Few American Jews shed tears at the downfall of Steve Bannon, whose humiliation was made complete Tuesday when he stepped down from Breitbart News following his ugly estrangement from President Donald Trump – confirmed by the insulting new nickname of Sloppy Steve.
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The catalyst for his fate were his uncensored remarks in Michael Wolffs White House tell-all book, Fire and Fury, alienating Trump and then, fatally, the Mercers (Bannons arch-conservative financial backers who bankrolled both Breitbart and his endeavors to become a renegade Republican kingmaker.)
The vast majority of Americas overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic Jews viewed Bannon as either an anti-Semite or an anti-Semite enabler whose conspiratorial references to demonic global financiers awakened and emboldened white supremacists. His oft-quoted description of Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right white nationalist movement confirmed such views.
But for the minority of staunchly hard-line, pro-Israel Jews (and evangelical Christians) who support Israels settlement enterprise, oppose a Palestinian state and any form of territorial compromise, Bannon was an important force in the White House.
For this group, his out-of-the-box positions on Israel far outweighed any threats the views of the Trump-voting, alt-right fan base from which he drew his influence might pose.
Notably, it was Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America – who invited Bannon to address his organizations annual gala last November – who was the sole loyalist quoted as willing to speak up for Bannon in a lengthy Politico piece on Sunday. Klein said: If there is anyone, like Bannon, who is a strong supporter of Israel and a strong fighter against anti-Semitism and that person ends up having less influence on the administration, that is something that would sadden me.
In Fire and Fury, the extent to which Bannons position on Israel matched hard-liners like Klein was described in detail. The book not only revealed that Trumps then-strategic adviser planned to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Day One after entering the White House, but, moreover, had an extreme and highly unorthodox approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza, says Bannon in the book. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.
He then claimed that both GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all in on his plans.
Taken as a whole, it is a depiction of an extreme right-wing cabal, one that could find its place on the right fringes of Likud, that has been guiding if not running [President Donald] Trumps Middle East policies, Haaretzs Chemi Shalev wrote. Shalev described it as an axis that dominated Trumps Middle East policies during his first year in office. It is an alliance that Netanyahu appears to have cultivated, with the assistance, or at the direction, of his Las Vegas benefactor, Adelson. All three operate under the premise ascribed to Bannon that the further right you were, the more correct you were on Israel.
This hard-line trio of influence presumably acted as a counterweight against the more pragmatic former military men in the White House – most prominently National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, but also former Secretary of Homeland Security and current Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis – whom, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the far right privately scorn as Arabists who are soft on Israel. It was also a bulwark against Trumps fantasies of making the ultimate deal, which they believed were being cultivated by Bannons nemesis – Trumps son-in-law and aide, Jared Kushner.
Bannons banishment from the White House, and now his political self-immolation and disappearance from Trumps circle of influence, comes as a deep disappointment to those who embraced and celebrated his outlook and that of satellite foreign policy Bannonites like Sebastian Gorka.
Sad, tragic and disappointing, one pro-Trump Republican on the Jewish far right told me, asking not to be identified by name. Israels lost a really important voice.
With that sadness comes concern over the increased influence of the generals, as well as Javanka (Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump), on Middle East policy. The Jewish Trump supporter said he believes the presidents son-in-law has got his head in a very dark place when it comes to this peace thing. I think Jared is really wrong on this whole peace plan and can only do damage, he noted.
But the hard-liners are still hopeful, attributing their optimism that the Trump administration will avoid any Kushner-fueled peace attempts to three factors.
First, and most prominently, their hopes are pinned on Vice President Mike Pence – who will visit Israel on January 22-23 – and the evangelical Christian base he represents. Rejecting the portrayal of a sidelined Pence in Wolffs book, they call him a powerful player, particularly on Israel.
Clear evidence for this, they argue, lies in the fact that last months declaration of recognizing Jerusalem as Israels capital and the plan for an embassy move came after Bannon left the White House. It was Pence and the evangelicals – not Adelson, Netanyahu and Bannon – who ultimately got something done, and they are the ones who will have Israels back in the post-Bannon era.
Secondly, there are the Palestinians themselves, who called the Jerusalem declaration a kiss of death to the two-state solution.
Third, there is Trump himself. Much as the president is portrayed as an utterly transactional empty vessel, his Jewish supporters dont believe his views were artificially foisted on him by Bannon, but instead come from his own core beliefs. It was the president himself who wanted to move the embassy at the very beginning of his administration, they say, and it was Netanyahu himself who told Trump it would be better to wait.
Return of the Mooch?
If there is now a vacuum in the conduit between the far-right Klein/Adelson crowd and the Trump White House, one figure is clearly eager to fill it. Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci is not only different from Bannon – as slick and public as Bannon is unkempt and secretive – but he is also Bannons nemesis.
Call it a coincidence, but on the same day Bannon departed from Breitbart, it was also announced that Scaramucci – who spent the day dancing on his grave – would be a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. The RJC confab is set for early February at Adelsons Venetian hotel and casino. In the past, ZOAs Klein has described Scaramucci as being supportive of Israel in the ZOA way, not in the mainstream Jewish way.
Scaramucci has made a point of cozying up to the Adelson-backed Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. It was at a Boteach Hanukkah party that Scaramucci reportedly took a verbal detour from recounting his trip to Israel to insult Bannon, allegedly calling the former Trump aide messianic and a loser, warning that Hell be a stalwart defender of Israel until hes not. Thats how this guy operates. Ive seen this guy operate. He was a stalwart defender of me until it became better for him not to be.
In the end, it was not his failure to defend Israel that proved to be Bannons undoing. It was his failure to defend Donald Trump.