President Donald Trump's former chief strategist on Sunday called on American Jews to join his war on the Republican establishment.
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Steve Bannon appealed to the Zionist Organization of America to "work as partners" in his crusade against GOP leaders he blames for blocking Trump's agenda. Bannon delivered the fiery address at the organization's annual awards dinner in New York at what ZOA President Morton Klein dubbed "the Academy Awards of the Jewish World" with several current and former Trump staffers in attendance.
Bannon seized the opportunity to punch back at the GOP. "We're leading an insurgency movement against the Republican establishment," Bannon charged, blaming his adversaries in the establishment for playing games.
He blamed the Republicans for “playing games” and lowering the bar, which resulted in what he considers a bad nuclear deal with Iran. "That's how you get the Iran deal," he continued. "That's how we still allow the American government to finance people that have blood on their hands of innocent Jewish civilians."
Bannon's participation in the event has raised criticism from many Jewish leaders, some seeing the political figure as tacitly encouraging alt-right and neo-Nazi supporters. The outlet he heads, Breitbart News, is popular among some white supremacists, anti-Semites and others who identify with the so-called alt-right movement.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs of human rights group T'ruah told Haaretz that Bannon had "brought white supremacy to the White house, and promoting that agenda even though he is no longer there, which is dangerous to Israel and Jews."
The Zionist Organization of America has largely embraced Bannon. In attendance at the group's gala of over 1,000 participants was former press secretary Sean Spicer and former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka. Other controversial figures were present in the audience including pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and alt-light provocateur Laura Loomer.
Retired Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman was presented with an award, as was serving American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. “We came into office on the heels of perhaps the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting president in American history,” Friedman said to applause from the crowd.
Outside the event, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, some 200 activists of the left-wing American Jewish group IfNotNow held a loud protest. “ZOA has decided to abandon the Jewish people in favor of Steve Bannon,” protestor Eliana Fishman said.
“We’re not going to let the Jewish community be the launching platform for Steven Bannon’s second career,” protestor Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff added. “In a post Charlottesville world, it shows that Jews forming alliances with the alt-right is not good for us and is horrible to our moral core of standing up for all targeted people, including Palestinians.”
ZOA President Morton Klein insisted that such accusations serve as “a horrific character assassination of a good man,” citing Bannon's inability to control his more extreme supporters. “Reagan had Nazis supporting him, so what?” Klein said.
Bannon was expected in last year’s ZOA gala, and some had attributed the then-large demonstration to his no-show. But this time, Klein told reporters, Bannon himself requested an invitation with a wish to introduce business magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson was expected but did not attend the gala.
Bannon nonetheless praised the billionare in his speech, for his “guidance, counsel and wisdom” that helped the Trump team “get through.”
Bannon, who left the White House in August, is now trying to raise money to defeat several sitting Republican senators he says are blocking Trump's agenda in Washington.
"President Trump needs our back," he declared. "We're a nation at war. This war is only going to be won if we bind together and work as partners."
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, in his own speech, called for centrism and warned of extremism, particuarly pointing to the far-left. “I think today the hard left is far more dangerous to Israel’s existence and to the safety of the Jewish community,” Dershowitz told Haaretz. “The right has no influence today on college campuses, which are the future leaders of America.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report