Why I Support Steve Bannon: An Open Letter to ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt
To Jonathan Greenblatt
CEO, Anti-Defamation League
You know I’m a fan and I consider you a warm friend. One of the highlights of my public life over the last year was delivering the keynote speech to the renowned Iranian-Jewish community of Great Neck, New York. At that event, your wife, Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, was honored for her outstanding work in founding and serving as director of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), which promotes human rights and especially protects women and the LGBT community in the Islamic Republic, one of the world’s most oppressive and brutal regimes.
Your wife is a humanitarian icon, a courageous hero, and you are a fierce defender of the Jewish people, who fights every day for their welfare. I salute all what you and the ADL do to protect Israel and Jewry from discrimination and intolerance.
It is out of my deep respect for you that I write to you about Steve Bannon.
You recently attacked Bannon’s appointment as senior adviser to the incoming president, saying, “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 antisemites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’”
Your comment was widely — though perhaps unfairly — interpreted as accusing Bannon of antisemitism. I barely know Mr. Bannon, having met him for the first time last week at the New York Hilton. But I do know Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew who is my friend of many years and is a senior editor at Breitbart. Joel is one of the proudest Jews I know and one of the premier fighters for Israel in the national media.
He tells me that Bannon has shown him, and the many other Jewish employees at Breitbart, especially those who are observant, incredible sensitivity and flexibility in helping them always keep the Sabbath and observe the Jewish holidays.
In addition, Breitbart has served as one of the leading publications in the United States that strongly opposed the Iran nuclear agreement, with its $150 billion given to the murderous mullahs with their genocidal promise to perpetrate a second holocaust of the Jewish people.
I know this is close to both our hearts. Your wife was forced to flee the bloodthirsty Khomeini regime as a teenager. My father and his family were lucky to leave Iran well before Khomeini came to power.
In light of this fact, why would you immediately assume that Breitbart is antisemitic? Some of the world’s leading publications — including The New York Times — extolled the virtues of the Iran deal even though it never even punished the Iranian regime for being in constant violation of the 1948 UN Anti-Genocide Convention which expressly forbids genocidal incitement.
Even the ADL opposed the Iran deal and Breitbart stood with the pro-Israel community in making the argument against an agreement that legally gives Iran nuclear weapons in little over a decade.
Breitbart also defends Israel constantly against the antisemitic BDS movement whose goal is the economic destruction of the state of Israel.
That does not mean that we need agree with everything published by Breitbart or that there will not be columns we find offensive.
I write for many publications, some more on the left, like The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post, some considered in the middle like CNN, The Washington Post, and The Hill, and some more to the right, like The Wall Street Journal and Breitbart. I also write for Israel-based publications like The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel, with their differing editorial slants. In all those publications there are those with whom I agree and disagree strongly.
I have published hundreds of columns in The Huffington Post and consider Arianna Huffington a personal friend. I can tell you that I shared the home page many times with people who vilified Israel in pretty extreme terms. I never took offense. And I certainly never called the editors there antisemitic. Rather, I saw the attacks on Israel as an opportunity to respond intelligently and forcefully.
The Jewish people, as you and I can both agree, face a new era of increased antisemitism, especially among Islamist governments and increasingly in Europe. We have real enemies who need to be combated. Israel especially faces three emboldened, genocidal enemies: Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Breitbart columnists have stood strongly against all three.
That, of course, does not mean we should ever make excuses for extremist rhetoric or hate speech.
I don’t quite know what the alt-right is. I certainly despise white supremacists and racists. As a Jew, I consider them contradictory to the central teaching of the Bible: that every human being, from Jew to Arab to Christian to Muslim to atheist to LGBT to black and white and everything in between — is created in the image of God, equally and with infinite dignity. We are all brothers, we are all sisters.
To the extent that any person or any publication, contradicts these teachings, it deserves to be condemned by the ADL.
But in fairness, Jonathan, Hillary Clinton had many advisers who contradicted these teachings who seem to have escaped censure. Max Blumenthal publishes books calling Israelis Nazis and brave IDF soldiers, like my son, Mendy, the SS. Yet, State Department emails showed how Hillary was writing to his father, Sid, calling Max “a mitzvah.”
I could easily make the argument that not one Breitbart writer ever libeled the Jewish people as much as Max Blumenthal, arguably America’s premier public antisemite, a man so vile that he even celebrated the death of Elie Wiesel. I could make the case that his father has been Hillary and Bill Clinton’s closest adviser for a quarter-century.
But none of us would ever argue that this association made Hillary Clinton an antisemite. Indeed, she has a Jewish son-in-law, just like Donald Trump. And the Clintons are considered strong friends of Israel and are popular in the Jewish community.
The moral is that guilt by association is unfair.
If you have issues with Mr. Bannon, focus them squarely on pronouncements attributed to him. I am aware that in a contentious divorce proceeding, he is said to have uttered something about his daughter not being with Jewish students.
I have no idea about the veracity of the statement and as a marriage counselor, I know that in a divorce, harsh things are often alleged. Aside from that, I don’t think even the most hostile media can point to a single reason to consider him antisemitic.
I thank you for reading this, Jonathan. I know that you and I both agree that we have to unite this great country of ours at home and do our utmost to combat increasing hatred and antisemitism around the world.
Boteach, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including “The Israel Warrior,” which has just been published. The winner and record holder of The London Times Preacher of the Year competition, he has also received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. This article was originally published by The Hill.