesting that next week he hopes to hold a “Fake News Awards,” which presumably will come complete with little gold statuettes. The only way for the media to fight back would be with intrepid truth-telling: double-sourced non-rumor-mongering, a real attempt to fight back against confirmation bias. Instead, the media have chosen to run with anonymous sourcing that often turns to dross; they’ve been unable to hide their smiles when the news is bad for Trump, and unable to hide their frowns when the news helps Trump. That lends Trump credibility.

When the entire Wolff affair is said and done, then, it won’t be Trump who emerges worse off. Trump is what we always thought he was: an unstable, charismatic, volatile human being. The media, however, may have blown their credibility in the desire for a cheap hit — and all to promote Steve Bannon’s personal profile. That’s a major win for Trump, not the media that hate him.

Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Stephen Bannon reportedly ‘going to war’ against Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner, left, and Stephen Bannon, shown Dec. 1, 2016, have not seen eye to eye recently. Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly is “going to war” against several White House targets, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, according to reports.

A report Sunday evening in Vanity Fair titled “Steve Bannon Readies His Revenge: The war on Jared Kushner is about to go nuclear,” said that Bannon’s targets in the West Wing are the “globalists,” identified as Ivanka Trump, Kushner and former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser to Trump and director of the National Economic Council, as well as the “hawks,” identified as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell.

The magazine cited Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow as saying that Bannonwants to beat their ideas into submission. Steve has a lot of things up his sleeve.”  

Bannon has returned to head the right-wing website Breitbart News after being removed from his White House post on Friday, nearly a week after he welcomed President Donald Trump’s divisive comments on a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. He had left Breitbart to join the Trump campaign last year.

An unnamed Bannon ally told Vanity Fair that the former White House strategist called Kushner, an adviser to the president as well as his son-in-law, “a dope,” and that the two clashed fiercely on personnel decisions and policy debates, both domestic and international, many of which Bannon lost.

Unnamed Bannon allies told the magazine that Bannon had lobbied the president “aggressively” to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move that they say was blocked by Kushner. The report also noted that Bannon stayed away during a May visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House, texting to a friend that “I’m not going to breathe the same air as that terrorist.”

On Sunday, the Breitbart website’s lead story was headlined “Report: Ivanka Trump Helped Push Steve Bannon Out Of The White House,” based on a Daily Mail report that said “Trump’s daughter Ivanka pushed out Bannon because of his ‘far-right views’ clashing with her Jewish faith.”

Breitbart updated the article to say “A senior White House aide informed Breitbart News that the Daily Mail report was ‘totally false’ and called into question the sources in the article of having any real knowledge of the Trump family.”

Bannon had been under fire since he began working for the Trump campaign. He has been criticized for calling Breitbart News a platform for the “alt-right,” a far-right and white nationalist movement that includes anti-Semitic figures and followers. Bannon has denied he is anti-Semitic, and supporters point out that Breitbart is pro-Israel.

Was Stephen Bannon good for the Jews? A review

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

Stephen Bannon, whose advice to President Donald Trump was that “darkness is good,” was thrust out into the light of the sunshiny day enveloping Washington, D.C., on Friday: He is no longer Trump’s strategic adviser.

It’s not clear yet what led to Bannon’s departure. He alone among Trump’s senior advisers favored the president’s decision to blame “many sides” for the violence last weekend when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, a posture that has outraged Americans across the political spectrum. Bannon and Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, were always at odds.

Bannon conveys, perhaps unintentionally, the impression that he is manipulating Trump, an impression that Trump is known to hate. And Bannon told the American Prospect this week that there is no military solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, just as Trump and his national security team are ramping up claims that a military option is not off the table.

One thorny issue that kept coming up: Was Bannon, who made gutting the Iran nuclear deal a priority, the Jewish community’s best friend in the White House? Or was the man who embraced conspiracy theories about globalists the most Jewish-hostile White House presence since Richard Nixon stalked its halls?

Let’s review:


Bannon helmed Breitbart News, the right-wing news site, since the sudden death of founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012.

Breitbart plus: In 2015, under Bannon’s leadership, the site launched Breitbart Jerusalem because Bannon wanted to counter what he sees as media bias against Israel. Breitbart also aggressively covers anti-Semitism in Europe.

Breitbart minus: Bannon has described the news site as “the platform for the ‘alt-right,’” the loose coalition of anti-establishment conservatives who include among their ranks anti-Semites and racists.

The alt-right

Alt-right plus: Bannon, addressing a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, recognized the tendency of the alt-right to attract racists and anti-Semitism, but said he rejected those bigotries and predicted they would “wash away.”

Alt-right minus: Even absent specifying Jews or blacks or other races, the conspiratorial mind-set of the alt-right is uncomfortably redolent of the toxic myths that have led to violence. Bannon is believed to have written a speech by Trump on the eve of his election suggesting that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was part of an international banking conspiracy. It set Jewish hairs on end. Trump’s final campaign ad, excerpting parts of the speech against a backdrop that include a rogues gallery of “internationalists” who all happened to be Jews, didn’t help.

The Trump agenda

The agenda plus: Bannon has worked closely with the pro-Israel right, which says he has been particularly aggressive within the White House in advocating for scrapping the Obama administration deal they most revile, trading sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program. Undoing the Iran deal featured on Bannon’s famous whiteboard, where he checked off Trump’s “to-do” list. (The deal has yet to be undone, but not for lack of trying by Bannon.) Whatever one thinks of the Iran deal, Bannon’s opposition to it comported closely with the current Israeli government, whose officials appreciated his advocacy.

The agenda minus: Trump’s “America First” outlook, spurred by Bannon and his White House acolytes, has rejected “identity politics.” Bannon believes rejecting “politically correct” views on race helped Trump win the White House, which is why he cheered on Trump this week when the president insisted that “many sides” were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. This outlook is not new to the Jewish community: It was behind the bizarre Jan. 27 International Holocaust Day declaration that failed to mention that Jews were the victims of the Holocaust.

Shall we invite him to the seder? Bannon and Jewish staff

Watercooler chat plus
: Bannon brought into the White House a host of staffers, among them Jewish Breitbart alumni like Julia Hahn, who is a special assistant. He reportedly is close to Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was the National Security Council staffer responsible for coordination with the intelligence community. McMaster removed Cohen-Watnick from the NSC, reportedly in part because his views on Iran were too hawkish.

Watercooler chat minus
: Bannon clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and a senior adviser, reportedly calling him a “globalist” — seen in some quarters (see above) as coded language for Jews. Ditto Trump’s senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn. Breitbart, still believed to be influenced by Bannon, has recently taken to surrounding Cohn’s name with globes in its headlines.

Some of his best friends

The human factor plus: Bannon’s former Jewish staffers at Breitbart swear by him as an understanding boss. Joel Pollak, a former editor in chief at the news site, told NPR that Bannon not only encouraged him to take off Jewish holidays, he would wish him a “Shabbat Shalom” on Friday afternoons.

The human factor minus: One of Bannon’s ex-wives said in a sworn declaration that he made anti-Semitic remarks while they were searching for a private school for their girls. Bannon has denied the claim, although at least one third party has corroborated part of her account.

Former top national security officials urge Trump to stick to Iran nuclear deal

US President Donald Trump (L) and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner take part in a bilateral meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not seen) in Villa Taverna, the US ambassador's residence, in Rome on May 24, 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of former top national security officials urged President Donald Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that war with Iran is “more imaginable” today than it has been in five years.

The statement, published Tuesday on the website of the The National Interest magazine, was responding to reports that Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The next assessment period is in October. The statement is signed by nearly 50 former senior U.S. government officials and prominent national security leaders.

“The international agreement with Iran continues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the statement says. “No American national security objective would be served by withdrawing from it as long as Iran is meeting the agreement’s requirements.

“To the contrary,” the letter continues, “given continuing assurance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), such a unilateral act would have grave long term political and security consequences for the United States.”

The signers recommend a “comprehensive policy toward Iran that furthers U.S. national security interests.” Such a policy would include American leadership in the JCPOA, a follow-up agreement that would extend terms of the deal farther into the future, and an additional consultative body on major disputes.

The letter also suggests establishing a regular senior-level channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and  regular consultations among U.S. allies and partners in the region to share information and coordinate strategies.

The signers warn that a U.S. rejection of the JCPOA could push Iran to return to its pre-agreement nuclear enrichment program under far weaker international monitoring.

Trump last month re-certified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the urging of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to re-certify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran at the next 90-day assessment in October.

The signers include: Morton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary for nonproliferation and secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department;  Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt; Carl Levin, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; and Barnett Rubin, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Larry David is upset that his hard work made Steve Bannon rich — but did it?

Steve Bannon on April 10. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck has written perhaps the deepest dive into what forces shaped Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser.

We already know lots about Bannon: He helmed Breitbart News before he joined Trump’s campaign last year, and he called the outlet a platform for the “alt-right,” the loose assemblage of hypernationalists that includes white supremacists and anti-Semites, but also fierce defenders of Israel and Jews. Bannon launched Breitbart Jerusalem as a means of correcting what he perceived as anti-Israel media bias.

A former wife accused him of anti-Semitism; he has denied it. He was in the U.S. Navy, a Goldman Sachs banker, then a Hollywood broker, and then a producer of conservative documentaries.

Exploring his Hollywood years, Bruck details a litany of deals gone wrong. There are plenty of nuggets in the piece of Jewish interest. Here are four:

Larry David doesn’t like the ‘Seinfeld’ story – but is it all a George Costanza-style con by Bannon?

Bruck addressed one of the most media-beloved elements of Bannon’s rise: that he made a fortune off of negotiating a syndication deal for “Seinfeld.” In 1992, Bruck reports, Westinghouse hired Bannon’s private-equity fund to sell its small stake in Castle Rock Entertainment, the TV production company that owned the “Seinfeld” reruns. An assessment last year in Forbes said that if Bannon had a one percent stake in syndication, he would have made upwards of $30 million.

Larry David, the co-creator of the comedy starring his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, and the model for Seinfeld’s neurotic buddy George, was unhappy with the association.

“I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign and I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” he told Bruck. Rob Reiner, who helped found Castle Rock,  was “sick” because of the association.But is Bannon really making money off the show? In a 2015 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Bannon said he made five times as much as he expected on the deal involving Westinghouse’s sale of its stake in the show. He claimed to have deferred part of his fee for an ownership stake. He did not say what his stake was.

But here’s the thing: It’s not clear what Bannon’s stake – if any – was. Payouts to Bannon do not appear in available records, Bruck reported, although she noted that the first months of syndication are not available, and he might have been capped and paid out before records were available.

Bruck reviewed Bannon’s extensive divorce papers and found this:

In April, 1997, he submitted an “income and expense declaration,” indicating that his annual salary was roughly five hundred thousand dollars, and that his total assets were around $1.1 million. Any profit participations from “Seinfeld” should have shown up at that time. Either they were not substantial or Bannon failed to disclose them in a sworn statement.

(In 2005 papers related to the divorce Bruck also uncovered this: “He left blank the space for his salary, and reported $967,465 in stocks, bonds, and other assets, and $41,401,067 in other property. The figure is inexplicable, and inconsistent with his other publicly available filings.”)

Why would Bannon boast about a deal that does not appear to have brought him much in the way of return? It’s not the only such anomaly Bruck uncovered. Bannon recently claimed in an interview with the Washington Post to have driven up the price Seagram — then headed by Edgar Bronfman Jr. — paid for PolyGram by bringing in a Saudi prince as a bidder. He said he got “a big fee” for his efforts. But folks involved in the deal told Bruck they could not recall Bannon’s involvement in the deal or any bid from a Saudi prince.

Bannon found the Jewish common denominator.

Bruck found a telling line in one of Bannon’s first documentaries cast in a conservative slant, “In the Face of Evil.” The movie, which chronicles the rise of President Ronald Reagan, acknowledges that Reagan as an actor was never a major Hollywood draw. Why? Because Jewish executives made it so. But wait: It’s not like Bannon is blaming these powerful Jews. It’s more like he’s admiring them.

