AUSTIN, Texas — The elevation of Stephen Bannon, former boss at the extreme right-wing news outlet Breitbart News, to chief strategist in the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump has provoked a firestorm of criticism over his racist views on minorities and his support for anti-Semitism.
However, despite what may seem like a contradiction between the xenophobic views of Bannon and the news outlet he guided, Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s chief strategist could actually be good news for apartheid Israel and its ongoing occupation of the indigenous Palestinian population.
Under Bannon, Breitbart News published articles that were Islamophobic, homophobic, and anti-women. The site fueled racist attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and journalist Shaun King. The KKK and other white nationalist groups are celebrating his appointment to the post, while human rights groups are condemning it.
Bannon, himself, was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks by his ex-wife, a charge he denies, while Breitbart News has been accused of hosting anti-Semitic content. Bannon also bragged that the site had become the online home of the so-called “alt-right,” a far-right white nationalist movement that is openly anti-Semitic.
“Breitbart has regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white-nationalist and white-supremacist beliefs, and that it has at the very least tiptoed right up to the line of anti-Semitism,” Jesse Singal wrote in New York magazine on Tuesday.
“Mother Jones contacted a dozen other major Jewish American organizations on Monday, the majority of which did not address Bannon’s hire,” Rosenthal reported in Mother Jones on Tuesday.
Of the dozen prominent Jewish American groups contact by Mother Jones, only the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women would openly criticize Bannon’s role in the Trump administration.
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’—a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists—is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, wrote in a statement published on Nov. 13 on Twitter.
But other groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, have been far more reticent.
“AIPAC has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments,” Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC’s spokesperson, told Politico on Monday.
Liz Berney, staff attorney at the Zionist Organization of America, an organization which has declared that Israel faces a “relentless Arab war” bent on its destruction, even went so far as to defend Bannon outright.
“It’s very painful to see somebody smeared who doesn’t deserve it,” Berney told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday:
Breitbart News and Bannon’s historic support of Israel is a key factor in resolving the apparent contradiction in the political representatives of a Jewish state failing to condemn a man who openly supports anti-Semites.
According to Larry Solov, CEO of Breitbart News, the original idea for the website came to the site’s late founder, Andrew Breitbart, during a 2007 trip to Israel.
Solov explained the site’s origins in a November 2015 article accompanying the launch of Breitbart Jerusalem, the outlet’s bureau in Israel:
“One night in Jerusalem, when we were getting ready for dinner, Andrew turned to me and asked if I would de-partner from the 800-person law firm where I was practicing and become business partners with him. He said he needed my help to create a media company. He needed my help to ‘change the world.’”
Solov continued: “One thing we specifically discussed that night was our desire to start a site that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel.”
After Breitbart’s unexpected death in 2012, Bannon, who was already a member of the board, took over as the executive chair of Breitbart News LLC, the site’s parent company. Bannon, a former executive at Goldman Sachs who has also dabbled as a Hollywood producer, helped Breitbart News to embrace the extreme right wing of the GOP.
However, the site’s pro-Israel views remained unchanged. In an editorial on Monday, Joel Pollak, senior editor-at-large and in-house counsel, wrote that Bannon is “a friend of the Jewish people and a defender of Israel, as well as being a passionate American patriot and a great leader.” Pollak further noted that Bannon had collaborated with Solov to open Breitbart Jerusalem.
With Bannon at the helm, Breitbart News hosted multiple articles from David Horowitz, an ultra-Zionist supporter of Israel. Horowitz, an Israeli journalist who has been a driving force promoting Islamophobia and xenophobia in the United States, has also been accused of anti-Semitism.
‘The alliance between white nationalists and supporters of Israel’
“Yet though it would seem impossible to hate Jews but love the Jewish state, these two viewpoints are not as contradictory as they appear,” Naomi Zeveloff, Middle East correspondent for the Jewish Daily Forward, wrote on Tuesday.
It’s important to distinguish between anti-Semitism, bigotry and oppression directed at Jewish people or their culture, and Zionism, the effort of Jews to claim and control Israel, which they see as a historic, biblical state belonging to the Jewish people. Israel routinely discriminates against not just Palestinians, but other Arabs, African immigrants and even non-white Jews.
Zeveloff noted that anti-Semitism is present across the political spectrum and among both Zionists and anti-Zionists.
“Many people who dislike Jews like Israel and many people who are critical toward Israel are affectionate toward Jews,” Steven Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told Zeveloff.
Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University sociologist, told Zeveloff that Zionism and anti-Semitism are closely related. He explained via email:
“Anti-Semitism and right-wing Zionism are varieties of ultra nationalism, or, to put it more pejoratively (as it deserves to be put) tribalism. They both presume that the embattled righteous ones need to bristle at, wall off, and punish the damned outsiders. They hate and fear cosmopolitan mixtures. They make a fetish of purity. They have the same soul. They rhyme.”
Ali Abunimah, a founder at Electronic Intifada, a website promoting news and activism relating to Palestinian liberation, wrote on Wednesday that, “Trump’s elevation of fringe extremists like Bannon is bringing to the surface the alliance between white nationalists and supporters of Israel.”
The founders of the U.S. nationalist movement have even pointed to Israel’s founding as inspiration for their calls for race war and ethnic cleansing, Abunimah noted. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Spencer, a key philosopher of modern white supremacy, has called for the rise of “white Zionism” in the West, which would “inspire whites with the dream of such a homeland just as Zionism helped spur the establishment of Israel.”
“All of this signals that there is no contradiction between white supremacism laced with anti-Semitism, on the one hand, and fanatical support for Israel, on the other,” Abunimah concluded.
Trump’s ‘warm and heartfelt’ conversation with Netanyahu
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has been celebrating the prospects of a Trump presidency. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media to praise Trump shortly after the election, citing their longstanding friendship.
The praise continued on Sunday, when Netanyahu tweeted: “I spoke with US President-elect [Donald Trump] who expressed a very deep friendship for Israel, which has characterized him for many years.”
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, also celebrated the win. “The era of a Palestinian state is over,” he declared on Nov. 9.
While reports of anti-Semitic and racist violence and vandalism have skyrocketed since Trump’s election, it seems unlikely that Israel’s agenda for the domination of Palestine will crumble under a Trump administration.