Steve Bannon, president-elect Donald Trump’s top adviser accused by Jewish groups of giving voice to anti-Semites and racists, did not show up at the Zionist Organization of America’s gala dinner Sunday night, despite prior announcement he would be among the guests.
Bannon’s expected participation drew interest both from supporters of Trump, who viewed the event as proof that some in the organized Jewish community are willing to embrace him despite criticism, and from liberal organizations that accused the ZOA of legitimizing a racist.
Hundreds of protestors staged a demonstration outside the event at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York calling on Trump to rescind Bannon’s appointment as chief White House strategist and senior adviser. “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcome here,” the protesters chanted, some carrying signs accusing Bannon of racism and tying him to White Nationalists. Protests were organized by If Not Now and by Jewish Voice for Peace, two left-leaning Jewish groups.
The Anti-Defamation League and other organizations made statements opposing Bannon’s appointment to Trump’s administration. Abe Foxman, former head of the ADL and an esteemed Jewish elder, sent out an e-mailed statement under the auspices of the organization that he would not attend the dinner because it had become “politicized.” Klein said that Foxman asked to come, and that he did so after Bannon’s invitation had been announced.
The ZOA had announced early last week that Bannon would be among its guests at the Gala dinner honoring top Jewish Republican donor Bernie Marcus, Republican congressman Ed Royce, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Dannon and professor Alan Dershowitz. ZOA’s president Morton Klein, an outspoken defender of Bannon, said at the time that Bannon’s participation would be an act of gratitude for the backing he received from the ZOA.
On Sunday night, after it became clear that Bannon was a no-show, Klein told Jewish Insider that it was Bannon who had called him up asking to participate and that his absence didn’t mean a lack of support: “Not everyone needs to be here.”
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman