Opinion |

The Zionist Organization of America Has Forgotten What It Means to Be Jewish

If the ZOA had any historical perspective, it would know this: Those young Jewish radicals who were protesting outside the ZOA’s Trump adoration gala were not really being radical at all. They were being Jews

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Steve Bannon speaks at an event in Manchester, N.H., November 9, 2017.
Steve Bannon speaks at an event in Manchester, N.H., November 9, 2017.Credit: Mary Schwalm/AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

When I was little I was taught what it meant to be Jewish. And that hasn’t changed.

I was taught that the overwhelming majority of American Jews believes in social justice for all. Still does.

By a huge margin, the Jews of America believe that a female American or an African American or a Mexican American or a Muslim American or an LGBTQ American or a disabled American are, and ought to be, respected and treated as full citizens of the United States of America.

The Jews of America haven’t forgotten what it means to be Jewish.

But the Zionist Organization of America has.

Consider the leading lights of the ZOA’s Sunday “Star Studded Gala 2017.”

- Sebastian Gorka, ex-Trump White House aide, who left under allegations that he belonged to a Hungarian group with a Nazi past. He denies it.

- Jack Posobiec, a so-called alt-right conspiracy theorist and online promoter of pro-Trump hoaxes, including the “Pizzagate” and Seth Rich falsehoods.

- And the guest of honor, Steve Bannon.

Steve Bannon, the man who brought America its alt-right, the confederacy of fanatics which has powered the largest surge of U.S. anti-Semitism since the original America First movement of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Steve Bannon, flack and puppetmaster and would-be shield of Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of sexually assaulting teens while he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s.

Steve Bannon, who, in his speech to an adoring ZOA in the organization’s event of the year, referred to Donald Trump’s boasts of womanizing and sexual assault (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”) without any trace of reproach.

That is not what a Jew is meant to believe. Nor support. Nor defend. But, as Bannon proudly told the ZOA, one of them did lend his support. Sheldon Adelson. Mega-donor to both Trump and the ZOA.

“It’s not about resources,” Bannon insisted.

What was Adelson’s moral choice? Unlike establishment Republicans, Bannon declared, “Sheldon Adelson didn’t cut and run. Sheldon Adelson had Donald Trump’s back. Sheldon Adelson offered guidance and counsel and wisdom of how to get through it. He was there for Donald Trump, about how to comport oneself, and dig down deep, and it was his guidance and his wisdom that helped get us through.”

Being Jewish is all about making moral choices. The leaders of the ZOA have clearly made theirs.

The ZOA knows what it means to be devoutly Republican, to be piously pro-Trump, pro-Bannon, pro-Gorka. But in choosing the alt-right over the Jewish community, the ZOA’s forgotten the first thing about being Jewish.

One of the guests, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, found a way to oppose extremism without upsetting his hosts.

“I think today the hard left is far more dangerous to Israel’s existence and to the safety of the Jewish community,” Dershowitz said. “The right has no influence today on college campuses, which are the future leaders of America.”

I hope Dershowitz is right. Because outside the hall, the future of the Jewish community, like the leftist IfNotNow organization, was making its opposition – and its Judaism – more than clear.

“The ZOA is hosting Steve Bannon, somebody who is known to represent white supremacy, anti-Semitism, sexism and misogyny,” Hannah Temkin of IfNotNow told the Forward.

“We believe that we would like to hold our mainstream institutions accountable for the values of what makes me Jewish today, which are the values of standing up for freedom and dignity for all.”

Eli Valley, who has inspired young Jews and outraged the Jewish establishment with blistering leftist comics, was seen carrying a sign reading – in a nod to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, another honored guest of the ZOA gala – “You collaborate with neo-Nazis and call us Kapos?”

“The future is out here, of course,” Valley told the Forward. “The future is inside if our future is a fascist dystopia. OK? Then the future is inside. Hopefully that is not our destiny.”

If the ZOA had any historical perspective, it would know this: Those young Jewish radicals who were protesting outside the Trump adoration gala were not really being radical at all.

They were being Jews.

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