WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League decried Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top White House adviser, saying Bannon’s association with “unabashed anti-Semites and racists” is disqualifying.
Bannon, longtime CEO of the right-wing Breitbart news website, a clearinghouse of alt-right views, joined Trump’s presidential bid late in the campaign and helped lead it to victory.
The ADL in its statement first praised the president-elect for his other hire announced Sunday: Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, as chief of staff.
“At the same time, the ADL strongly opposes the appointment of Steve Bannon as senior adviser and chief strategist in the White House,” said the statement posted on Twitter by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “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.’”
Breitbart employs Jews and covers Israel sympathetically, but also has become the nexus of the alt-right movement, which includes in it those who have expressed homophobic, misogynist, white supremacists and anti-Semitic views. In one recent instance, a writer mocked a critic of Polish populism because she is Jewish.
Bannon’s ex-wife in 2007, in sworn affidavits, said he was resisting sending their daughters to a private school because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.” Bannon denied it.
Before the appointment was made official, Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker who is expected to play a senior role in a Trump administration, dismissed claims that Bannon was an anti-Semite.
Saying concerns about Bannon and the alt-right come from “nut cakes,” Gingrich, who is close to the right wing pro-Israel community, told CBS on Sunday morning that Bannon could not be an anti-Semite because he had worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
Liberal Jewish groups joined in the criticism of the Bannon appointment.
“Those of us who were alarmed by Trump’s campaign when it began over a year ago are starting to see the things we feared come to pass, and this is one of them — the elevation of an avowed bigot to a position of incredible official power,” said Stosh Cotler, the CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a political action committee that had opposed Trump.
The National Jewish Democratic Committee said in a statement that the hire showed that Trump was not serious about Jewish sensibilities, despite his oft-repeated defense that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish.
“No amount of Jewish family members or potential White House Shabbat dinners will overshadow the fact that Trump has hired a man like Bannon as one of his most senior staffers,” the NJDC said. “We won’t forget.”
Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that is part of the boycott Israel movement, likened Trump to the Israeli government.
“From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far right government,” it said. “We cannot sit by and watch that take place here — this is not a time for business as usual.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that his office is “deeply disturbed” by Bannon’s appointment.
“The President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House,” the statement said. “President-elect Trump has said he wants to be president for all the people. We urge him in this spirit to assemble a leadership team that reflects that aspiration.”
The American Jewish Committee called on Trump to remember his promise to be a president for all Americans.
“Of utmost concern is ensuring that policies proposed and put into place make good on President-elect Trump’s Election Night promise, for the benefit of all citizens of our too-divided country, and address the central concerns of the American people and our allies around the world. Presidents get to choose their teams and we do not expect to comment on the appointment of every key advisor,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC Assistant Executive Director for Policy, in a statement.