Studios, in an “unforgiving calculus,” found Reagan wanting, the film says. These “Jewish entrepreneurs,” the film explains, “differed in taste and style, yet shared two common elements: ruthlessness and uncompromising patriotism.”

There’s Goldman Sachs, and there’s also Goldman Sachs

We’ve noted before how Trump, during his campaign, repeatedly trashed Goldman Sachs bankers, and then proceeded to hire some of their top alumni for senior advisory positions.

Bannon also shares an animus toward Goldman Sachs, but is himself an alumnus. Bruck found a rare – perhaps the only – instance of someone asking him to explain the anomaly:

In October, 2010, he appeared on “Political Vindication,” a right-wing radio show in Los Angeles. One of the hosts said that Bannon had been “evil” while he worked at Goldman Sachs. He replied equably, saying, “It was a private partnership then, and a firm of the highest ethical standards,” but it had changed when it went public. He did not mention that since it went public, in 1999, he had made every effort to do business with Goldman.

More corroborating evidence for Bannon’s alleged issue with school-age Jews

Bannon’s ex-wife has said in post-divorce papers that Bannon objected to certain schools for their twin girls because he didn’t want them consorting with Jewish students. “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats,’” Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 filing, referring to The Archer School for Girls.

She also reported that he asked another school director, at the Westland School, why there were “so many Hanukkah books in the library.”

Bannon has vigorously denied the claims. New York Magazine, in November, confirmed the “Hannukah books” incident with the Westland director, but she told the magazine she understood Bannon simply to be curious because the school was secular, and she did not detect an animus toward Jews.

Bruck uncovered an email between Piccard and Bannon in which she directly raises with him his alleged objection to the percentage of Jewish girls at Archer.

“As for the % of Jewish girls at Archer I have no idea what it is nor do I understand why that is such a concern for you,” she wrote in 2007. “I certainly have not been raising the girls to be prejudice[d] against Jews or anyone else for that matter.”

Bannon’s spokesperson told the New Yorker that he was not an anti-Semite, and noted that he paid the girls’ tuition at Archer.

Trump and the cry of Syria’s children

Salah Skaff, 25, showing a picture of his daughter Amira Skaff, 1.5 years old, who died after an airstrike in Douma, Syria, on April 7. Photo by Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote.

Tell that to the children of Syria, the kingdom where everybody dies.

The once beautiful country, full of history and antiquity, culture and cuisine, is now a cemetery. Six years into a bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the world is once again faced with the images of dead and suffering children. 

This week, we saw horrifying scenes of children screaming for their dead parents and parents screaming for their dying children. We saw dozens of children lying dead on the floor. Babies, infants poisoned. We saw their bloodied faces, their foaming mouths, their desperate, disconsolate eyes and learned that they died choking on gas, and we couldn’t look away.

There’s something about helpless, powerless children that inspires even the most puerile grownups to act like adults. 

“That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” President Donald Trump said after the chemical attack on the Syrian village Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens. “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies … that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.”

For the children of Syria, “red line” has become synonymous with empty promise. President Barack Obama had his “red line” but he may as well have drawn it in pencil; our spineless Congress eventually erased it. Who would have thought, then, that RealDonaldTrump, king of inconsistencies and erraticism, would draw his own red line? 

Trump isn’t exactly known for his political fidelities or his values — but if there’s anything that matters to him besides himself and his business empire, it’s his family. The images of devastated children struck a chord with the father-in-chief and inspired him to act like the commander-in-chief.

We were warned Trump would be unpredictable — and is he ever. 

After prodding Obama not to act in Syria, then blaming him for not acting enough, Trump defied his critics and even some of his friends on April 6 by launching a targeted airstrike on the Syrian airfield from where the chemical attack was launched.

He did not hesitate to name and blame Syria’s Mad King, President Bashar al-Assad, for the attack, much to the dismay of his reputed bestie Vladimir Putin. While Assad’s Russian enabler tried to obfuscate the facts, deflecting his own bloodguilt and calling for an “investigation,” President Trump, for once, told the truth.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said during a White House announcement. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” 

Across the world, another playground bully was horrified by the attack and joined Trump in unequivocal condemnation.

“There’s no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially, with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu said. His statement earned a swift rebuke from Putin, who called his accusations “groundless.”

In risking the wrath of the Russian leader, Trump was so grateful for Netanyahu’s support of the first military action of his presidency that his vice president, Mike Pence, called Netanyahu to thank him. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared the United States “an example for the entire free world.”

At a time when Trump’s approval ratings are dismal and he doesn’t have the success of “The Apprentice” to tuck him in at night, the praise must feel delicious. In launching a strike, Trump also risked alienating his base — and chief adviser Steve Bannon — whose anti-globalist motto “America First” means that even dying children must come a distant second. War is expensive, they argue, but so is protecting the first lady in absentia from the White House and the president’s $3 million trips to Mar-a-Lago to play golf.

Perhaps the president feels just a little bit guilty that the children choking on sarin gas are the same children he tried to block from seeking refuge in the U.S. with his incendiary travel ban. 

Now that his paternal instincts are kicking in and Trump must balance the needs of the world’s children with the needs of his own children, he might look to Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers — he can easily borrow it from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (who famously kept a copy in his real estate office).

Im ein ani li, mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

U’kh’she’ani le’atzmi, mah ani? If I am only for myself, what am I?

The children of Syria don’t care about Trump’s promise of “America First.” They don’t care about the world’s tightrope walk around Russia. Or about Iran’s malevolent intentions toward Sunnis and the State of Israel. They don’t care who are their allies and who are their enemies, or even whose plane it was that dropped the poisonous gas that burned up their lives. 

The children of Syria care only about one thing: that this conflict ends.

V’im lo ’akhshav, eimatai? And, if not now, when?

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Stephen Bannon reportedly calls Jared Kushner a ‘cuck’ and a ‘globalist’

Stephen Bannon, left, with Jared Kushner, in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 22. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images

A report on emerging tensions between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Stephen Bannon, his top strategist, said Bannon called Kushner a “cuck” and “globalist,” terms familiar to “alt-right” conspiracy theorists.

A Daily Beast report on Thursday detailed Bannon’s alleged use of the pejoratives. “Cuck,” a play on “cuckold,” is the alt-right term for conservatives who allowed themselves to be played by liberals and the establishment.

“Globalist” refers to theories of a conspiracy of elites to maintain control of the global economy. Its use has overlapped with anti-Semitic theories of Jewish financial control, but it is not a term used exclusively by anti-Semites. Kushner is Jewish.

Before joining the Trump campaign last summer, Bannon helmed Breitbart News, a site that he said was a platform for the alt-right, a loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes anti-Semites, as well as some Jews and some fierce defenders of Israel.

News of the tensions between Bannon and Kushner, who reportedly were close during the campaign, follow Trump’s order this week removing Bannon from the National Security Council.

Kushner, according to the reports, believes Bannon went too far in pushing for travelers’ bans and in playing hardball with Congress in an attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. Both initiatives failed.

Bannon, according to the reports, in turn resents Kushner for bringing into the White House figures associated with Democrats, including Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker who is Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Zeke Emanuel, a physician who consulted with the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act and is the brother of Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff. Kushner reportedly has hosted three meetings with Zeke Emanuel. Cohn and Emanuel are Jewish.

Stephen Bannon removed from National Security Council

White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 23. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Stephen Bannon, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, has been removed from the National Security Council as part of a reorganization.

Bloomberg first reported the removal on Wednesday after it was published in a Federal Register notice.

The reorganization also reinstates the national intelligence director, Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, as regular attendees at the meetings.

Critics of Bannon’s appointment to the NSC, including many Jewish groups and lawmakers, had opposed a political official serving in a national security role. In February, at least 14 Jewish Democrats were among the sponsors of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to force Trump to remove Bannon from the NSC.

Bannon, the former executive chairman of the Breitbart News website, was the CEO of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

He called Breitbart a “platform for the alt-right,” which is a loose association of anti-establishment conservatives that has within its ranks anti-Semites as well as strident defenders of Israel.

Steve Bannon’s 25-year-old protege has a liberal bubbe

Steve Bannon walking into the Oval Office after arriving back at the White House on Feb. 24. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Julia Hahn, the onetime Breitbart firebrand who is now a special assistant to President Donald Trump and reports to Trump’s influential consigliere Stephen Bannon, is elusive.

Not in her opinions: She became known at Breitbart for policing any signs of moderation among leading Republicans. Her targets included House Speaker Paul Ryan (a “double agent” and “migration enthusiast”), and Marco Rubio, the Florida senator defeated by Trump in last year’s primaries (“one of the most ardent and successful champions of the donor-class’s open borders trade and immigration agenda”).

[Related: The Jewish education of Stephen Miller]

But she was hard to track down, and did not cooperate with profiles like this one in the New Yorker that were inevitable for an increasingly influential 25-year-old. Information came from classmates at L.A. prep school Harvard-Westlake and the University of Chicago, who described a kind friend they presumed was liberal, in part because she’s a Jewish woman from California.

Thursday’s Washington Post scored a breakthrough interview with a somewhat closer source: Hahn’s Jewish grandmother, Lynn Honickman, a contributor to Jewish and Israeli causes — and the Democratic Party.

Honickman, like anyone’s bubbe whose confidence you gain sitting next to her at the seder, is loving — but also a little blunt.

“She really is the type to listen to other arguments, to learn from the people around her,” Honickman told the Post. “I think she took advantage of something she saw and is doing the best she knows how.”

But does she really buy into an ideology so alien to her grandmother’s?

“What she feels in this particular moment, could be different three days from now,” Honickman said.

You can almost see the barely perceptible shrug and the slightly cocked eyebrow.

JFNA’s Sandler taking heat for support of David Friedman

Richard Sandler at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington D.C. in 2015.

The chairman of one of America’s largest Jewish membership organizations is facing criticism for publicly supporting President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for ambassador to Israel.

Appearing in Tel Aviv on a panel about Israeli-American relations under Trump, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) board of trustees chair Richard Sandler spoke highly of David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and Trump confidante.

“I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” Sandler said, according to Haaretz. “My expectations of him are very positive.”

Friedman has made headlines for inflammatory comments about liberal Jews, for instance, comparing members of the left-wing group J Street to Jews who collaborated with the Nazi regime. Sandler’s support for Friedman came as a shock to some who feel those comments are disqualifying.

“Unless one really represents the majority view of the organization, sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut — and this is one of those times,” said Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood and national chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the Israel arm of the American Reform movement. “And I’m sorry that he did it.”

Meanwhile, Sandler, a Santa Monica-based attorney and former chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was quick to frame his comments as a personal opinion, rather than the view of JFNA, the umbrella group for Federations across the continent.

“The comments reported in the press were in response to a question directed to me about David Friedman and reflected my personal view, based upon my analysis of the situation and my personal contact with Mr. Friedman,” Sandler wrote in an email to JFNA trustees. He declined to comment for this story.

At the panel, Sandler cited Friedman’s apology before the Senate as grounds to move beyond the nominee’s past statements.

“These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them,” Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing last month. “They’re not reflective of my nature or my character.”

But Rosove of ARZA, who is also a member of the executive rabbinic cabinet of J Street, was less than convinced.

“I’m surprised that a distinguished leader of the Los Angeles Jewish community would believe anything that David Friedman says,” he told the Journal.

He said that ARZA’s board voted unanimously to oppose Friedman’s appointment. He called Sandler’s support for Friedman wrongheaded and inappropriate, saying he hoped the Federations leader would recant his view.

Others in the community were more disappointed than angry about Sandler’s comments.

“He’s done a lot for both the L.A. as well as the national Jewish community,” Adam Wergeles, a co-founder of the West L.A. congregation IKAR, told the Journal. “And on the other hand, you have a guy like Friedman who has said some horribly divisive things about progressive Jewry. And it is upsetting to see someone like Sandler — who’s kind of using his stature — to support what felt to me like Friedman’s very convenient and self-serving retraction.”

Yet Sandler is only one of a number of mainstream Jewish leaders now expressing support for Friedman. On Feb. 19, Stephen Greenberg, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said Friedman has “all the makings” of a successful diplomat and spoke highly of his performance before the Senate.

