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How Steve Bannon and Breitbart News Can Be Pro-Israel — and Anti-Semitic at the Same Time

Breitbart News, the site chaired by Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, is widely known as a platform for white nationalism and anti-Semitism. It is also brazenly Zionist, albeit peddling an exclusively right wing perspective on Israel.

Trump’s Jewish supporters have pointed to Breitbart’s Zionist stance to defend the president-elect’s choice of Bannon, who was painted as an anti-Semite by his ex-wife in court documents. Bannon denied making the anti-Semitic comments.

“He was and is and remains staunchly pro-Israel,” said Abe Katsman, the chief counsel for Republicans Overseas Israel, who has written for Breitbart News.

Yet though it would seem impossible to hate Jews but love the Jewish state, these two viewpoints are not as contradictory as they appear.

There is actually “little correlation” between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, according Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. To be sure, anti-Semitism is found among the anti-Zionist left. But it is also found among the Zionist right.

“Many people who dislike Jews like Israel and many people who are critical toward Israel are affectionate toward Jews,” said Cohen.

Breitbart News isn’t the only place where anti-Semitism and Zionism go hand in hand. Anti-Semitic attitudes abound in Poland, for example, even as Poland has a strong diplomatic relationship with Israel.

This duality is a central component of “Trumpism,” said Yael Sternhell, a Tel Aviv University professor of history and American studies. Though Trump has flip-flopped on the Middle East, he has professed an ultra-right view of Israel that would seem to outflank even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also has a Jewish son-in-law, and a daughter who converted to Judaism. At the same time, many of Trump’s followers spout anti-Semitism.

“As long as Jews are in Israel fighting the ‘good fight’ with the Arab world as a bastion of American ideals and values in the Middle East, then they are very useful and admirable allies,” said Sternhell. “Once they are home demanding a multi-cultural democracy, demanding that the country accommodate their religion, their belief and their custom that is a different story.”

Some on the alt-right, the emerging group of racist activists who support Trump, oppose the close U.S.-Israel relationship as part of a broader critique of U.S. interventionism abroad. Yet they admire Israel as a “model for white nationalism and/or Christianism,” according to the right-wing online encyclopedia Conservapedia. Some also see Jewish immigration to Israel as helping their cause of a Jew-free white America.

The coexistence of anti-Semitism and right-Wing Zionism “in Trump’s world make sense,” said Todd Gitlin, the Columbia University sociologist and cultural commentator in an email to the Forward.

“Anti-Semitism and right-wing Zionism are varieties of ultra nationalism, or, to put it more pejoratively (as it deserves to be put) tribalism. They both presume that the embattled righteous ones need to bristle at, wall off, and punish the damned outsiders. They hate and fear cosmopolitan mixtures. They make a fetish of purity. They have the same soul. They rhyme.”

Breitbart News, which became a mouthpiece for the Trump campaign, was actually started by a Jewish lawyer and businessman, Larry Solov. In addition to reporters in London and the United States, the site has a small Jerusalem bureau, which is helmed by journalist Aaron Klein. Attempts to reach Klein and two journalists who write for Breitbart Jerusalem were unsuccessful.

In a 2015 post announcing the opening of the Jerusalem bureau, Solov wrote that Breitbart News itself was conceived of in Israel, when Solov traveled to the Holy Land with Andrew Breitbart, now deceased.

“One thing we specifically discussed that night was our desire to start a site that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel. We were sick of the anti- Israel bias of the mainstream media and J-Street,” he wrote.

At the same time, the site trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes. One article called Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum a “political revisionist,” noting “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.” Another called The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”

Bannon’s ex-wife branded him as an anti-Semite in 2007 court documents, in which she describes Bannon complaining about “whiny brat” Jews at their daughters’ school, according to the New York Daily News. Bannon denied that he made the comments, through a spokeswoman.

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at [email protected] or on Twitter @naomizeveloff

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