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by Jacob Plitman
IN AN OP-ED in the Forward this week, Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein argued that fired Trump advisor and architect of hate site Breitbart Steve Bannon was a “friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The truth is that like all those who peddle hate and support fascism, Bannon is no friend to the Jews. And by endorsing him, Klein reveals himself not as an advocate for our people, but a supporter of the fascism that fills the White House today.
In his piece, Klein makes several arguments regarding Bannon’s friendship towards our community. He cites Bannon’s support for moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- an aggressive maneuver that diplomatic experts call “a very bad idea.” Klein mentions that Bannon thinks Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a “terrorist.” He lauds Bannon for opposing the Iran nuclear deal, the peaceful diplomatic arrangement that has successfully stopped Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon. And Klein mentions that several of Breitbart Jerusalem’s hires “are yarmulke-wearing Orthodox Jews.”
To Klein, being a “friend of the Jews” apparently means being very right-wing on Israel and hiring some Jews to write at your hate-filled website. First off, Klein’s arguments rely on a complete conflation of Zionism and Judaism. They’re not the same. Zionism is a political movement. Judaism is … well, it’s complicated. But what’s simple is that there are plenty of Jewish non/anti-Zionists, and there are (allegedly) over a million Christian Zionists in the US. So, to reduce being a “friend of the Jews” to being “a defender of Israel” simply doesn’t make any sense.
Regarding Bannon’s anti-Semitism, Klein trumpets, “the ADL now admits that it hss (sic) found no written or verbal statements made by Bannon that were anti-Semitic.” But the fact is that by stoking racism, misogyny and xenophobia, Bannon attacks all female Jews, trans Jews, Jews of color, and immigrant Jews. And by inflaming islamophobia and other hatreds, Bannon attacks our friends and allies, isolating and endangering our community. So Bannon hates over half of all Jews, plus our friends. But that doesn’t concern Klein. In the second half of the piece, where he might have addressed these attacks on Jews, Klein instead tries to explain that to Bannon “alt-right” doesn’t mean “neo-Nazis”, it just means “anti-establishment.” Mort, they’re neo-Nazis.
KLEIN’S ARGUMENTS shouldn’t be shocking. Like Bannon and Breitbart, Klein and the ZOA have a long history of defending fascism in Israel and the U.S. The ZOA was one of the only Jewish organizations to support Trump’s Muslim ban. They’ve defended openly Nazi-affiliated former White House aide, Sebastian Gorka. At the ZOA’s 2015 gala, Klein urged America not to accept Syrian refugees and suggested that Israel should deport the families of terror suspects. These are ideas at home on Bannon’s Breitbart front page and in the Trump administration.
Klein’s op-ed makes clear the choices we face in engaging very real Jewish trauma. He begins his piece with, “I am a child of Holocaust survivors, born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and lost most of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents to the evil horror of the Nazis.” This mournful preamble to his arguments reminded me of a moment a few years ago, when I spoke to Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer in his offices at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Among many wise things, Bauer said, “the lessons of the Holocaust are about and for everyone, or about nothing at all.”
The lesson of our tragedy must be solidarity both in the US and in Israel. That, or we take the side of the oppressors. To their credit, the ZOA is clear about the lack of middle ground -- but their adoration of Bannon makes even clearer on which side they stand. Let’s be clear: Cozying with the powers that be will not save us. It never has -- ask the Jews of Spain or Germany. So we should reject the modern court Jews’ search for affirmation from the Bannons of the world, and understand that our liberation will only be attained through solidarity in a broad and universalist struggle.
Jacob Plitman is an associate editor of Jewish Currents. He tweets @jacobplitman.