Greenberg stopped short of issuing an endorsement, while others felt it necessary to go further.

Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, which represents more than 100 synagogues and 25,000 members nationwide, said he felt compelled to speak out in favor of Friedman after hearing criticism from the left. He said he took Friedman for his word when the nominee apologized for past comments.

“These people who come out against him are not really people who know him,” he said, citing multiple conversations he’d had with Young Israel members who knew Friedman personally and spoke highly of him.

Sandler’s comments come on the heels of a public debate on whether Federations should take political stances at all. The L.A. Federation came under fire last month after an email from its president and CEO addressed – but did not denounce – Trump’s executive actions on refugees and immigration.

At the time, Sandler told the Journal that he supported the L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from taking a position, saying political statements invariably upset some donors.

“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said at the time.

JFNA has previously shied away from commenting on political appointees. In November, the group came under pressure to condemn the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist for his role at the helm of Breitbart News, but declined to take a position.

Foxman: New approach needed to new phenomenon of anti-Semitism

Abraham Foxman. Photo by David Karp

President Donald Trump’s statement condemning a rash of anti-Semitic attacks, bombs threats at Jewish Community Centers, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries across the nations, at the start of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was welcomed by Jewish American leaders as a meaningful response.

[This story originally appeared on]

“That he chose to focus on fighting anti-Semitism and hate (at the start of his address), we really welcome that,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation Leauqu (ADL),  said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. “That was a notable change from what we have seen. It was incredibly meaningful.”

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major Organizations,  Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement, “By reaffirming America’s strong commitment to speaking out against hate, President Trump sent an important message of support to the American Jewish community at a very difficult time and set an example for other political, religious and civic leaders to follow.”

Now that the President issued that much-needed clear and unequivocal statement, former ADL National Director Abe Foxman thinks the Jewish community should move on and focus on working with law enforcement authorities to apprehend the culprits and design strategies to protect the community from anti-Semitic attacks and threats.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Foxman suggested that this new phenomenon requires a new approach. “We have to fight it from the outside and the inside,” he asserted. “The outside is to get the political, moral, religious, and civic leadership, to condemn it and making it unacceptable. And number two is law enforcement. Law enforcement needs to take it seriously – to utilize all law enforcement techniques and institutions to combat it. And when you arrest a culprit, to make sure that the punishment is serious and not just a slap on the wrist.”

According to Foxman, it’s not the job of President Trump to come up with a plan. “His job is to condemn it and speak out. I don’t think it’s his job, though he has to fight prejudice, period.”

The former ADL head, who now serves as Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, further cautioned Jewish American organizations not to exaggerate the threat. “Our responsibility is to make sure that while we take it seriously, it doesn’t intimidate Jews from wanting to be Jews,” Foxman stressed.” Because, God forbid if we make it more of a threat than it is, the result will be that Jews will not want to be Jewish.” 

“The Jews, after every tragedy, stood up, brushed themselves off and reaffirmed their desire to continue to be Jews. And that’s the secret of Jewish survival,” he explained. “And therefore, here too, we face every single day when we talk about the dangers to our community centers, to our cemeteries, that is not, God forbid, undermining that commitment of Jews to continue to want to be Jews.” 

Trump, the Jews and the political weaponization of anti-Semitism

White House senior advisor Steve Bannon at the White House on Jan. 28. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Was that so hard?

At some point in the past week, it looked like President Donald Trump was never going to use “anti-Semitism” in a sentence. It took a fourth series of hoax bomb threats at JCCs around the country and imprecations from Jewish groups across the ideological spectrum for the president to at last use the “A” word.

“Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” Trump said Tuesday morning. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and our Jewish community centers are horrible, are painful and they are a reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

That it took so long for Trump to condemn anti-Semitism after twice being asked about it last week, and coming on the heels of a White House International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that somehow omitted any mention of the Jews, was “mind-boggling” to many groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which said so in a tweet.

It had reached a point that I already started imagining a White House Passover greeting that didn’t mention the Jews.

“Starting at sundown, the world will come together to remember certain events in Egypt,” it would begin, and end with, “I’ve made it clear that all plagues are horrible.”

What made Trump’s demurrals stranger is that denunciations of anti-Semitism are to presidential declarations what kosher symbols are to supermarket goods: It doesn’t hurt to have one, and only Jews usually notice.

So why did it take the administration five tries to get it right? I am counting the two news conferences, in which Trump basically punted on the question from two Jewish reporters; a statement from the White House on Monday that denounced “hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind” without mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism, and daughter Ivanka’s tweet saying “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. .” The JCC hashtag was a nice touch, but not exactly a Queen Esther-style declaration of co-religious solidarity.

Pundits spent the past week trying to explain Trump’s hesitation. Peter Beinart blamed narcissism, using the theory that when Trump hears “anti-Semitism,” he can’t help but take it as a personal attack that he must fend off. I wondered if it was simple belligerence — that the more you ask this president for something, the more he is likely to say “you can’t make me.”

Or maybe he was just annoyed at the ADL, the group most identified with combating anti-Semitism, for repeatedly calling him and his campaign out for either ignoring or encouraging intolerance. Maybe Trump saw CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s Feb. 17 column in The Washington Post recalling how “the Trump campaign repeatedly tweeted and shared anti-Semitic imagery and language,” thus “allowing this poison to move from the margins into the mainstream of the public conversation.”

The most ominous explanation, offered by Bradley Burston from the left-wing Haaretz newspaper and a surprisingly outspoken Chuck Todd of NBC News, was that Trump was throwing a bone to — or at least trying not to alienate — the “alt-right” trolls who formed a small but vocal part of his winning coalition.

“Mr. President, we believe you and many other Jews believe you, so please make it clear that not only are you not an anti-Semite but that you reject people who are even if they did vote for you,” Todd said last week.

If Trump had been struggling with a political calculation, it was reminiscent of one that played out in the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama was being pressed to disavow an endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When he was asked about Farrakhan during a debate with fellow Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, you could almost see the thought bubble over Obama’s head as he weighed rejecting Farrakhan without alienating supporters who considered him a hero.

Obama answered by reiterating his “denunciation” of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, leading to a semantic debate with Clinton over the distinction between “denouncing and rejecting.” Eventually the ADL’s then national director, Abe Foxman, declared that Obama had cleared the Farrakhan hurdle.

If Trump’s allergy to the “A” word is a political calculation, what would it be? He knows that three out of every four Jews didn’t vote for him, and perhaps someone is whispering to him, a la James Baker, that he gains no advantage by caving to a special interest as liberal as the Jews.

Trump’s critics pin the issue on his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who came to the Trump campaign after steering Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt-right, among other right-wing movements. In turn, Bannon’s defenders note that Breitbart is enthusiastically pro-Israel and often keeps tabs on anti-Semitism.

But search “anti-Semitism” at Breitbart and a pattern emerges — one that could explain the week that was. The site seems most exercised about Jew hatred when it is committed by Muslims, members of the left wing in Europe, and far left and anti-Israel activists on American college campuses. When it does report on hate crimes in the United States, its coverage is almost always skeptical, highlighting hate-crime “hoaxes” or quoting those who deny that there has been a surge in hate crimes here or in Britain since the U.S. elections or Brexit.

This week, when much of the press corps was focusing on how and whether Trump would denounce anti-Semitism, Joel Pollak, a senior editor-at-large at Breitbart, was accusing the media of hyping fears of anti-Semitism. Pollak blames an “ongoing pattern of false ‘hate crimes’” and the media’s reluctance to report on left-wing anti-Semitism. But mostly he blames general “anti-Trump hysteria.”

“Trump’s critics seem to want to believe false accusations of antisemitism, which justify their hatred of him and maintain a sense of outrage and unity among activists,” writes Pollak.

For Pollak and other Breitbart contributors, the reporting and denunciation of anti-Semitism is a partisan weapon wielded by the left to discredit the right. (Just as Trump asserted that it’s a charge wielded by a dishonest media to discredit him.) Of course, Breitbart also politicizes anti-Semitism, using it as a scarlet “A” to be worn, almost exclusively, by Muslims, campus radicals, self-hating Jews and European leftists. In fact, it has become an increasingly familiar trope both on the left and the right that the other is more anti-Semitic.

At least both sides agree that anti-Semitism is bad, even if they hesitate to take responsibility for the version that metastasizes among their ideological allies. They want to target the Jew haters but are wary about friendly fire.

Maybe the mistake of Jewish groups in seeking a strong response from Trump is that they are living in a simpler past, when both sides could agree that anti-Semitism was an evil, no matter the perpetrators or their politics.

Behind Trump’s moves: A Christian resurgence

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As many American Jews and Jewish organizations join in combatting the recent executive order on immigration and refugees, it is important to realize that the anti-Muslim sentiments of the new administration are one head of a two-headed beast. 

The other head is a political agenda forged by a coalition of conservative Christians that is closer than ever to achieving its vision of a “Christian nation.” This linkage between anti-Muslim and “pro-Christian” policies is revealed in the executive order, which couples a thinly veiled ban on Muslims with a thinly veiled preference for Christians from predominantly Muslim countries seeking refuge in the United States.

President Donald J. Trump justified the priority given to Christians over Muslims by stating, “If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

That line is lifted directly from the Christian right, which has long promoted the idea that Christians are a — indeed, the most — persecuted minority. The belief that Christians are being subjected to religious persecution in America by intolerant secularists has joined the claim that liberals turn a blind eye to the persecution of Christians by Muslims. Both are staples of the worldview that drives Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and architect of his immigration policies. Bannon’s unorthodox brand of Christian conservatism is reflected in his admiration for traditionalist Catholics who oppose the current pope, as well as for the newly resurgent Russian Orthodox Church, whose combination of Islamophobia and homophobia has proven to be intoxicating to legions of “civilizational conservatives” who view the West as locked in a theological battle to the death with Islam. Bannon’s alliance with conservatives inside the Vatican is likewise based on their shared belief that Western civilization is being besieged from the outside by Muslims and from the inside by the forces of “secularism,” more particularly, by liberals who support an array of decadent values and refuse to recognize a civilizational war between Christianity and Islam.

Bannon’s characterization of the West in his 2014 speech to the Vatican as the “Judeo-Christian” West might lead some to believe his Christian worldview will protect Jews even as it constitutes a clear and present danger to Muslims. This belief is wrong on two counts. First, it reflects an unjustifiable disregard for the rights of the Other. Second, being folded into a homogenized “Judeo-Christianity” now is no guarantee that Jews will not be stigmatized or marginalized later, or that the distinctive harms of anti-Semitism (including Christian anti-Semitism) will not be rendered invisible, as already occurred in Trump’s botched Holocaust statement that omitted any reference to Jews.

The same concerns hold for the rest of the conservative Christian agenda, which aims to expand protections for “religious liberty” and to weaken the wall of separation between church and state. Both of these goals have attracted right-wing Jewish support. Given the Christian right’s newfound influence, it behooves us to ask which parts of this agenda Trump is likely to adopt and to address the time-honored question: “Is it good for the Jews?”

Under Bannon’s guidance, Trump has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will satisfy the religious right, a pledge generally understood to mean that his appointees will be anti-abortion. But overturning Roe v. Wade is just the tip of the iceberg. The larger agenda is to return the state to its role as the upholder of traditional Christian standards of morality.

The larger agenda is to return the state to its role as the upholder of traditional Christian standards of morality.

This agenda can be divided into two general planks. First and foremost, the Christian right is motivated by the desire to stop the erosion of the government’s traditional role as enforcer of Christian standards of morality — especially, sexual morality. The ideal “Christian nation” envisaged by its proponents would enforce prohibitions not only on abortion, but also on contraception, same-sex marriage and homosexual activity, and any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.

In the face of political defeats on many of these fronts, conservative Christians have retreated to a “Plan B,” which is to use “religious liberty” claims to carve out exemptions from laws that dismantle traditional gender and sexual norms. What was originally a shield to protect non-Protestant minorities from laws that inadvertently interfered with their religious practices has been converted into a sword used by conservative Christians to continue their battle against laws enforcing principles of gender and sexual equality. Laws permitting adoption and family service organizations to discriminate against same-sex couples, exempting government contractors from prohibitions on discrimination, and allowing bakers and photographers to refuse to serve participants in same-sex weddings are just a few examples of this weaponized version of religious liberty.

Some suggest this commitment to religious liberty will be “good for the Jews” and for other religious minorities. This “me, too” version of religious equality, according to which government-led prayers and displays of Christian symbols are fine so long as we can erect a menorah on the town square and have a rabbi take a turn at the podium, is seriously misguided. It mistakes a willingness to accord protections to Christians when they find themselves in the position of a minority with a willingness to protect other minority religious groups when their religious practices conflict with Christian values (as conservatives construe them). There is precious little evidence to support such a prediction and ample reason for concern that Christian conservatives who now occupy positions of power are ready to sacrifice the principle of religious liberty when they view another group’s religious values as antithetical to their own, as the willingness to override all Muslims’ rights for the sake of “national security” makes clear.

The readiness to deny non-Christians rights accorded to Christians should not be surprising. The Christian right has made its view that the government can promote Christianity — not just some blanched version of American religion, but Christianity — perfectly plain. So long as non-Christian religions are perceived to be compatible with the nation’s Christianity, they may receive protection, but when there is a conflict between Christian and non-Christian values, the conservative vision of a Christian nation dictates sacrificing the latter for the former.

To what extent Trump will implement this vision under the guidance of Steve Bannon, Vice President Mike Pence and other proponents of a resurgent Christian nation remains to be seen. But Jews and other religious minorities support this movement at their peril. We are better off joining forces with Muslims, the many liberal Christians and Americans of other persuasions who see clearly what the peril of a Christian nation is.

Nomi Stolzenberg is the Nathan and Lilly Shapell Chair in Law at the USC Gould School of Law, where she founded the Program on Religious Accommodation and is a co-director of USC’s Center for Law, History and Culture. 

Bannon and the Jews: A conditional kind of love

President Donald Trump, left, and Stephen Bannon at the swearing-in of senior staff at the White House on Jan. 22. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Reports that White House Svengali Steve Bannon once referred to the American Jewish community as enablers of Islamist jihad revived accusations that the former Breitbart News publisher is an anti-Semite.

On its face the accusation, like the oft-repeated charge that Breitbart itself is an anti-Semitic news site, is weak. Bannon’s point about jihad’s “enablers” is not that Jews share an ideology with the jihadists but the opposite: As a largely liberal community, American Jews support civil liberties and immigrants’ rights — creating a climate, so goes the argument, that even with the best of intentions supposedly allows terrorists to thrive.

Breitbart is a reliably pro-Israel site, well to the right of most American Jewish publications. In the rare instance where one of its correspondents has slipped into explicit anti-Jewish territory — as when an article declared about a Washington Post reporter that “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned” — “Jewish” is synonymous with “liberal.” Spend some time on Breitbart and what emerges is contempt for the Secular American Jewish Liberal and admiration for the Religious Nationalist Jewish Conservative.

I don’t know if that makes the average Jew feel any better — that if you’re the right (and I do mean right) kind of Jew, then you’re OK. But it’s essential to acknowledge the distinction if we are to understand the ways public discourse is changing in the Trump area. Anti-Semitism is alive and well on the fringes of the movements that helped elect Trump, but it remains taboo the closer you get to the inner circle, which includes Trump’s Orthodox daughter and son-in-law. Where Jews might have cause to worry, however, is in the tendency of Trump’s insiders to cleave the Jews into two unreconcilable communities — blues and reds, Republicans and Democrats, doves and hawks, Hillary supporters and Trump voters.

The White House tapes revealed Richard Nixon as an unrepentant anti-Semite who whispered with aide Bob Haldeman about the Jewish “bastards” who can’t be trusted and “turn on you.” But his apologists have long argued that his animus wasn’t aroused by Jews per se but by their politics. They point to the Jews in his inner circle — Henry Kissinger, William Safire and Leonard Garment, to name a few (although there’s a long conversation in which Nixon and Haldeman discuss Kissinger’s Jewish “insecurity”). The tapes also suggest that Nixon thought better of Israeli Jews than American Jews.

In one sense, Nixon was right: Then, as now, Jews tended to vote Democratic and were overrepresented among the politicians, activists and academics who opposed him. But there is already a name for such people: liberals. “Jew” doesn’t add much to the formula except to tar a people — a historically persecuted people to boot — with the brush of bigotry.

(And the argument that it was liberals not Jews who raised Nixon’s hackles is undermined by Nixonisms like this one: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”)

Breitbart, a sort of farm team for the White House staff, never dips into that kind of invective (even if its readers often do). But they also imagine two very different kinds of Jews. Israeli Jews and their supporters on the right are the good kind, strong and stalwart when they aren’t the innocent and nearly helpless victims of a fierce Arab enemy and their Western enablers. They have a lot to teach the West about security and standing up to Islamist terror.

American Jews, especially the Democratic-voting majority and the organizations that represent them, tend to show up in Breitbart only when they occasionally agree with a conservative position or are criticized by right-leaning Jews for disagreeing with a right-wing position. That was the point of the article by right-wing activist David Horowitz, titled “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” that is usually labeled Exhibit A in describing Breitbart as anti-Semitic. As Horowitz himself explained in a follow-up, he called Kristol a “renegade Jew” because he felt the conservative pundit, in opposing Trump, had “betrayed the Jews.” Horowitz’s overheated article was a defense of right-wing Jewish interests and an attack on a Jew who would undermine them.

Trump bought into the good Jews-bad Jews view of the world in picking David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. Most American Jews weren’t surprised that Trump would pick an envoy (and personal lawyer) who shared his and Bannon’s (and, in most ways, Benjamin Netanyahu’s) right-leaning, nationalist version of pro-Israel politics. But after getting over Friedman’s dearth of diplomatic credentials, they were shocked by his stated disdain for Jews on the other side of the argument. Writing for the pro-settler Arutz Sheva news site, Friedman labeled the left-wing pro-Israel group J Street as “not Jewish” and “worse than” the Jewish “kapos” who collaborated with the Nazis.

As my colleague Ron Kampeas pointed out, one traditional job of the U.S. ambassador to Israel is to serve as an envoy between and among American Jews — if not to agree with them, at least to assure them that they will be heard. Dan Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017, was highly regarded on both sides for performing this function: Representing an administration that was often unpopular with much of the activist class, Shapiro respected, and earned the respect, of the other side.

Jews have done a good job all by themselves in dividing up their community into warring camps — and, perhaps worse, camps that barely talk with each other. The right-left divide, the schism between Orthodox and non-Orthodox schism — Jews didn’t need any help in creating these categories. But they also understood that Jewish influence would be diminished and Jewish security compromised if those on the outside were able to splinter an already splintered and tiny community into smaller and smaller pieces. That was the mantra of pro-Israel advocacy going back to the era of Max Fisher, a Jewish Republican who enjoyed good relations with Nixon.

In drawing up his enemies list, Nixon could barely distinguish between liberals and Jews, and decided he despised both. In drawing up its own list of friends, Bannon and Breitbart are happy to distinguish between the right sort of Jews and the wrong sort of Jews.

Trump isn’t one to reach out to those who disagree with him, to say the least. Divide and conquer was pretty much his campaign strategy. And so far his efforts at Jewish inclusion — like the polarizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement — have been dead on arrival.

The evidence is weak that Breitbart or Bannon are anti-Semitic. And Breitbart’s eager pro-Israel stance, like Trump’s, is unmistakable.

But what troubles so many Jews, including some Jewish Republicans, is the deeply conditional nature of a support that says “If you’re with me, I’m with you.” It’s the flip side of Nixonian mania. It’s also the ideological version of two of the weakest defenses in the accused bigot’s arsenal: “Some of my best friends are Jewish” and “I have Jewish grandchildren.”

Trump, Bannon and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

White House senior advisor Steve Bannon attends as U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was an early example of fake news originating in Russia that has inspired anti-Semites and ignited anti-Semitism for over 100 years. Now, that revolting ideology may have found a new home in the White House.

First published in Russia in 1903, the forged document was quickly translated into many languages. The document purports to be an account of a late 19th-century meeting (which of course never took place) where Jewish leaders allegedly discussed their goal of global domination. Their means to world control would be through subverting the morals of non-Jews and by controlling the international press and the world’s economies. Sound familiar?

The influence of this infamous libel was far-reaching. Henry Ford financed the printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the United States in the 1920s. The Nazis used the Protocols to stir up hatred against the Jews. Despite being conclusively proven to be a forgery as early as 1921, it is still widely available today in many countries and languages as well as on the Internet and continues to be presented by some as genuine.

This early Russian foray into the invention of fake facts is interesting in light of what’s happening today. The spiritual heir of the original forgers is President Putin who during last year’s US presidential election authorized a flood of lies, smears, inventions, distortions and slanders designed to damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and help the election of Donald Trump. It’s hard to measure how much influence this had but one fact is clear – Trump and not Clinton is President today.

Trump’s chief White House strategist is Steve Bannon, the former head of the alt-right Breitbart News which has become notorious for its use of anti-Semitic tropes, many harking back to the same themes as those of the Protocols.

For example, during Bannon’s reign over Breitbart, the website ran articles referring to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum as “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.” The theme was that Jews have allegiance not to any one nation but only to each other.

After Bannon joined Trump’s presidential campaign, it too started flirting with anti-Semitic tropes, including tweeting an image of a star of David with Hillary Clinton’s face superimposed on a pile of money. His closing ad warned of a shadowy cabal of bankers and international elites, several of whom had Jewish names. These were words that could have been copied verbatim from the Protocols.

Once in the White House, it didn’t take long for Bannon to make his mark. The administration issued a statement on international Holocaust Day that contained no mention of the Jews. Of course, Holocaust denial is a staple of far-right neo-Nazi movements worldwide. It’s hard to make people hate the Jews when they feel sorry for them. Therefore it’s necessary to erase any sympathy people might have for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

When Jewish groups objected to being airbrushed from history, the Trump administration doubled down. The White House made it clear that the omission of Jews was no accident. Trump’s people wanted to make the point that other victims also suffered and died in the Holocaust.

Trump appears to have thoroughly absorbed the lessons taught to him by Putin, who himself draws of decades of lies and distortion put forward by the various rulers of the former Soviet Union and Tsarist Empire. Now Trump claims that any polls showing opposition to him are fake. On Feb 6, he tweeted: “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.” His adviser Kellyanne Conway referred to a “massacre” of Americans in Bowling Green, Kentucky which simply never happened. Yet Conway spoke of the lives of American troops lost as if it were a real event.

If the history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion teaches us anything, it should be to be very wary and very fearful. Lies can have immense staying power. They can lead to extreme suffering and destruction. They can help pull the entire world into war and place the existence of an entire people under threat. They are especially dangerous when promoted by national leaders like Trump and Putin with almost unlimited access to the media and other means of communication at their disposal. They must be resisted at every turn. We have faith that the truth will eventually out – but it won’t unless we fight to make it so.

The author is Special Adviser to the President of J Street

3 must-watch Jewish moments from this week’s ‘Saturday Night Live’

Alec Baldwin, left, playing President Donald Trump in a “Saturday Night Live Sketch” that aired Feb. 4, 2017. Screenshot from YouTube

From a mention of Ivanka and Jared’s Shabbat observance to poking fun of Sean Spicer’s defense of a Holocaust statement that did not mention Jews, this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” had no shortage of Jewish content. Here’s the low-down on the sketches you may have missed.

Trump says that when Ivanka and Jared are observing Shabbat ‘the goys will play’

The sketch-comedy show opened with President Donald Trump (played by Alec Baldwin) sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. Trump asks an aide whether Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law are there, saying they “always keep me so calm and make sure I don’t do anything too crazy.” When the aide says the couple are off observing Shabbat, Trump says: “Perfect, when the Jews are away the goys will play.”

Then Trump’s chief policy adviser Stephen Bannon enters — dressed as the Grim Reaper — prodding him to make calls to world leaders, with disastrous consequences.

