An Open Letter to AJC’s David Harris: Oppose Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions
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As former AJC staff members, we are appalled that AJC has not spoken out against President-elect Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. As we’ve watched other Jewish leaders speak out forcefully against Bannon, your condemnation has been noticeably absent.
Just two weeks ago, AJC marked its 110th anniversary. In a recent email to AJC supporters, you highlighted the organization’s leading role in combatting anti-Semitism and safeguarding democracy by invoking AJC’s original mission, to “prevent the infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews, and to alleviate the consequences of persecution.”
But last week, as we watched President-elect Trump appoint a man who oversees a news site which traffics in ethnic, religious, and racial hatred, to a top position in the White House, your response was tantamount to silence.
Read more on Bannon: Zionist Organization of America flooded with 'dozens of calls' amid backlash over Bannon support (Debra Nussbaum Cohen)| If liberal Jews are the targets of Trump-inspired anti-Semitism, is it really anti-Semitism? (Chemi Shalev) | Steve Bannon, Trump's Rasputin in the White House (Eric Alterman) | Bannon's not an anti-Semite, but he is an anti-Muslim, anti-women bigot (Alan M. Dershowitz)
Your initial statement on Bannon, that you “do not expect to comment on the appointment of every key advisor [to the incoming administration],” was effectively no comment at all. On Thursday, you issued a second statement:
“Nominations and appointments send signals...We respectfully urge [President-elect Trump] to find early opportunities, both in words and deeds, to stress his commitment to the well-being and protection of all our nation's citizens.”
'In words', President-elect Trump’s surrogates are already talking about World War II Japanese internment camps as precedent for a registry of American Muslims.' In deeds', he just appointed a man who fans these flames of hatred to a senior position in his White House. Despite your tweet condemning the talk about internment camps, you still have not explicitly called out Bannon by name.
As you know, there is precedence for AJC’s speaking out against presidential appointees and Cabinet-level nominees. In 2012, you voiced public concerns about Senator Chuck Hagel’s record on Israel and Iran when President Obama nominated him to be Secretary of Defense. And back in 1986, AJC “lodged a vigorous protest against the nomination of Jefferson B. Sessions III” to the position of U.S. District Court Judge in Alabama because of his negative record on civil rights. His nomination was ultimately withdrawn then, but on Friday President-elect Trump nominated Sessions as his Attorney General.
What compelled you to speak out then, but not now? If “nominations and appointments send signals,” then exactly what kind of signal do Bannon’s appointment and Sessions’ nomination send? Do you believe that your access to the incoming administration depends on your silence? Do you find the cost of that silence fair and appropriate given President-elect Trump’s dangerous threats to civil liberties?
We believe that it’s critical that we stand with the communities most endangered by President-elect Trump’s vision for America. While the launch of a new joint AJC-ISNA initiative, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, is a step in the right direction, we believe the work is only half-done here.
When you fail to issue a concurrent condemnation of figures like Bannon, and now Sessions, what message does this send to the Muslim community, and all those you say you stand with - people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants? Will you stand in line and register your own name if President Trump follows through on his promise to create a registry of American Muslims? The current moment requires nothing less than this kind of action, partnership, and Jewish leadership.
We were both taught that never again means never again, to oppose bigotry and prejudice wherever and whenever it appears. As former staffers who worked on Israel-related issues, we watched as millions of dollars poured into AJC’s coffers to combat anti-Semitism from critics of Israel.
But now, a man like Bannon has risen to a position of real power and influence [start italics] in the White House,[end italics] and you’ve failed to condemn him.
We are horrified that you and AJC continue to invoke the language of "never again" to warn against the dangers of anti-Semitism and hatred, but when a clear never again moment appears, you’ve done nothing. We call on you to oppose Stephen Bannon’s appointment, and speak out against Jeff Sessions’ nomination the same way you did thirty years ago.
In the spirit of AJC’s founding mission, we hope you will actively work to oppose any future Trump appointments or policies that put the civil rights, safety, and security of Americans in danger.
Eliana Lauter, former Assistant Director of Contemporary Jewish Life, AJC Jacob Levkowicz , former Assistant Director of Campus Affairs, AJC
Eliana Lauter is the Director of Operations at The Kitchen in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ElianaLauter
Jacob Levkowicz is a Dorot Fellow living in Israel. Follow him on Twitter: @djshnev