WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, scolded the Zionist Organization of America for what he perceived to be its support for Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s senior strategist.
Brown, speaking Tuesday at the conservative pro-Israel group’s annual Washington conference, appeared upset that the room had applauded the mention of Bannon’s name.
Bannon is the former CEO of the Breitbart News website, a forum for what Bannon has called the “alt-right,” a loose assemblage of anti-Establishment conservatives that includes racists, anti-Semites, anti-feminists and homophobes, but also libertarians and fierce defenders of Israel. Bannon himself started a Breitbart subsidiary aimed at pushing back against anti-Israel bias in the media; his ex-wife has said that in other circumstances, he was hostile to Jews.
Brown said that he had warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be wary of the White House because of bigoted expressions Brown said came from there.
“I will always stand strong on Israel,” he said to applause. “But I also find it’s my duty to speak out when I see what’s more and more common in my country — where its issues of race or issues of religion — that bother me.”
Morton Klein, the ZOA president, told JTA on Friday that he wished Brown had confined his remarks to Israel.
“We were pleased that Sen. Brown came to speak at our luncheon, but this was a mission focusing only on Israel and U.S-Israel relations and we were disappointed and surprised that he spoke on that issue, on issues unrelated to that, in addition to making an inaccurate statement that Steve Bannon is an anti-Semite,” he said. “He is a strong supporter of Israel and it is simply untrue he has negative feelings toward Jews.”