The reference to Ivanka and Jared’s Shabbat observance didn’t come out of nowhere. A Vanity Fair article suggested that the couple may have been unaware of protests against Trump’s controversial refugee ban since the fallout began over Shabbat.

Trump tells Angela Merkel he will write a memoir called “My Struggle”

After Trump tells both the Australian prime minister and Mexican president to “prepare to go to war,” Bannon-cum-Grim Reaper suggests Trump call Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (played by Kate McKinnon) picks up, not doing much to hide her disappointment that former president Barack Obama isn’t the one calling.

Trump starts talking about Holocaust Remembrance Day, but quickly makes it about himself.

“I want to be serious for just a moment, last week it was Holocaust Remembrance Day and as you know 6 million people,” he says, pausing, “were at my inauguration.” He then tells a speechless Merkel that he will write a memoir about unfair media coverage of his inauguration, titled “My Struggle” and asks her how to say the title in German.

Sean Spicer says a controversial White House Holocaust statement was written by someone who is “super Jewy” 

In a different sketch, Melissa McCarthy plays an overly aggressive White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (and manages to look astoundingly like him) who keeps on accusing the press corps of lying. When one reporter asks about whether a White House Holocaust statement that omitted any reference to Jewish suffering was anti-Semitic, Spicer starts squirting him with a water gun.

“This is soapy water, and I’m washing that filthy lying mouth,” Spicer says when the reporter reacts with shock.

“First of all, how could the statement be anti-Semitic? The guy who wrote it was super Jewy, okay?” asks McCarthy’s Spicer. (The real-life Spicer, in defending the statement, said it had been written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendants of Holocaust survivors,” later reported to be White House staffer Boris Epshteyn.)

Back story behind the Holocaust statement proves Trump’s a mensch

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 29. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It turns out, according to today’s JTA, that the Holocaust Statement was written — all or mostly — by Boris Ephsteyn, a strongly identifying American Jew, of Russian Jewish ethnicity, who is in the Trump inner circle and who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

I shall now place myself in Trump’s place, and I invite you to so so.  I am a chief executive, and I want to issue a statement on Cesar Chavez Day, so I ask a trusted advisor who also is Chicano to handle the statement.  Or I ask an African American close advisor to draft my Martin Luther King Day statement.  He or she gives it to me.  I read it.  It seems very sensitive.  So I approve it. We issue it to the public.

Then it turns out that I did not catch some nuance that would be uniquely sensitive to the group in question.  It did not say “Jewish” in the otherwise-meaningful statement that remembered and mourned the loss and suffering of the Holocaust victims.  Remember — here, I am in Trump’s shoes:  As a non-Jew who associates the Holocaust with the murder of Six Million Jews, I took it for granted that the statement mourned Jewish Holocaust victims. It never occurred to me that it was flawed because it left out the word “Jewish.” Just as with my other two examples: The Cesar Chavez statement did not say something that a Chicano would expect, or the MLK statement omitted some word that an African American would expect. Like, I don’t know — does the statement have to include the phrase “We Shall Overcome”?  Or is it sufficient if it condemns racism, bigotry, hate, and division?  Well, the Chicano or African American who is so close to me, whose wisdom and counsel I value, wrote it, and it seemed sensitive, so I approved it, and it was issued.

And now I am under a torrent of criticism descending on me — from vipers who criticize my every breath every day, constantly suspecting the most evil of motives no matter what I do or say.

One choice I have: I can dump on Boris Epshteyn.  I can point fingers at him, blame him, maybe even force him to apologize publicly. Maybe even fire him. Even publicly.

But that is not Trump’s way.

Interestingly, despite Trump’s unbelievably boorish side — as in the debates, horribly so — Trump curiously has another side: he somehow also is an incredible mensch, a really nice guy, and he rewards loyalty with loyalty.  Remember how he stood by the speech writer who gave Melania that speech plagiarized from Michelle Obama?  How he stood by Corey Lewandowski after that incident with the reporter in the crowd whom Lewandowski perhaps touched? People expected that speechwriter to be fired; she even handed in her resignation.  However, Trump stood by her.  And he has stood by Lewandowski, through and through.  Just watch Lewandowski talk about Trump on CNN or Fox.

Trump stands by his people.  He will not feed his people to the wolves, even when they mess up, even when their error embarrasses him personally, just to protect himself.  He feels he has strong shoulders, and he can carry the load, no matter what hits.

Not all executives are like that, but many believe that you get the best results for the long term when your team knows that the boss has their backs as long as they demonstrate loyalty, are well beyond competent, and as long as they truly do their best.  I had that experience with a boss once.  I once made a mistake in a law position that caused him a bit of embarrassment.  He knew it was my mistake, and — oh my! — I knew it even more so.  He never said a negative word to me about it.  He acted publicly, when others tittered, as though it had been his error.  When I apologized about it later, he made a light joke about it — “I guess you were spending too much time last night studying the Talmud, Rabbi.”  That was it.  Today, 23 years later, I feel such an incredible loyalty to him, as do all others who ever worked for him.  We love him.  We would do anything for him.

That is a leadership style.  Not everyone agrees with that style — In the large law firms where I worked, many nasty partners lived by an alternative credo that, if you let a subordinate get away with making any mistake, he or she will be careless all the time forevermore.

In the end, for those who are willing to view the recent Holocaust Statement Imbroglio without a bias, the disclosure by JTA that Boris Ephteyn wrote the Holocaust Statement actually is to Trump’s praise.  No one has made this observation yet.  I think it worth noting.  He has absorbed the blame and has taken the pot shots — particularly from the usual critics and Democrat Party hacks — for a statement that one of his Jewish advisors drafted.

At least on this one, his critics owe Donald trump an apology.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, an attorney and adjunct professor of law, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County and holds and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations including Rabbinical Council of America and Zionist Organization of America. He formerly was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review and thereafter clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Trump’s Holocaust denial, or Bannon’s?

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

All week I’ve been asking myself this question: Does the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge that Jews were the victims of the Nazi Holocaust say something about the psychology of Donald Trump, or about the ideology of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon?

After all, if something happens once, it’s a mistake. If it happens twice, it’s either a problem — or a plan.

First, the facts: On Jan. 20, 1942, the senior leaders of the Nazi regime gathered by a beautiful lake in Wannsee outside Berlin and affirmed the Final Solution against the Jewish people.   You can go there and stand in the room where it happened. You can read the documents with their signatures. I did.

Yes, the Nazis killed many people and groups of people, among them Romani, the disabled, homosexuals and Poles. But the Holocaust was conceived, planned and executed to wipe out one people — the Jews. The Germans have said this. Our new president will not.

When Trump’s speech neglected to mention the Jews, Jewish groups from across the political spectrum expressed concern and asked politely for a correction. Notably those groups included Trump allies and friends.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) wrote in a statement. “We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and a longtime Trump supporter, called on Trump to “rectify this painful omission.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles politely asked that the administration “update” its statement to include the fact that the Holocaust was designed to exterminate one people, the Jews.

All Trump had to do was issue a correction, or an “update.” That would have pleased the critics, and assuaged his friends. Instead, the administration doubled down on what is essentially a lie of omission.

At a later press conference, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the groups that complained about the omission of Jews from the Holocaust were “nitpicking.”

“It is pathetic that people are picking on a statement,” he said.

This wasn’t just a slap at Trump’s many critics in the Jewish community, this was a middle finger to his few friends.

The ZOA’s Mort Klein heralded Trump’s election as a boon to Israel and the Jewish people, doing so even before the Republican Jewish Coalition swung on board. The RJC did eventually support Trump. And Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration, enduring sharp criticism in doing so.

But even for them, Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Then again, that might not be Trump, but Bannon.

But Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Rabbi Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Bannon headed the rebirth of the web site into what he described as, “a platform for the alt-right,” the neo-Nazi retreads who sport frog pins and Twitter handles like, “Chuck U Shumer.”

On Breitbart, the Holocaust controversy played out like one long dog whistle to the comments section. A few self-described Jewish supporters excused Trump because, well, boo Obama, and anyway the new president has Jewish relatives.

But for the masses, it was all Jew-bashing, all the time. It has long been the aim of European nationalists and the alt-right here to downplay the extent to which Jews were targeted, to de-Judaize the Holocaust. Trump’s statement played into that. But it was his refusal to correct or apologize that really energized the haters.

“Um the Marxists deserved to go to the camps,” commented Chuck U Shumer.

spd1275 wrote: “Too bad Hitler didn’t round up Democrats as well…”

“I bet that people who blame Trump are anti-Semites although they call themselves ADL and Zionist Organization [of America],” wrote Felix_the_cat.

“Don’t forget the REAL holocaust was 40,000,000 Orthodox Christians sent off to the gulags by the Bolshevikim in 1917, 100 years ago today,” Anteater wrote. “’The Chosen, as they called themselves … emigrated to Israel to start spreading hate and race war all over again. And then they came for me.”

It goes on and on, page after page.

What this episode says about Trump is clear. Here is a man who is willing to throw his friends under the bus without a second thought. Corner him, challenge him or even mildly correct him, and he will paint you as “pathetic” in the eyes of his real supporters.

What it says about Bannon is more disturbing. As the former head of Breitbart, he knew exactly how this controversy would land among Trump’s diehard fans on the alt-right.

“Remember Stephen Bannon’s words,” a Breitbart commenter named “Jobu” wrote to defend Spicer’s comments. “Stay vigilant and keep energized. The whole planet of globalists is at war trying to take this country and our President down.”

Maybe Trump just doesn’t do I’m sorry, but next year he’ll correct his mistakes. Maybe Trump’s Jewish supporters will forgive a bit of alt-right red meat as long as their guy comes through for Israel.

But last week is the clearest evidence we have yet that when Steve Bannon’s ideology meets Donald Trump’s psychology, terrible things can happen.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Daily Kickoff: Dems blast Bibi’s border tweet | Kushner: All things ‘run through me’ | RJC, ZOA pan Trump’s Holocaust statement | Spotted at Alfalfa

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 29. Photo by Abir Sultan/Reuters

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VIEW OF JERUSALEM: Dems Blast Bibi’s U.S. Border Tweet — by Aaron Magid and Jacob Kornbluh: Amidst the highly charged US political debate over the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a provocative tweet on Saturday. “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” The backlash began with a reply on Twitter from the most recent U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro who wrote “PM @netanyahu‘s top aide told me a key goal in Trump’s era was keeping bipartisan support for Israel. Now this?” Shapiro also suggested another possibility. “Unless this endorsement is Trump’s demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants, the quid pro quo.” Shapiro added, “To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard.”

“The completely unnecessary tweet by the Prime Minister on such a divisive issue that has nothing to do with Israel serves no useful purpose and alienates key constituencies from whom we need support,” Alan Solow, former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, told Jewish Insider. “This tweet also damages our ability to build coalitions to fight against the BDS movement,” he added… Ann Lewis, former White House Communications Director in the Clinton Administration, emailed Jewish Insider, “All weekend, I’ve watched and cheered crowds with self-identified young Jews protest against Donald Trump’s appalling executive order. These are the values of the young people we work with to maintain support for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East – the country that provides medical care for wounded Syrians, and has just welcomed a number of Syrian refugees. Those are the shared values that keep the relationship strong. The Prime Minister’s tweet doesn’t help.”

