For starters, Bannon’s slated appearance before the ZOA is his first publicly scheduled talk since leaving the White House. Moreover, it signifies that the emerging alliance between nationalists here and in Israel is not in retreat, not even in the aftermath of Charlottesville or the president’s ongoing woes. Judaism’s Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements won’t be on this year High Holidays phone call with Donald Trump, but ZOA’s Mort Klein is not backing down, and he has no reason to do so.
Klein offers 100 percent unadulterated support of Israel. His backers know it, expect it, and love it. For Klein and them, compromise is the Devil’s Word. Unlike the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), ZOA is unburdened by the need to navigate the shoals of diplomacy and bipartisanship. If Democrats don’t go all-in for Israel, it’s not ZOA’s problem, and they make no bones about. For better or worse, like Bannonism, ZOA has come to represent a mainstream—not the mainstream, but one of several.
For Bannon, the ZOA dinner is an opportunity to push back against charges that he and Breitbart are anti-Semitic. As for ZOA, the Bannon event gives it another chance to stake out its position that it is the go-to address for die-hard Israel supporters in the U.S. Unlike AIPAC, ZOA does not pay any mind to a two-state solution. Unstated in all of this is the conviction that America is for Americans, however defined, and that Israel is for the Jews.
Although not the dominant position among Jewish Americans, Bannon’s and Klein’s take on things appears to be ascendant among some segments of Jewish voters. On Election Day 2016, Donald Trump won less than a quarter of all Jewish votes, but that number understates the fact that in certain predominately Jewish precincts Trump’s performance looked like it was straight out of the Rust Belt.
In the overwhelmingly Orthodox Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Trump captured 68 percent of the vote. Over in New Jersey’s Lakewood Township, another heavily Orthodox enclave, Trump walked away with a 50-point margin.
To be sure, these results are not one-time aberrations. Rather, Borough Park and Lakewood reflect that Bannon’s message of America First was not as off-putting to these American Jews as one may have guessed. Even among the broader Jewish electorate, Hillary Clinton underperformed Barack Obama 2008, John Kerry, and Al Gore.
How all this translates into future policy and politics remains to be seen as the Jewish-American population stagnates. Trump’s support among Jews generally comes from the lower rungs of the income ladder, Jared and Ivanka Kushner notwithstanding. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, back in April, Bannon reportedly referred to Jared as a “cuck” and a “globalist,” according to The Daily Beast.
No matter. There are tangible early signs that Bannon, Breitbart, and ZOA have a firm working relationship. Both Breitbart and ZOA have repeatedly attacked Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser. Just earlier this month, a Breitbart headline blared, “Exclusive –Zionist Organization of America Analysis Determines McMaster Hostile to Trump, Calls for Reassignment.” It is a safe bet that headline was not mere happenstance.
And there is the issue of allies. Not surprisingly, Bannon and ZOA have more than a few friends in common. For starters, there is Sheldon Adelson, who is a key donor to ZOA and a repeat ZOA honoree. As for Adelson and Bannon, The New York Times conveyed that “Bannon’s ability to hang on as Mr. Trump’s in-house populist is in part because of his connections to a handful of ultrarich political patrons, including Sheldon G. Adelson, the pro-Israel casino magnate who is based in Las Vegas.”
Again let’s look at Breitbart, where a headline also trumpeted, “Report: Powerful GOP Donor Sheldon Adelson Supports Campaign to Oust McMaster.” Although Adelson disavowed being linked to efforts to show McMaster the door, the message that Adelson and Bannon were comrades in arms came through loud and clear.
Last year, Bannon was a no-show at the ZOA dinner after he was expected to attend. At the time, Bannon offered up his involvement in the Trump transition as an excuse for failing to appear without due notice. Against this backdrop, Bannon’s attendance in 2017 is a near certainty.
Yet, that is not the end of the story. After this year’s dinner attendees go home, the fissures that are now appearing within the Jewish-American community won’t be disappearing, and the expectations of Trump’s Jewish supporters will likely not have been satisfied. The U.S. Embassy in Israel will likely not have been moved, the Iran deal will probably not have been shredded, and Iran’s surrogates will probably not have been dislodged from Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria.
Will these failures lead to a case of buyers’ remorse? Not so likely. As Bannon and ZOA’s Klein correctly understand, Jews who voted for Trump voted in large part out of cultural affinity, just like white working-class voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. They represent Trump’s core, and Bannon and ZOA are not about to surrender that vote without a fight.