White nationalists were videotaped celebrating president-elect Donald Trump by giving him the Nazi salute at a conference in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
“Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Richard Spencer told the crowd at the Ronald Reagan Building, where the National Police Institute held its annual conference. Spencer is a leader in the “alt-right” movement, which has been closely associated with white nationalism and anti-Semitism.
That alt-right movement also has close ties to Steve Bannon. With this new video highlighting the connection between the alt-right and anti-Semitism, the support for Bannon among some Jewish leaders may seem surprising to some.
Bannon formerly oversaw Breitbart News, which he has called “the platform for the alt-right.” Still, Bannon, Trump’s pick as chief strategy advisor, has gained fans among some Jewish leaders for his pro-Israel views.
“This man is as pro-Israel as anyone you’d ever find in public life,” Morton Klein said. Klein is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.
Klein denounced the white nationalists in the alt-right, calling them “despicable bigots.” But he distinguished Bannon from the alt-right perspectives that were given a platform on Breitbart.
“[Bannon] believes that by giving them visibility, it diminishes their credibility and support because people see how disgusting, how racist, how hateful these people are,” Klein said.
Bannon has denied accusations of anti-Semitism. Klein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, says he’s very sensitive to this issue, and believes Bannon is not anti-Semitic, despite his connections to the alt-right.
“I think it’s impossible, rationally, to be supporting the Jewish state of Israel and hating Jews. If you hate Jews, you want the Jewish state to be gone,” Klein said.
Not all Jewish leaders, however, think that support for Israel and anti-Semitism are necessarily exclusive.
“There’s one part of the alt-right movement, my understanding is, that thinks America is for white Europeans,” Board of Rabbis of Sacramento president Seth Castleman said. “Not to say that they want to kill everybody else, but let’s put the Jews over here, let’s put African-Americans over here, let’s put the LGBT over here … so sending the Jews to Israel and supporting Israel as a place for them to go could well be rooted in anti-Semitism.”
Castleman said, for the most part, Jewish people in the Sacramento community have expressed concern about Trump’s election and the rise of the alt-right and anti-Semitism in the U.S.
“Rabbis in the community, in our congregations, have given sermons about this and about their concern, and about keeping our eyes open,” Castleman said, while adding that there may have been individual congregation members who have been upset, or who supported Trump because of his pro-Israel positions.
“Some would say there is no place for politics in the pulpit, I would say there is nothing but politics when it comes to our jobs as clergy,” Castleman said.
The Anti-Defamation League, which calls itself the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism, has said it strongly opposes Bannon’s appointment as senior advisor because of his connection to the alt-right, while adding that the organization is not aware of any anti-Semitic statements made by Bannon himself.