If Steve Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, is really an anti-Semite, why is the ZOA hosting him at its annual dinner? If Bannon is an anti-Semite, then how come Alan Dershowitz is defending him on CNN? If Bannon is an anti-Semite, why did he employ a man who wears a kippah? How did he fund Seinfeld, that pinnacle of American Jewishness? How did he work among so many members of the tribe at Goldman Sachs? And what about Ivanka and Jared?
These are a few of the questions that I’ve been fielding from right-leaning friends, Jewish and not, since Trump announced that the chairman of Breitbart News would become his Karl Rove.
In making the case that Bannon is a menace to the Jewish people, many are pointing to the fact that his ex-wife accused him of anti-Semitism in their divorce proceedings. She said, in sworn testimony, that when they went on a tour of the tony Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles: “The biggest problem” he had with the school “is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.” At another school, again according to his ex-wife, he apparently asked why there were so many Hanukkah books in the library.
Divorces are ugly. We’ll never know if he said any of this. But it’s totally irrelevant.
There is only one statement relevant to answering the Bannon question. It’s a single sentence he declared proudly last summer at the Republican National Convention when a reporter asked him about Breitbart: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”
During the election, when I was just beginning to hear about the alt-right, I turned to—where else?—Breitbart to get a sense of the movement’s leadership and how it understood itself. In March, Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari published this helpful guide.
“Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies,” the pair wrote, “they have become public enemy No. 1 to Beltway conservatives—more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives.”
They go on: “There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads … but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence. Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people—which perhaps suggests why the left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.”
Two of the brightest stars in the alt-right’s constellation, I learned from this article published on Bannon’s website, are Steve Sailer and Richard Spencer.
Who are these men?
Sailer is the author of a book titled America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance.” I won’t link to the book here. But the book’s argument is that Obama’s deepest commitment is not to the country but to his race—or more accurately, half of his race: “Obama’s primal need for team triumph explains much about his life, both its dramatic political ascent and its pervasive racialism. To Obama, the black race was always his team, and he would do anything to see them win.”
Race is one of Sailer’s favorite subjects. In the aftermath of Katrina, he wrote on Vdare, a publication that describes itself as “the voice of the Historic American Nation,” of black Americans: “The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.”
When a person is obsessed with race, the Jews are never far behind.
Last year Sailer wrote an article titled “Are Jews Losing Control of the Media?” in which he wrote:
It’s uncomfortable for liberal Jews to admit that the massive immigration they’ve backed so viscerally is destabilizing the America in which they’ve attained such a central role. They’d rather continue to portray themselves as unprivileged outsiders, a strategy that has worked well with American gentiles. But with about one-third of American billionaires and about one-sixth of global billionaires being Jewish, it’s not a marketing tactic that’s very convincing.
Richard Spencer may be a more familiar name: He’s making headlines this week because Twitter just banned him. Spencer calls himself a “racial idealist” and believes, as he’s put it, “race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity.” Give him credit for ambition: “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”
How will this white ethno-state be built? Simple. Ethnic cleansing: “Today, in the public imagination, ethnic cleansing has been associated with civil war and mass murder, understandably so. But this does not need to be the case.”
Eugenics can also play a critical role: “In the popular imagination, the word ‘eugenics’ conjures up images of death panels, concentration camps, and piles of bodies.”
That’s mistaken, says Spencer. Eugenics isn’t so bad: “Ultimately, the ‘totalitarian’ connection to eugenics has never held much water. For instance, the eugenics programs in Nazi Germany were, historically speaking, quite unremarkable: They were begun during the Weimar Republic and were no more advanced than those of Sweden or the state of California.”
How would the Jews fit into this racial breakdown? “Ashkenazi Jews are not white,” according to Spencer. “Every time I read about a Jew somewhere identifying as a white person, I cringe.”
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.
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.
Bari Weiss is the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism (Penguin Random House). She is a former opinion editor and writer at The New York Times. From 2011-2013, she was a senior editor at Tablet.