It didn’t take haters of president-elect Trump long to shift their negative energy away from Trump and instead focus it towards an easier target: former Breitbart editor-in-chief and newly named Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.
Trump won the election, he isn’t going anywhere and people, especially liberal Democrats who have been lulled by eight years of validation, are angry. Also greatly peeved are the traditional establishment conservatives who refused to back the aggressively non-intellectual Donald Trump. It was not only shocking but personally insulting to many of the elites that the “loser” actually won. Much better to throw word-bombs at a liberal for four years than to have to eat crow – picking feathers out of one’s teeth is never fun.
So when the president-elect filled his first two positions and one of the two was an establishment stalwart, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus as chief of staff, heads swiveled and the keyboards pointed towards the second, the easier target, Bannon.
Bannon has been decisively labeled “an anti-Semite,” and “alt-right,” and therefore “racist.” The anti-Semite charge has been traced back to claims made by an ex-wife during divorce proceedings. The most inflammatory thing she claimed he said is he didn’t want to send their girls to a school with “too many Jews.” But they did send their girls there. Bannon denies the charge. That’s it for evidence of anti-Semitism. Really? Words uttered in a custody battle?
Anyone remember the claim that Hillary Clinton referred to one of her husband’s Jewish staffers as a “[expletive verb deleted] Jew [expletive noun deleted]”? Of course it was never proven that she said that – same with Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks – but it was repeated and rumors about it persisted, yet none ever rose to the level of a disqualifier for public office, let alone for an advisory role.
Since we can’t know the truth about whether Bannon uttered what was attributed to him by his ex-wife in a custody battle, what do people who know or worked with Bannon have to say about whether the man is an anti-Semite?
David Goldman, the economist and author who used to write under the pen name Spengler, wrote from personal experience that he was confident Bannon is not anti-Semitic. Writing on his Facebook wall, Goldman responded to a post on a conservative news site which blasted Bannon for promoting “anti-Semitism,” “racism” and “white nationalism.”
Goldman did a Google search of the site.
I looked through roughly a thousand articles and found nothing but pro-Israel, pro-Jewish articles that might well have appeared in Israel Hayom. There is not a shred of evidence–not a single article–that supports [John] Podhoretz’ allegation that Bannon and Breitbart aid and abet anti-Semitic views.
Earlier in the day Goldman took the Financial Times to task for the same kind of evidence-free accusation.
“I know Steve Bannon, and have had several long discussions with him about politics. I first met him when he approached me at a conference to tell me that he liked my writing, which is unabashedly Zionist,” Goldman posted.
Goldman responded to an email query with:”I discussed Israel with him on a couple of occasions and he is a gung-ho pro-Zionist conservative.”
Joel B. Pollak is senior editor-at-large at Breitbart News and an Orthodox Jew. He has worked with Bannon for years and in response to the brouhaha wrote a column on Monday, “Stephen K, Bannon, Friend of the Jewish People, Defender of Israel.”
Pollak elaborated on his full-throated defense of Bannon in a telephone call late Monday evening. “Steve Bannon is the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House,” Pollak said. “Under Bannon, Breitbart has expanded to open a Jerusalem bureau, and it consistently posts positive stories about Israel.”
So what about the charges of anti-Semitism? Pollak laughed. “I won’t tell you which ones, but during the [Republican] primary I had to repeatedly talk Steve off a ledge when he became irate that one or more of the contenders made comments Steve interpreted as anti-Semitic.” If anything, Pollak explained, “Steve is overly-sensitive to statements by others he thinks are anti-Semitic.”
No one claims Bannon is a pussycat. Several people who spoke out against the anti-Semitism claim willingly described Bannon as “tough” or “difficult” or “as hard-[expletive deleted]as they come,” but no one has come forward with any basis for calling Bannon anti-Semitic.
What about the claims of Bannon promoting Breitbart as a refuge for alt-right views?
Pollak explained that saying Breitbart promotes “alt-right” because Breitbart contains reporting on the alt-right is “like saying CNN promotes Black Lives Matter because CNN reports on the BLM movement.”
Indeed, there are articles about the alt-right on Breitbart. The most expansive one is co-written by the alleged icon of the alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulis, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.”
In a 5200-plus word article Yiannopoulis and his co-author Allum Bokhari debunk myths while creating a taxonomy of the alt-right movement.
Much of the alt-right, the two explain, focuses on community-building and values lifestyles. The “prankstering” or outrageous “memes” appear to be the source of much misunderstanding about the movement, which the two explain is even more hilarious to the alt-righters who practically choke on how those they aggravate “get played.”
But then there are the “1488ers,” who are just a small segment of the movement. Yiannopoulis and Bokhari explain:
1488ers are the equivalent of the Black Lives Matter supporters who call for the deaths of policemen, or feminists who unironically want to #KillAllMen. Of course, the difference is that while the media pretend the latter are either non-existent, or a tiny extremist minority, they consider 1488ers to constitute the whole of the alt-right.
Those looking for Nazis under the bed can rest assured that they do exist. On the other hand, there’s just not very many of them, no-one really likes them, and they’re unlikely to achieve anything significant in the alt-right.
Yiannopoulis also said that “he is too pro-Israel” even for non-1488er alt-rightists to include him in their movement. The same is surely true for Breitbart itself, and for Bannon.
So the scary bogey-men of the alt-right is a fringe element of a fringe element, about which Breitbart runs articles, just – to quote Pollak – as CNN runs articles about the recent attention-grabbing movement on the left, Black Lives Matter.
Similarly, of the recent anti-Trump protests many involved were just dispirited Hillary fans, while a few called for violent revolution and there was even a sign held by one protester advocating “rape Melania.” Should all Clinton-voters be condemned? Should Hillary Clinton?
The blogger Jeff Dunetz wrote for Breitbart for several years. Although he never met Bannon, Dunetz wrote a column on his own blog on Monday, with a commonsense title: “If Steve Bannon is an anti-Semite, Why Can’t I Find Any Anti-Semitism?” Dunetz remarked on a column written by David Horowitz which ran at Breitbart. In that column Horowitz referred to longtime neocon leader Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” for refusing to support the Republican Party nominee, Donald Trump. But Horowitz – a Jew – wrote the column, not Bannon.
It is true that the Horowitz column ran at Breitbart, but that does not make Breitbart or Steve Bannon any more anti-Semitic than the New York Times running a column written by Mahmoud Abbas makes that paper a Holocaust-denier. And just because the Democratic Party endorsed the Black Lives Matter platform does not necessarily make it or its standard bearers anti-Israel or anti-police, although the BLM certainly is the latter and has officially charged Israel with being an Apartheid State and committing genocide.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus