Bernie Marcus, a Republican Jewish Coalition board member and the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, rose to the defense of Stephen Bannon Tuesday, calling attacks on him “nothing more than an attempt to undermine the incoming Trump administration.”
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Using the Yiddish word for “scandal,” Marcus, who donated more than $7 million to the Trump campaign, said in a statement that “what is being done to Steve Bannon is a shonda.”
On Sunday, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump announced that Bannon, his campaign’s chief executive and the former chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News, will serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor.
The White House appointment has proved controversial, with a host of organizations, including Jewish groups, criticizing the move. Leading the charge in the Jewish world has been the Anti-Defamation League, whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has charge that Bannon, as a self-proclaimed leader of the "alt-right," harbors anti-Semitic and white nationalist views that are "hostile to core American values."
The statement defending Bannon was issued by the RJC on the organization’s letterhead. Marcus wrote: “I have known Steve Bannon for many years. I have been shocked and saddened to see the recent personal attacks on Steve. Nothing could be further from the truth. The person that is being demonized in the media is not the person I know.”
Marcus said that Bannon was a “passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel” who felt so strongly about the Jewish state that “he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true pro-Israel story would get out.”
Marcus came out publicly in support of Trump and said he would “help him at any turn” in June, chiding Republicans in the “Never Trump” camp for indirectly helping Hillary Clinton. “As a GOP donor who stood steadfastly behind Jeb Bush – and who has contributed to candidates for a generation – I urge all Republicans to stand up and be counted in support for Donald Trump.”
He was a member of the minority of RJC board members who chose to support Trump’s presidential bid. According to a JTA survey of federal campaign contribution records, more than 80 percent of the RJC board did not donate directly or indirectly to the Trump campaign, in sharp contrast to past presidential races.
Several national Jewish organizations have publicly denounced Bannon's appointment, including the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center, J Street, and the National Jewish Democratic Council.
But many, including some of the largest and most influential groups, have not expressed any opinion on Bannon, and their silence has not gone unnoticed.
An article on the Politico website headlined ”Pro-Israel groups avoid denouncing Bannon" cited sources as saying that the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC “is likely mindful of preserving its influence over the incoming administration’s Middle East policies” and therefore “has declined to weigh in.” It quoted one unnamed Washington Jewish activist as saying “On a personal level I’d like to go bananas about it. On a professional level it would be malpractice.”
A Washington Post report observed that “the differing responses to the Trump presidency have highlighted tensions among Jewish Americans, who find themselves faced with what is perhaps a no-win decision.
"On the one hand, they fear that if Jews complain too shrilly now, they could be shut out of the decision-making process in the White House for four years. On the other, they fear assenting quietly as the terrifying anti-Semitism of the alt-right bubbles up from the depths of the Internet all the way into the highest seat of power.”
Meanwhile, criticism of AIPAC for its position on social media has been vociferous: