“We’re leading an insurgency movement against the Republican establishment, against the permanent global class in Washington, D.C.,” a combative Steve Bannon announced Sunday in his address at the annual Zionist Organization of America gala dinner.
Bannon, the director of Breitbart and the former White House chief strategist, wants the Jewish community to join, depicting the GOP establishment as a threat to Israel’s interests. “Until [the] Taylor Force [Act] is passed, until the Iran deal is totally decertified, torn up and renegotiated, the establishment is just [leading] along the Jewish community of this country and our partners in Israel.”
The room fell silent after his pitch.
“I understand that here in this room this doesn’t sound well with everybody and I don’t expect it to,” Bannon acknowledged, possibly referring to the use of the term “global class” which is often an anti-Semitic dog whistle.
Bannon could find allies among ardent Zionists who despise liberal critics of Israel, but the silence among the event attendees probably reflected the fact that many of them are also members of Bannon’s “permanent global class.”
Zionist Organization of America
The ZOA, led by Morton Klein, was an early Bannon backer, inviting him to attend their gala shortly after last year’s elections, and honoring him with a keynote speech a year later. Bannon heaped praise on Klein and the ZOA, calling them “unapologetic about the defense of the state of Israel.” Klein rarely speaks out against the Republican establishment or delves into party politics beyond issues relating to Israel, but his tireless defenses of Bannon could make him the gatekeeper within the Jewish community for those seeking to battle the establishment.
Adelson is seemingly part of the Republican establishment that Bannon is fighting. The casino mogul has long supported mainstream candidates; he gave a massive cash infusion to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, and preferred establishment candidates over Trump in the early phases of the 2016 primaries. But Adelson has since warmed up to Trump and become one of his largest financial backers. When Bannon worked at the White House, he famously put two of Adelson’s top priorities — relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and rejecting the Iran nuclear deal — on his whiteboard list of priorities. Now, the Las Vegas billionaire can serve as a source of support for the insurgency, even while remaining part of the establishment.
Lee Zeldin and Josh Mandel
Most Jewish Republicans are still sticking with the party establishment, but some newer faces are looking favorably at the Bannonite wing. Josh Mandel, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, went on the attack when his opponent, Sen. Sherrod Brown, called Bannon a “white supremacist.” And Representative Lee Zeldin of New York has followed the same path, stating that Bannon had been given a “very bad rap” by his critics.
Some Orthodox rabbis
The Coalition for Jewish Values, a newly-founded group of Orthodox rabbis, has stated that Bannon could not be described as espousing anti-Semitic views “unless you redefine anti-Semitism as ‘advocating conservative values.’” Celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach has also taken to Bannon’s defense and has made a habit of posting selfies with him.
Republican Jewish Coalition
The RJC is clearly a part of the GOP establishment, but has in the past year shown a willingness to back Bannon as well. The group issued a strong defense of Bannon when he was first chosen for a top White House adviser position, and went to bat for him once again last month when Bannon was accused of anti-Semitism.
Bannon’s last top man in the Trump White House is now carrying the burden of the anti-establishment agenda. As a senior adviser to the president and a valuable voice on policy issues, Miller is one of the most influential staffers surrounding Trump. But he doesn’t pull much weight in the organized Jewish community and is not seen as a force who could shift Jewish Republicans toward the Bannon school of thought.
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 Haaretz 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.