“Andrew Weinstein called Netanyahu’s actions a “short-sighted, ill-conceived and ego driven” attempt at cozying up to Trump “with absolutely zero concern for the collateral damage it was certain to cause.”… Mark Mellman emphasized that establishing a friendly relationship with a new U.S. President should be encouraged. “But to insert himself (Netanyahu) in a purely domestic American political issue that is highly controversial and highly partisan and affects Israel in no way, shape or form is just a pretty foolish mistake,” he noted.” [JewishInsider

Trump: Decision on Jerusalem Embassy ‘In Not Too Distant Future’ — by Jacob Kornbluh: “I’m looking at it. We are studying it very, very long and hard,” Trump said in an interview with CBN News’ The Brody File, broadcast on Sunday. “It’s a very big, big decision, but we are studying the issue right now.” Measuring his words, Trump seemed to indicate where his heart is on the issue. “I’ve always liked the concept of doing it, I will tell you that,” he said. “I will have a decision in the not too distant future.” Asked what the chances are that the embassy will be moved to Jerusalem, the President said, “There is certainly a chance of it, absolutely.” Adding, “We are doing very detailed studies on that, and we will come out very soon. I hate to do that because that’s not usually me – studies – usually I do what’s right. But this has two sides to it, it’s not easy, and I will make a decision over the not too distant future.” [JewishInsider

“Netanyahu backs U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem though signals no urgency” by Jeffrey Heller: “In an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Marc Zell, head of the Republicans Overseas Israel branch, said new U.S. President Donald Trump was “proceeding cautiously because of concerns raised by Israeli officials”… Netanyahu addressed the matter in general terms in public remarks to his cabinet on Sunday… “I want to take the opportunity to make it unequivocally clear that our position has always been, and remains so now and at all times, that the U.S. embassy should be here, in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said…” [Reuters]

President-in-law: “Trump’s First Week: Misfires, Crossed Wires, and a Satisfied Smile” by Charlie Savage, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman: “Mr. Kushner has emerged as the most important figure in Mr. Trump’s White House besides the president. He has told several people that all things on nearly every topic “run through me,” according to two people with direct knowledge.” [NYTimes

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Trump’s statement marking Holocaust remembrance leaves out mention of Jews” by Abby Phillip: “In a series of tweets, Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, noted the omissions. “White House statement on Holocaust Memorial Day, misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent ­people,’” Greenblatt tweeted.” [WashPost]

“WH: No mention of Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day because others were killed too” by Jake Tapper: “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN on Saturday.” [CNN] • Reince Priebus Defends Trump Statement On The Holocaust [HuffPostNYT

“RJC, ZOA Criticize Trump’s Holocaust Statement” by Jacob Kornbluh: “RJC spokesman Fred Brown said, “The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission… We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.” ZOA President Mort Klein, who recently boasted about being the only major Jewish organization with direct access to the White House, criticized the White House for doubling down on the ‘painful’ statement. “As a child of holocaust survivors, I and ZOA are compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others,” said Klein. “ZOA hopes that president Trump will direct his staff and COS Reince Priebus to immediately rectify this painful omission.” [JewishInsider] • Maggie Haberman: “Both of these groups are heavily funded by Adelson – and wouldn’t give statement without his knowledge.”[Twitter

— “Ron Lauder, World Jewish Congress President, was the only Jewish leader to defend Trump, accusing the ADL of playing politics… “It does no honor to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust to play politics with their memory,” Lauder said in a statement. “Any fair reading of the White House statement on International Holocaust Memorial Day will see it appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history.” A spokesperson for Lauder did not respond to an inquiry from Jewish Insider whether Lauder stands by his statement following the White House’s admission.” [JewishInsider

Yair Rosenberg: “What I think happened w/ Trump Holocaust statement: omitted Jews by accident, incapable of admitting error so doubled down. Same as Star of David tweet.”[Twitter

Rep. Jerry Nadler: “From left to right, full Jewish Community condemnation of Donald Trump for Holocaust statement failure.” [Twitter

Ambassador Ron Dermer in speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Friday: “If this noble universal vision is not firmly rooted in an appreciation that the Holocaust is first and foremost a Jewish story, it can become not only dangerous but even immoral.” [Facebook

“The White House Holocaust Horror” by John Podhoretz: “The Hope Hicks statement does not arrive without precedent. It is, rather, the culmination of something—the culmination of decades of ill feeling that seems to center on the idea that the Jews have somehow made unfair “use” of the Holocaust and it should not “belong” to them. Someone in that nascent White House thought it was time to reflect that view through the omission of the specifically Jewish quality of the Holocaust.” [CommentaryMag

“Trump’s Refugee Ban Dishonors the Memory of the Jewish Holocaust Victims He Failed to Acknowledge” by Matt Nosanchuk: “As [President Obama’s] Jewish liaison, I kept an eye on the American Jewish community’s collective calendar of annual milestones – mostly holidays, anniversaries and commemorations… In drafting statements on Holocaust remembrance, I always and deliberately included a specific reference to the fact that the Holocaust is above all else a tragedy that befell the Jewish people. It is an event that carries profound significance for all of humanity, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religion and had many other victims as well. But conscionable remembrance acknowledges the Jewish victims.” [Haaretz

Where is Trump’s JLOTUS? We know this White House has more than a minyan in the West Wing but, without a designated Jewish liaison, the odds of these mistakes continuing are high.

TRUMP TUMULT: “Inside the confusion of the Trump executive order and travel ban” by Evan Perez and Pamela Brown: “Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries… did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders. The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.” [CNN] • How Trump’s Rush to Enact an Immigration Ban Unleashed Global Chaos [NYTimes]

“A Clarifying Moment in American History” by Eliot A. Cohen: “To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.”[TheAtlantic

“US Jews see ‘tragic irony’ in refugee ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day” by Eric Cortellessa: “It’s impossible to ignore whether intentional or not, the tragic irony in executing the kind of order that kept Jews out of America like those who perished on the St. Louis and countless others, on the day when we remember the unspeakable tragedy that befell European Jewry and the Jewish people,” [ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt] told The Times of Israel on Saturday…. He said the ADL is preparing a course of action to combat this policy of the Trump administration and will be rolling out its plan this week. “We’ll be clarifying that in the coming days.” [ToI

“President Trump’s First Defeat” by Blake Hounshell: “A Twitter account methodically posting the names of Jews refused asylum in the United States and later killed in the Holocaust was retweeted thousands of times on Friday, blending into people’s timelines with news about the immigration crackdown, adding to the sense of outrage among Trump’s critics.” [Politico

“US suspends immigration program helping non-Muslim Iranians” by George Jahn and Alicia A. Caldwell: “Under a 27-year-old program originally approved by Congress to help Jews in the former Soviet Union, Austria had been serving until recently as a conduit for Iranian Jews, Christians and Baha’i, who were at risk in their home country and eligible to resettle in the United States… But the United States suspended the so-called “Iranian Lautenberg Program” in recent days, according to Austrian officials, who in turn stopped Iranians from reaching their territory… The episode isn’t directly linked to an executive order Trump signed Friday that orders strict new screening for refugees to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States.” [AP

“Synagogue where Trump’s grandchild goes to preschool condemns travel ban” by Betsy Klein: “Adas Israel Congregation, the Conservative synagogue in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood where Trump and Kushner send one of their three young children to preschool, issued a statement Sunday evening condemning the President’s controversial executive order.” [CNN]

Tally of Jewish organizations speaking out against Trump Holocaust statement: ADL, AJC, Anne Frank Center, NJDC, J Street, Bend the Arc, RJC, ZOA.

Defended Trump’s Holocaust statement: WJC’s Ron Lauder.

Not Commenting on Trump’s Holocaust statement: Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel.

Group speaking out against refugee ban: ADL, AJC, JCPA, HIAS, the Rabbinical Assembly, B’nai B’rith International, RCA and OU (reaffirmed 12-10-2015 statement), NJDC, J Street, Bend the Arc.

Group praising Trump’s Executive Order: ZOA

“Trump’s internal White House strategy group adds staff” by Annie Karni:“Dina Powell, a former Goldman Sachs partner who quit her job to serve as a top adviser to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, is expected to join a newly formed internal White House brain trust that will offer advice on top administration priorities… Along with Powell… the group is also expected to include Julia Hahn, the former Breitbart immigration writer who was hired by the White House as a special assistant to the president… Other staffers expected to join the group include special assistant to the president Reed Cordish.” [Politico

“The Kushners break bread with Team Trump” by Kaileen Gaul: “Members of team Trump poured into the Kushner residence to celebrate Shabbat Friday evening… Department of Commerce pick Wilbur Ross and his wife Hilary Geary Ross were in attendance. Former president of Goldman Sachs and top economic policy adviser Gary Cohn, Department of the Treasury pick Steve Mnuchin and his partner Louise Linton were all sighted heading into the Kushner home… Rabbi Levi Shemtov was also present Friday afternoon.” [DailyMail] • Daily Mail misidentifies photo caption as Dina Habib Powell and Richard Powell when it’s Reed and Maggie Cordish [Twitter]

“Social media users knock Ivanka Trump over date night photo during protests” by Brooke Seipel: “Social media users are blasting Ivanka Trump for posting a photo of herself going to an Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday amid protests at airports around the country over President Trump’s immigration ban.” [TheHill]

SPOTTED at the 104th Alfalfa Club Dinner at the Capitol Hilton on Saturday evening: James Baker, Wayne Berman, Leon Black, Michael Bloomberg, Emma Bloomberg, Sen. Cory Booker, Jim Breyer, Justice Stephen Breyer, Eli Broad, Tina Brown, Norman Brownstein, Warren Buffett, Jeb Bush, Gary Cohn, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Ken Feinberg, Howard Friedman, Judge Karen Friedman, Bill Gates, Bob Gates, Dan Gilbert, Alan Greenspan, Eric Greitens, Patricia Harris, Walter Isaacson, Henry Kissinger, Nancy Kissinger, Henry Kravis, Marie-Josée Kravis, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Hadassah Lieberman, Joe Lieberman, Peyton Manning, Steven Mnuchin, Tom Nides, David Petraeus, Dina Powell, David Rubenstein, Chuck Schumer, Stephen Schwarzman, Stephen Wynn.

“Trump gives National Security Council seat to ex-Breitbart chief Steve Bannon” by Alan Yuhas: “The president named Bannon to the council in a reorganization of the NSC. He also said his son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief-of-staff Reince Priebus would have seats in the meetings.” [Guardian] • Top Cruz Aide Victoria Coates Tapped for Senior Role on Trump National Security Team [FreeBeacon]

“Bannon Is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals” by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman: “In terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the Trumpian pecking order, according to interviews with two dozen Trump insiders and current and former national security officials. The move involving Mr. Bannon, as well as the boost in status to the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, and Mr. Trump’s relationships with cabinet appointees like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have essentially layered over Mr. Flynn.” [NYTimes]

“Trump tasks son-in-law Kushner, a diplomatic novice, with managing Mexico dispute” by The Associated Press: “Kushner, who already wields enormous power in the White House, is expected to work through the dispute with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray. The two men, who know each other from the financial circles, also worked together to arrange Trump’s surprise visit to Mexico during the presidential campaign.” [ChicagoTribune

“Trump’s Little Mexican War” by WSJ editorial board: “Mr. Trump said as a candidate that he’d treat America’s friends better than Mr. Obama did, but his first move has been to treat Mexico like Mr. Obama treated Israel. “ [WSJ]

IRAN DEAL: “Trump, Saudi king back ‘rigorously’ enforcing Iran nuclear deal” by AFP: “Trump and King Salman “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” the White House said.” [Yahoo

“Trump’s New Senior Middle East Adviser: Hawkish on Iran, Friendly to Egypt” by Amir Tibon: “The Trump administration has appointed former U.S. Army Col. Derek Harvey as its senior director for Middle East policies on the National Security Council. Haaretz has learned that Harvey… was one of the officials who earlier this week instructed the U.S. State Department to issue a statement saying it was reexamining the outgoing administration’s decision to transfer $221 million to the Palestinian Authority during President Barack Obama’s last hours in office… A government source described Harvey as “the new Rob Malley,” referring to the former Obama administration official who was in charge of Middle East affairs at the outgoing NSC… It is not yet clear who will be the NSC’s official dealing directly with issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians.” [Haaretz

KAFE KNESSET — The right wing Post-Trump legislation blitz continues — by Tal Shalev: The bill, which retroactively legalizes hundreds of Jewish settlement houses built on disputed lands, was originally submitted as a means to pressure the government to find a solution for the Amona outpost evacuation. Netanyahu didn’t want it, and tried to convince Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennet that it would cause international pressure. But he eventually succumbed to right-wing demands and allowed its first reading to pass in early December. Since then, the legislative process has been stalled for weeks, but last week Bennet put it back on the agenda citing the “historic opportunity” of the potentially settler-friendly Trump administration. Netanyahu followed suit and announced that he directed to have the final vote on the bill this week. He did so despite telling Likud ministers last week that the appropriation bill was one of the main factors that lead to UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

While the opposition is very vocal about the illegal outpost bill, Jerusalem has reacted with complete silence to the White House omitting any Jewish reference in their International Holocaust Memorial Day statement. No Israeli politician — from right or left — reacted to the statement or the doubling down. Earlier today, Kafe Knesset asked Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman about it during the Israel Beitenu weekly faction meeting. “The new administration is very friendly, it’s probably a mistake or misunderstanding. Of course the Holocaust is a Jewish issue. I hope that next year they will know to mention the Jews” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset [JewishInsider]

** Good Monday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email **

“One Certainty of Trump’s Wall: Big Money” Danielle Ivory and Julie Creswell: “Companies that specialize in surveillance technology or even “virtual” barriers could also benefit. Elbit Systems of America, whose parent company is based in Israel, won a contract in 2014 with Customs and Border Protection to build a set of towers with radar and cameras covering 170 to 200 miles along the Arizona border. When the radar detects movement, cameras zoom in and send images to command centers…” [NYTimes] • Israel’s Magal Pushes for Mexico Wall Deal as Trump Buoys Shares [Bloomberg]

“Starbucks CEO Schultz plans to hire 10,000 refugees after Trump ban” by Devika Krishna Kumar: “Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said on Sunday that the company planned to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in 75 countries… The hiring efforts announced on Sunday would start in the United States by initially focusing on individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where the military has asked for such support, Schultz said.”[Reuters]

“Warm Welcome for Syrians in a Country About to Ban Them” by Jodi Kantor: “On Friday afternoon, a group of suburban synagogue members clustered at O’Hare International Airport, waiting to greet one of the last Syrian refugee families to be accepted in the United States… Their synagogue, Am Shalom (“People of Peace”) in Glencoe, Ill., displays a statue depicting members’ families who perished at the Nazis’ hands… A hundred synagogue members had contributed in some way to helping resettle the Syrians… Some of the synagogue members had signed on instinctually, so the Syrians would be helped the way their own parents or grandparents had been aided when they arrived in the United States. Others had joined as a way of countering Mr. Trump… “The Statue of Liberty has always been our symbol of welcome,” Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein, the group’s leader, said at the airport. “It feels like Trump turned off the light,” he said.” [NYTimes

DESSERT: “Kosher Food Goes Up in Smoke” by Jill Krasny: “With chef Derick Polkoski at the helm, Main House is just one of several places putting a kosher stamp on Texas barbecue—in New York and beyond. Notable kosher barbecue outposts have cropped up everywhere from Kansas City (Mendel’s) to the heart of Texas itself: JoeBob’s BBQ in Austin. And annual contests are being held in Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, Dallas, Memphis, and San Antonio. These outlets aren’t just putting a new spin on barbecue; they’re changing the way kosher diners think about dinner. In striking ways, kosher restrictions have pushed these barbecue restaurants to get more creative. Dairy is off-limits, which means no buttered biscuits or mac and cheese. However, Polkoski, for instance, has found tasty workarounds: making a stock from smoked chicken or turkey bones to flavor dishes, topping mashed potatoes with burgundy-glazed caramelized onions, lining a pan with chicken schmaltz for cornbread, or using brisket fat to saute onions.” [TabletMag]

BIRTHDAYS: Theatrical producer and director, winner of 21 Tony Awards, more than other person, Harold Prince turns 89… Teacher and national community leader, holder of a Ph.D. in modern Jewish history from New York University, Judith Friedman Rosen turns 65… Assistant Professor in the electrical engineering department at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Guy Gilboa turns 46… Republican member of the US House of Representatives from eastern Long Island, NY since 2015, Lee Zeldinturns 37… Senior director for Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Joshua M. Kram… Congressional correspondent for CBS Radio News since 2-2015, following a nine year (2006-2015) similar assignment for ABC News Radio, Steven Portnoy… Eli Langer… Politico Illinois Playbook author Natasha Korecki (h/t Playbook)… Russell Robinson… Jared Isenstein… Alexa Smith… Al Sokolow… Gisele Rogers… Heather Graf… Max Delahanty

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Here’s how to make sure anti-Semitic white supremacist Steve Bannon never serves in the White House

The 2016 Presidential Election has not happened yet and there's still time to prevent Steve Bannon from ever setting up office in The West Wing.

The election happens on December 19 in the 50 State Capitols across America when “The Electoral College” votes.

And 36 of the “Electors” can bring Donald Trump to his knees and absolutely force him to rescind the appointment of Steven Bannon as his Chief White House Strategist.

Here's how:

1. On November 8 America elected 306 Electors for Donald Trump, 36 more than the 270 needed to become President.

2. On December 5 one of those 306, a Texas Republican named Christopher Suprun, declared in a NY Times Op Ed that he was not going to vote for Trump and would, instead, vote for John Kasich or another Republican that he felt was qualified for the job. Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers gave Electors this right to reflect and consider facts that may have occurred since the election and to vote their conscience as his Op Ed notes.  (Pulitzer Prize winner, Republican Washington Post Columnist, Kathleen Parker, supports this reasoning. And here is my take on Fox Television.)

3. If 36 additional Republican Electors follow Mr. Suprun and vote for Mr. Kasich or anyone else, or abstain, Mr. Trump will not be elected and the decision will then move to The United States House of Representatives (unless Kasich or Hillary or anyone else does get 270 or more votes).

So, all 36 out of 305 remaining Republican Electors need to do is to send a little memo to Donald Trump saying essentially the following. If they do, Donald Trump will have to choose between Steve Bannon or The White House!

“Dear Mr. Trump,

As Republicans and Americans who care about equal rights for all Americans and specifically and personally abhor anti-Semitism, hate speech and White Supremacism, we are not comfortable with the appointment of Mr. Steve Bannon as your Chief Strategist. 

As such, with all due respect, we write to inform you that, should your selection of Mr. Bannon still stand when we cast our sacred votes as Electors in The Electoral College on December 19 in our state capitols, we will be unable to vote for you for President of The United States. 

Such a vote would violate our personal values.  

And for those of us who are Jewish, it would be too painful to have to tell our own children that we were actually given a chance to avoid electing an Administration that harbored such people and views and that we ignored that opportunity, one that our ancestors in Nazi Germany never had.

We are proud to be Republican Electors and were happy that our slate was chosen because of your victory in our states.  Please make us proud to vote for you on December 19.”

The 2016 Election has not happened and a small number of Republican Patriots can, and should, save America and the world from the vile influence of Steven Bannon.

Richard Greene is a Former Fellow, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Former Attorney, Political Strategist, Author.

Steve Bannon, drain the swamp

I’m not one of those people who instantly jumped on the anti-Steve Bannon bandwagon.

When President-elect Donald Trump appointed him to be his special White House adviser, a lot of people went nuts. The Anti-Defamation League registered protest. Hundreds of mostly young Jews and non-Jews gathered outside the hotel where Bannon was scheduled to appear at a Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) banquet, chanting and carrying signs aimed at Bannon, like “Shalom, Motherf—–!”.

At the time of Bannon’s appointment, I wrote that I had no idea if he is an anti-Semite. The word of an ex-wife in a bitter custody battle is hardly enough evidence to prove it, especially when people who know and work for him came to his defense. But — and this is a big but — Steve Bannon took over following the death of its founder and took it hard right. is the Dallas book depository of hate speech.

“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told a Mother Jones journalist at the Republican National Convention in July. That boast has haunted Bannon ever since — and it should.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he tried to downplay the site’s heinousness. The posts, he said, have “some racial and anti-Semitic overtones.” But Bannon said he has “zero tolerance” for those views and, in any case, he no longer has anything to do with the site.

“I took an extended leave of absence and cut all association with the site while I’m working at the pleasure of the president,” he said.

If the press, if the Republican Party, if Jewish organizations, if Jewish Republicans, if the president-elect of the United States let Bannon hide behind that excuse, they will all be guilty of mainstreaming vile hatreds — anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women — into American society.

Because if he’s not an anti-Semite, Bannon built a lovely home where the purveyors can all meet one another, spew their stupidity from the safety of their stained couches, and thrive. And unless Bannon makes sure that Breitbart takes immediate steps to block posts and comments that fail to meet Bannon’s own professed standards of “zero tolerance,” he and his boss need to be held continually accountable.

The common response here is that on Huffington Post or other left-leaning sites vicious anti-Israel comments also appear in the comments and sometimes in articles. True, but guess what — their creators are not sitting in the White House, advising the president.

And as for Bannon’s dismissive concession that the stuff on the site has “some anti-Semitic overtones,” I wonder if he has read it.

You would think, for instance, that the comments following one story about how Islamic extremism is driving Jews from France would evoke standard Breitbart-issue Islamaphobia. Instead, the comments quickly turn to how the Jews brought on their own destruction in Nazi Europe by fomenting the pre-World War I revolutions. 

“The atheist Jews hate themselves and hate Christianity even more,” wrote commenter gotham1883.

“1933-1939? You are autistic?,” wrote ExDeo. “1933 was the year Europe freed itself from Jewish control and finally RESTORED BORDERS and ENDED DEGENERACY. If anything the modern era is reminiscent of the DECADENCE of PRE WAR GERMANY, where ALL VICES (prostitution, drug use) financed by JEWS prospered and where MEDIA/FINANCE/POLITICS were controlled to oppress Europeans.”

Here’s another comment, following Trump election news: “It seems apparent that we need to get back to what the founders intended America to be: a new homeland for White European only immigrants. Jews can go to Israel, blacks can go to Africa, etc. We don’t need the ‘melting pot’ subversive lie of Jew Israel Zangwill! Jews don’t want goyim in Israel, blacks don’t want whites in Africa, and the world is ok with that. We don’t want/need ANY of you here so GTFO as multiculturalism is a failed concept re-branded and promoted by Jews to serve their interests in every country but Israel! FACT! Game over! Go be with your people and leave us ALONE!”

Someone hiding behind the name Cannon Fodder added:  “… all I need is the glorious yuks of the left and jews destroying themselves.”

I collected those after spending five minutes on the site. As the techies say, these comments aren’t a bug of Breitbart, they’re a feature. 

Ben Shapiro, former editor-at-large of and a longtime associate of Bannon, said whether Bannon believes this garbage is irrelevant. The neo-Nazis use and the high profile of its creator to strengthen their voice and advance their agenda.

“The alt-right would say, ‘Bannon isn’t one of us. Breitbart isn’t us. Trump isn’t one of us. But they’re the most useful tool we’ve ever found,’ ” Shapiro wrote.

In that Wall Street Journal interview, Bannon said he was going to focus on jobs. Great. I hope he re-employs the Rust Belt. But on his way to making America great again, he can’t escape accountability for unleashing his Frankenstein creation that has made it worse. 

In this week’s New Yorker, Andrew Marantz describes the scene at the ZOA gala that Bannon said he would attend, but then didn’t. 

“ ‘He didn’t need to come,’ ” a man sitting at the press table said. “ ‘He just announced that he was coming and got his name kosherized in the press.’ ”

If Bannon really wants to kosherize his name, he must start with his website.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.

Trump’s victory a win for traditional Jews

In the months leading up to the recent election, numerous pundits expressed concerns about a Trump presidency, were he to win. Among the many reasons cited in support of these concerns was his fondness for a populist rhetorical style that, over the many months of the campaign, succeeded in mobilizing a dark corner of the electorate associated with racism and anti-Semitism. 

As the election drew nearer, this concern morphed into personal accusations of racism and anti-Semitism against Donald Trump himself, undoubtedly part of a wider strategy to mobilize progressive forces to vote against him on Election Day. Even after Trump won the election, the anti-Semitism accusations continued, allegations that rose to a deafening crescendo when he appointed Breitbart supremo Steve Bannon to his White House team as chief strategist and senior counselor. 

