Sunday, November 20, 2016

How Steve Bannon Rallied the Jews

My Ha'aretz piece asked the question: How would the major players in the Jewish community react now that anti-Semitism was entering the right-wing mainstream? Underlying my post were two observations:
  1. Jewish organizations had largely treated mainstream right-wing anti-Semitism (that is, that which emerged out of significant political figures rather than some crank in the woods) with kid gloves. This was because Jewish organizations suspected that the right would turn on them with a vengeance if they dared speak up.
  2. Despite the significant liberal tilt of the American Jewish community, many Jewish organizations seemed to go out of their way to coddle our relatively small right-wing element. Among the center/left Jewish mainstream, the sense that the Jewish right got to play by different rules and has been allowed to claim the mantle of a (if not the) "Jewish perspective" on politics has led to increasing anger, anger that is now at the risk of boiling over.
And now we see the reaction to Steve Bannon. And it is something to behold.

As has now become clear, the case against Bannon is less that he has personally made utterances of the "I hate Jews" variety, and more that he has actively nurtured and promoted a worldview that provides a welcoming home for old-school anti-Semites of the White supremacist and neo-Nazi variety. And that case is, as far as I and most other Jews are concerned, a sufficient case. Steve Bannon is functionally identical the prototypical anti-Zionist mouthpieces who are very proud to "have Jewish friends", and usually remember to be sticklers about saying "Zionist" rather than "Jew", but have had no problem elevating a social movement that is deeply and notoriously toxic to Jewish equality in the American and international community. As David Hirsh accurately put it: "anti-Semitism is about politics, not personal moral failure." And so with respect to Bannon, we could fairly say that "Globalist" : Breitbart :: "Zionist" : Electronic Intifada.

And so then we move to a fantastic article in Tablet by Bari Weiss. She, too, echoes this powerful observation:
We will never know what’s in Steve Bannon’s heart. What we know is that he is proud to have provided the bullhorn for a movement that unabashedly promotes white nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the relentless identification of Jews as the champions of the country’s most nefarious forces, like “globalism” and “elitism,” that the alt-right seeks to destroy. It’s no coincidence that a publication that identifies as the “platform” for this movement thinks nothing of calling Bill Kristol “a renegade Jew” or smearing Anne Applebaum: “Hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”
Last time I checked, we Jews come from a faith that judges not by intention but by deed.
Even John Podhoertz at Commentary recognized this: "the key moral problem with Steve Bannon," he wrote "is that as the CEO of Andrew Breitbart’s namesake organization, he is an aider and abetter of foul extremist views, including anti-Semitic ones." Podhoertz distinguishes this from Bannon, himself, being an anti-Semite -- but see Weiss and Hirsh above. In any event, the precise verbiage doesn't matter so much to me. What matters, as Hirsh observes, is the politics.

Alas, not everyone on the right has been as strong as Podhoertz. And Weiss has some sharp words for them as well:
Yet Jews on the center-right seem to be facing a particular challenge when it comes to Bannon and this administration. The anti-Semitism coming from the left is worse, they say. Let’s hold our fire. Maybe it’s not worth it to use our political capital on this guy. Maybe he’s not so bad.
Is it frustrating to watch left-wingers who remained mum about Jeremiah Wright now protesting in the streets about the president-elect’s appointment? Is it maddening to witness the sudden sensitivity to anti-Semitism of so many Jews who are willfully blind to it among their political ranks? Who have nothing to say about the BDS movement, the bullying of pro-Israel students on college campuses across this country, the bellicosity of Iran, and of a nuclear deal that so clearly emboldened the ayatollahs?
Get over it. We don’t have the luxury of holding political grudges in an age where Steve Bannon is going to be the president’s right-hand man.
Hawkishness on Israel is not the litmus test of a person’s decency. To hold your tongue as the godfather of the alt-right is installed in the West Wing is deplorable.
Damn straight (and -- as someone on the left who has consistently called out left-wing anti-Semitism over and over and over again -- I'd add that it's equally frustrating to watch right-wingers who went absolutely wild over even the thinnest-reed of anti-Jewish sentiment from Barack Obama suddenly act like they don't know what a dogwhistle is, or that anti-Semitism only occurs in the form of someone openly declaring "I hate every Jew").

Steve Bannon is an outrage, not just to the protest-sorts currently marching in New York, not just to the institutional Zionist left -- groups like Ameinu, T'ruah, and the Jewish Labor Committee, but to center-line institutions -- the ADL, the Reform Jewish movement and the Conservative Jewish movement.

These groups are not going to be impressed by one's implacable support of settlements. If anything, they find it offensive that the label "pro-Israel" is being wielded as a Get-Out-Of-Bigotry-Free Card. That rhetorical move isn't the act of a genuine friend, it's the act of someone who holds Jews in deep, deep contempt and thinks we can be played. They're in for a rude surprise. The Jewish community, I think, has just woken up a bit and recognized that we don't have the friends we thought we did. We're mobilizing, we're vocal, and we're angry.

The ground is changing under Jewish organizations' feet. Groups like the AJC -- which stayed quiet on Bannon and whose post-election statement excused Trump's plethora of racist remarks as mere campaign "crowd pleasers" that could not fairly form the basis of "judgment" -- will find that this sort of coddling of the right will no longer be tolerated by the community for which it speaks. The Jewish community voted for Hillary Clinton by a 3:1 margin. It is not going to have indefinite patience for its communal representatives kowtowing to a tiny minority which will excuse any amount of illiberal hatred so long as its progenitors line up behind Bibi.

And as for groups like ZOA, who openly backed Bannon and invited him to its gala (in the height of irony, he no-showed)? They need to be reminded that they are a fringe minority, Jews who advocate for policies and persons most Jews find deeply abhorrent and threatening. They are the mirror image of the anti-Zionists groups they claim to abhor (they even agree on the one-state solution). As such, they should be given no more attention and no more credence than any other marginal Jewish clique.

The days when Jews were afraid to tackle right-wing anti-Semitism are over. And they days where we showed infinite patience with Jewish collaborators are likewise numbered. If you're on the left, you don't get to play the moral purity game and try to undermine mainstream Jewish institutions because they're "Zionist". And if you're in the right, you don't get the luxury of sniveling that Liberals Are Worse and crying about what Keith Ellison said 15 years ago. We're way past that, and it's time to accept a new reality of Jewish life in a world many of us thought had passed us by. The gloves are off. It's time to fight.

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