How to Assess the Bannon Appointment

by Alan M. Dershowitz
November 17, 2016

President Elect Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist has been criticized on the ground that Bannon is an anti-Semite. There are many reasons for opposing the appointment of Bannon, but anti-Semitism is not one of them. I do not support the Bannon appointment. But neither do I support accusing Bannon of being an anti-Semite, based on the evidence I have seen.

With regard to anti-Semitism, there are three distinct but overlapping issues: (1) Is Bannon personally an anti-Semite? (2) Does his publication, Breitbart, promote anti-Semitic views? (3) Do Breitbart and Bannon have followers who are anti-Semitic?

From what I can tell, the evidence cited in support of the accusation that personally Bannon is an anti-Semite falls into two categories: first, that his wife testified at a hotly contested divorce proceeding that he did not want his children to go to school with “whiney Jews”; and second, that he ran an article describing Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew.”

Let us consider these items of evidence in order. Senator Harry Reid tried to strengthen the first accusation against Bannon by saying that it appeared in a court document, thus suggesting that it had the imprimatur of a judge. But that is not the case. The claim was simply made by his former wife in a judicial proceeding, thus giving it no special weight. Bannon has rigorously denied making the statement and said that he and his wife were fighting over whether his children should attend Catholic school, rather than a secular school.

On the other side of the ledger is the testimony of Jewish individuals who have worked closely with him for years. These include my former research assistant, Joel Pollak, an orthodox Jew who wears a kippah and takes off all the Jewish holidays. He is married to a black woman from South Africa who converted to Judaism. Joel assures me that he never heard a single anti-Semitic utterance or saw an anti-Semitic action in the four years they worked together. The same is true of numerous other Jewish individuals who work with him, some of whom thoroughly disapprove of Bannon’s politics and the way he ran Breitbart, but none of whom have reported any events of anti-Semitism.

The second alleged item of evidence is the following headline that appeared on Breitbart: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”[1] I am advised, however, that this article and the headline were written not by Bannon but rather by David Horowitz, a right-wing Jew who was upset with Kristol for his refusal to support Trump. Horowitz deemed that a betrayal of the Jewish people. While I fundamentally disagree with that appraisal and also of the article, I find it hard to characterize Bannon as an anti-Semite because Breitbart ran it. Breitbart has also personally attacked me,[2] but that doesn’t change my views.

I keep an open mind waiting for more evidence, if there is any, but on the basis of what I have read, I think it is wrong to accuse Bannon of one of the most serious forms of bigotry. So I will not join the chorus of condemnation that employs this radioactive term against Bannon without compelling evidence. The Anti-Defamation League has now commendably acknowledged that there is no evidence of anti-Semitism by Bannon: “We are not aware of any anti-Semitic statements from Bannon.”

Read more here: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9355/bannon-appointment

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