The denunciations of Trump and Bannon do not require my rebuttal. There have been numerous others who have adequately addressed these charges and repudiated them. The point I wish to address is the seemingly boundless anti-Trump enthusiasm of so many leaders and opinion-formers in the Jewish-American community, who confidently assert that to be pro-Trump amounts to a rejection of Jewish values. On Sept. 14, for example, an article by Daniel Kirzane, a Reform rabbi from Kansas, appeared in The Forward, with the headline “Why I’m a Jew Against Trump.” It began, “Never in the history of American politics has a man so antagonistic to Jewish values achieved as much acclaim as Donald Trump has.” Although Kirzane conceded that Trump is not an anti-Semite, this point was marginal to his thesis, which proclaimed that any political rhetoric amounting to incitement against minorities rendered the personal convictions of the person uttering them irrelevant, as anything that could be construed as the targeting of minority groups is the epitome of “un-Jewish.” 

Besides for the fact that this is simply not true, it would seem that Kirzane and his ilk are eager for all of us to live in a minority dictatorship. The smaller the group, the more its views must be respected, even venerated. Mainstream values honed over centuries and millennia are of no concern, disposable and irrelevant to those who wish to accommodate minority interests in order to uphold an ideology they tell us is lofty and superior. The general public has become so accustomed to the arguments behind ubiquitous campaigns for the advancement of progressive ideals that many have either jumped aboard or been browbeaten into complicit silence. Those who have the audacity to swim against the tide are either vilified or accused of endangering the whole structure of democracy and freedom that progressives argue must be protected at all costs.

I could not disagree more. The moral relativism and unraveling of ethical standards advocated by the progressive left is a minefield posing a greater danger to democracy and freedom than any of us really understands. Although promoted as a natural evolutionary process, what we are witnessing unfold is a social experiment that undermines the very freedoms it purports to uphold.

The Chanukah story is usually presented as a Jewish war against the Greeks. The anti-hero Greek king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is portrayed as a heartless dictator who imposed anti-Jewish decrees on Judea, and was ultimately overthrown in a revolt led by the Maccabean priestly family.

The truth is rather different. Two rival Jewish high priests, Jason and Menelaus, vied for Greek support by trying to outdo each other in their attempts to Hellenize Judaism and Jews, most of whom were hostile to these changes but who felt themselves powerless to counteract the hijacking of everything they held sacred by a political elite more interested in holding onto power than in the needs or interests of the majority.

Sound familiar?

In the end, despite the active support of a powerful Greek army, the Hellenizers were rooted out and the Jerusalem Temple was reclaimed by representatives of this previously voiceless traditional group, who immediately acted to reintroduce unadulterated Judaism to this holiest of shrines by finding and lighting the Temple menorah.

The Talmud recalls that the Maccabees found just one container of uncontaminated oil with which to light the menorah, and although the oil in the container should have lasted only for a single day, the lights miraculously burned for eight days, by which time a new batch of oil had been produced to use going forward. To commemorate this miracle, we observe Chanukah each year for eight days. Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the definitive code of Jewish law “Shulchan Aruch,” points out that the miracle actually lasted for only seven days, as we know the oil they discovered was enough to last the first day. In which case, why do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days and not seven?

Hundreds of answers have been suggested in what has become a rabbinic sport. My own suggested answer is that the miracle of the first day was the victory of traditional Judaism over the overwhelming and seemingly unbeatable forces of modernization and progress that had eroded Judaism to such an extent that its most public representatives had become almost indistinguishable from the dominant Greek cultural influences of the era. The Maccabean family later evolved into the Hasmonean ruling dynasty and ultimately proved to be as problematic as the Hellenizers they had overthrown. Nevertheless, the victory of traditional Judaism over a progressive agenda endured and survived them, and all the vicissitudes faced by Jews in every subsequent period. That is a miracle truly worth celebrating on the first day of Chanukah.

The Trump presidency represents much more than the victory of a political novice over a deeply entrenched political establishment. It is nothing less than a counterrevolution of those wishing to press the reset button so that a “minorities agenda” is no longer the only voice heard in the corridors of power. So while not everyone feels comfortable celebrating the victory of Donald J. Trump, every traditional Jew should embrace the victory of traditional values over the corrosive progressive agenda that has dominated our lives for far too long.

Rabbi Pini Dunner is the senior rabbi at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills Synagogue.

Anti-Semitism at Amazon is the real scandal

A constant drumbeat of sharp headlines has heralded former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, president-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, as an open anti-Semite. The attack is rooted in nothing more credible than an unverified accusation by a crusading left-wing journalist, namely that Bannon had “proudly” told her five weeks earlier, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” To be fair, though, critics have amply demonstrated that during Bannon’s tenure Breitbart harbored some pretty noxious ideas – reflected in click-bait headlines, inflammatory columns, and virulent comment sections.

But have you seen the putrescence a few clicks away at Caution: examining the links below may necessitate gloves or at least hand sanitizer. Amazon’s offerings include:

Holy Serpent of the Jews: The Rabbis' Secret Plan for Satan to Crush Their Enemies and Vault the Jews to Global Dominion

•  It’s the Jews, Stupid! Who and What These Evil Vipers Are

The Ruling Elite: the Zionist Seizure of World Power

Amazon certainly does not write all its book summaries, but they are unbylined, so inexperienced visitors might reasonably assume that – just as writes its own hotel descriptions – Amazon’s blurbs are the company’s. And some are shockingly indecent:

• Gas-chamber poison Zyklon B was “merely used as a pesticide in order to improve the inmates’ health and reduce, not increase, camp mortality,” according to the site’s central summary of Breaking the Spell: The Holocaust: Myth & Reality.

• “That certain Jews have always and still do work to establish Jewish hegemony over the world is not doubted by informed researchers,” says Amazon’s main description of the classic anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

• With the playfully named Mein Side of the Story: Key World War 2 Addresses of Adolf Hitler, the site appears to crow, “This is Hitler’s side of the story, revealed in his own spoken and written words.”

Amazon could start to rein in hateful book descriptions fairly quickly, but cracking down on the teeming spite in user comments would be difficult. Still, the “alt-right” bile in Breitbart’s comments section is supposedly damning evidence against Steve Bannon, so consider two samples from Amazon’s hundreds of five-star blurbs praising anti-Semitic books:

• “God forbid these poor persecuted people get negative light for once. So innocent that they've been kicked out of over 150 countries.”

• “Thank God someone is finally exposing the Jewish lie (the Holocaust) that has been used to enslave the world ever since WWII.”

And, of course, as with most of its inventory, Amazon invites you to LOOK INSIDE! books like The Myth of German Villainy; and it provides friendly links to other classics of Holocaust denial when you buy, say, Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last.

Amazon’s prices for purchasing these rancid tomes are both too high and too low. Some out-of-print books cost well over a hundred dollars. Amazon is said to make between 14 percent and 40 percent on its third-party sales. Now who’s peddling anti-Semitism? Conversely, many of the worst Jew-hating propaganda tracts like Planet Rothschild and Mein Side of the Story are available free for Kindle Unlimited digital subscribers.

Amazon cannot sidestep responsibility for profiting off books that justify atrocities by saying the site is a public square where all content is treated equally, because it’s not. The company has removed, for example, a seduction manual on turning “no into yes” and a “how-to” guide for pedophiles. Rape and child molestation are awful, of course, but isn’t genocide against Jews at least as bad?

In fact, Amazon’s official policy calls “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance” as “prohibited listings.” So why does Amazon profit from books it claims to prohibit? The First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law…) does not apply to private businesses, so the company can and must act swiftly to tame its feral anti-Semitic subculture. Amazon can censure – but not censor – hateful and false works by:

1) devoting company resources to identify and ostracize them, perhaps even providing expert rebuttals; 

2) implementing site-wide boilerplate clarifications that summaries do not reflect Amazon’s opinion; and

3) donating proceeds from their sales to Holocaust education and research. One mechanism: raise prices and lower demand through a Hatred Tax on offensive books.

Compared to the Amazon cesspool, Breitbart’s nasty streak seems rather tame. Three of the ten “most incendiary” Breitbart headlines, according to CNN, are:

• “Science proves it: Fat-shaming works”;

• “Trannies whine about hilarious Bruce Jenner billboard”; and

• “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”


Of course, Amazon sells Judaism Discovered: A Study of the Anti-Biblical Religion of Racism, Self-Worship, Superstition and Deceit, Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star, and The Synagogue of Satan.

Given its dominant market share and the diffuse nature of America’s “anti-Semitic community,” is almost certainly the nation’s go-to vendor of Holocaust-denying and Jew-bashing literature.

So why has Bannon become the poster child for Web sites that foster hate? Why not Jeff Bezos, who founded and still runs the demonstrably more pernicious Amazon? Could it be because Bezos makes political donations overwhelmingly to Democrats, spent millions of dollars to promote same-sex marriage, and has repeatedly tangled with the president-elect?

Either the hateful content of these Web sites is sufficient to classify both Bannon and Bezos as anti-Semites, or neither. Does Breitbart need tidying up, so it can crowd out vile voices with more constructive ones? Sure.

But Amazon needs a power wash.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter  (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at

A Trump miracle: Surprise America

Dear Mr. President-elect,

About 25 years ago, while filming a commercial with you for one of your casinos, you trusted me when I asked you to stick around for a few more takes. From what I hear, you really liked the finished product. Well, I’m asking you again to trust me and hear my thoughts.

Your presidency can go in two different directions — a disaster or a miracle. At my Shabbat table last Friday night, I had guests who voted for you and guests who voted for Hillary. To avoid a conversational food fight that would ruin the evening, I talked about miracles. I spoke about biblical miracles and personal ones. I wanted the guests to transcend, for a few hours at least, any divisive emotions. The theme of miracles, I reasoned, can apply to both sides: If you voted for Trump, you were grateful for a miracle, and if you didn’t, you prayed for one.

What would a miracle look like for your presidency?

First, you need a rallying cry. It’s wrong to assume that you should use the same rallying cry for governing that you used for campaigning. You’re in a different place now. “Make America Great Again” was ideal for dreaming and seduction. It brought you to the mountaintop. Now that you will run the country, you need something more specific, something that can guide your presidency.

How do you make America great? By making it work. So, here’s my suggestion for your governing slogan: “Let’s make America work.”

“Let’s” comes right out of your acceptance speech, when you said “it’s about us.”

“Surprise people who think you will be a divisive president who tolerates hatred. … Show that you will have zero tolerance for intolerance, whether it comes from the left or the right.”

Your speech, in fact, was all about bringing us together: “It’s time for America to bind the wounds of division … to all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. … I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”

There’s no way you’ll be able to please everyone. No president can. But there’s one thing you can do that will improve your odds of becoming a popular and successful president: Surprise people.

Surprise people who think you will be a divisive president who tolerates hatred. When you see any of your supporters showing signs of racism, bigotry or anti-Semitism, take them on right away. Show that you will have zero tolerance for intolerance, whether it comes from the left or the right.

When you craft your policies, have empathy and use your common sense. Don’t throw out what works about Obamacare, or what works about trade deals, immigration reform, tax reform, education reform or foreign policy. In other words, don’t throw out anything that you think makes sense. Be fiscally responsible because it’s smart. Forget about abstract ideology or some of your outlandish campaign promises. You’re in power now. Do what most Americans will like or understand. Do what will work.

Speaking of what works, I have an idea for your first major initiative, one that will appeal to the great majority of Americans by putting millions of them back to work. It’s right there in your acceptance speech: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

That is a unifying and bipartisan program that Congress can get behind, and it’s the perfect embodiment of your new slogan: Let’s make America work.

Finally, become the “Disability President.” There are 56 million Americans who have a disability. Of those, about 22 million are of working age (18 to 64) who would love to work. Tragically, most of them are out of work and withering away. Make their plight your priority. Hire cabinet secretaries and others in your administration who have disabilities. Initiate new legislation to strengthen their rights and expand their opportunities. Have monthly events at the White House that promote their cause. 

In short, show that you want an America that works for all of America.

And one more thing: Don’t forget to light the Shabbat candles on Friday night. They help miracles happen. Believe me.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at